A stoppage-time striker’s finish from defender Ethan Ebanks-Landell sent Bramall Lane into raptures as Sheffield United finally found a way past nine-man Bury last night.
The on-loan Wolves defender’s calm finish in front of the Kop gave United a deserved victory in a game they dominated almost from beginning to end, although lowly Bury deserve immense credit for frustrating them until they suffered a bitter late blow.
Their cause was not helped by red cards for Jacob Mellis, a former Blade, in the first half and Greg Leigh late on, but their numerical advantage hardly seemed to help United either as they dominated possession but struggled to find a way past Bury’s well-marshalled defence – at least until Ebanks-Landell’s late, dramatic intervention.
Paul Coutts was the instigator, combining with Daniel Lafferty and Caolan Lavery for the defender to seal a sixth straight win for United and extend their unbeaten league run to 14 games, and send them second in League One.
For Bury, it is now 13 games without a win but they betrayed that poor record here, keeping United at arm’s length throughout, with captain Antony Kay exceptional.
On paper, this clash was a home banker. But a frustrating first half reminded United that, in League One at least, there is rarely any such thing.
Chris Wilder, the United manager, reminded his side on the eve of this fixture that Bury could be “dangerous” and although that threat failed to materialise, they did combine effectively to frustrate the hosts.
To their credit, Wilder’s side kept their poise and patience, moving the ball as well as they have done at any other point in their remarkable unbeaten run, but visiting goalkeeper Ben Williams was tested just twice in the opening 45 minutes; beating down a shot from Coutts, and keeping out Matt Done’s effort from Stefan Scougall’s cutback.
Former Barnsley stalwart Kay, now Bury’s captain, breathed more than one sigh of relief in the first half, notably when the ball ricocheted off his hand in the penalty area.
And United, boosted by the presence of Coutts in midfield three days after he was almost split in half by a shocking tackle by Shrewsbury’s Abu Ogogo, went closer still when Scougall – comfortably the smallest man on the field, at 5ft 6ins – hit Williams’s bar with a flicked header.
Another poor tackle, with United’s Matt Done the victim this time, saw Mellis’s Bramall Lane homecoming end acrimoniously.
The 25-year-old, who started his career at United’s academy before making a £1m move to Chelsea, saw red twice; first when scything down Done on the halfway line, before being sent off by referee Ross Joyce after the resulting melee had calmed down.
Quite understandably, Bury signalled their intent – or lack of it – by sacrificing striker Tom Pope at half-time, while Wilder introduced Leon Clarke at the expense of Scougall to join Sharp and Done in a three-pronged attack.
Still United pressed, Bury held firm and frustration around Bramall Lane grew by the minute.
With the game threatening to become something of an attack-against-defence training exercise, Bury reminded their hosts that they posed something of a goal threat, too.
The effort was a speculative one but as left-back Leigh’s shot arrowed towards Simon Moore’s top corner, there were more than a few sighs of relief in the home end when it missed the target by mere inches.
Back came United and after Jack O’Connell headed over Coutts’s corner, Harry Chapman, the Middlesborough loanee on in place of centre-half Jake Wright, almost instigated the breakthrough when his floated cross was headed goalbound by Clarke, facing the club he left to join United in July, only for Leigh to demonstrate his defensive instincts by clearing off the goalline.
United, missing the industry and invention of the injured Mark Duffy, thought they had finally made the breakthrough with 12 minutes remaining, only for Clarke’s header to be ruled out by the officials.
The Bramall Lane crowd smelled blood when Leigh was dismissed, for a second booking after bringing down Coutts, and Fleck’s rasping drive brought them to their feet before it flew just over Williams’s crossbar.
The fourth official had barely put down his board after confirming six minutes of added time,when Chapman’s goalbound header was cleared off the line again by Kay.
United finally made their numerical advantage count right at the finish when Ebanks-Landell pounced for his fourth goal in Blades colours – and without doubt, the most dramatic.
Sheffield United: Moore, Basham, Wright (Chapman, 63), Ebanks-Landell, O’Connell, Lafferty, Coutts, Fleck, Scougall (Clarke, 45), Sharp, Done (Lavery, 75). Unused substitutes: Hussey, Ramsdale, Brown, Whiteman.
Bury: Williams, Jones, Leigh, Kay, Mayor, Pope (Etuhu, 45), Vaughan, Mellis, Soares, Burgess (Tutte, 60), Barnett (Danns, 77). Unused substitutes: Rachubka, Hope, Miller, Bedeau.
Referee: R Joyce (Cleveland).