Blades replace Owls in top two after gifted goal

Sheffield United V Notts County..... United's  Richard Cresswell scores the winning goal: Picture by Chris Lawton
Sheffield United V Notts County..... United's Richard Cresswell scores the winning goal: Picture by Chris Lawton
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THREE points, the return of James Beattie, and second place in the League One table.

If that does not make it a good Christmas for Sheffield United, what would?

How about replacing arch-rivals Sheffield Wednesday in the top two. That is the icing on the Christmas cake.

To be fair, they only just held on for this victory yesterday afternoon – but it is now five wins in a row for the Blades and optimism is sky high at Bramall Lane.

Manager Danny Wilson played down the importance of leap-frogging his former club saying: “We are into second place and – if we can carry on with this run – who knows what it can bring us, but we are not worrying about anyone else.

“It might give the fans a bit of extra satisfaction but, from our point of view, we are not bothered,” he insisted.

“We need to be in the top-two places at the end of the season and whoever we are above at that time, I am not worried about that.

“We just have to keep the points coming. You do your own job and make sure your own house is in order.”

The Owls lost their grip on second spot thanks to a shock late defeat at Walsall on Boxing Day.

The Blades had to wait another 24 hours for this fixture due to the demands of Sky Television.

Needing a League One game to fill a hole in their schedules, Sky moved this encounter to Bank Holiday Tuesday.

A festive mood still prevailed – epitomised by a small group of Notts County supporters in Santa outfits – in a gate of 20,538, the third-biggest so far this season at Bramall Lane.

Santa had also given the Blades a late Christmas present in the shape of Beattie, making his first appearance since returning to the club a month ago.

The former England international, who has been hindered by calf trouble, had been away for three years but his popularity is as strong now as it was then.

His return to the fold sparked massive cheers – both when the teams were announced and when he finally got into the action, for six minutes at the end.

Home spirits were initially dampened when County took the lead from a disputed free-kick on 17 minutes.

Referee Jon Moss ruled that Ben Burgess had been fouled by Harry Maguire and Alan Judge’s subsequent free-kick evaded everyone before sneaking inside Steve Simonsen’s far post.

It was the first goal conceded by the Blades in over six hours of league football.

Unfortunately for one of the Santas, it also led to a momentary loss of self control and he was ejected after celebrating on the perimeter of the pitch.

Hopefully no youngsters witnessed the incident on TV.

Moss’s handling of the game got up the noses of the home supporters. His judgment, especially in relation to free-kicks, was the main bone of contention.

The Magpies had no intention of allowing the Blades to party and made life difficult for their hosts at every opportunity.

But they were pegged back 13 minutes before the break when Ryan Flynn, recalled to the side in the absence of the suspended Lee Williamson, tucked home Richard Cresswell’s cross.

The Blades now had a foothold in the contest and attacked with greater purpose.

Defender Matt Lowton nearly scored after a superb run into the penalty area but his shot was blocked by goalkeeper Stuart Nelson.

A shot by Kevin McDonald was also pushed away by the County goalkeeper and Lowton missed with a free header from a corner.

County threatened only sporadically but Blades goalkeeper Simonsen still had to save from Judge on the stroke of half-time.

There were seven minutes gone in the second half when the Blades took the lead courtesy of an own goal from Alan Sheehan.

The former Leeds United fullback could hardly be blamed, however, and had no option but to challenge for a low cross with Cresswell which led to him turning the ball past Nelson.

Defender Neill Collins was unlucky not to make it 3-1 when his header was tipped over by Nelson at a corner.

But Blades goalkeeper Simonsen had to produce a flying save to deny Jeff Hughes an equaliser with the game still on a knife-edge.

Evans broke away for the Blades but Nelson was enjoying his afternoon and saved yet again. Another shot, this time from McDonald, took a deflection on its way wide.

Near the end, with a greater need to defend than attack, Wilson sent on Johnny Ertl to bolster his midfield.

Although Evans struck a post, the Blades had a lucky escape when substitute Karl Hawley volleyed straight into Simonsen’s hands.

County’s substitute Ishmel Demontagnac was sent off in stoppage time for throwing the ball into Matt Lowton’s face.

Sheffield United: Simonsen; Lowton, Maguire, Collins, Jean-Francois; Quinn, Doyle, McDonald (Ertl 83), Flynn (Montgomery 90); Evans, Cresswell (Beattie 89). Unused substitutes: Porter, Long.

Notts County: Nelson; Kelly, Pearce (Hawley 75) , Sodje, Sheehan; Judge, Bishop, Allen (Demontagnac 56), J.Hughes; L.Hughes, Burgess. Unused substitutes: Edwards, Bencherif, Mitchell.

Referee: J Moss (Tyne and Wear).