SHEFFIELD UNITED slumped to back-to-back home defeats for the first time in reign of Nigel Clough as a far-from-vintage week ended with a lacklustre 2-1 loss to Fleetwood Town.
The Blades produced an uninspired, flat and at times error-strewn performance, despite earning 17 corners to the visitors’ tally of one, but it was Fleetwood who deservedly took the spoils playing in front of the biggest ever crowd to watch them in a league game.
Home fans made their feelings known at the final whistle with a cascade of boos with Clough now assigned with regenerating his jaded looking side in the next seven days ahead of their return to action at Scunthorpe United.
The Blades still openly harbour hopes of gatecrashing the top two before season’s end, but on this performance, they look a million miles away from achieving that lofty ambition.
They could have few complaints at the outcome with Fleetwood, one of a host of sides in the mix for the final play-off position, meriting victory on their first ever visit to S2.
The Lancastrians stunned the Blades by racing into a 2-0 lead inside 35 minutes, thanks to goals from Josh Morris and Nick Haughton and despite Matt Done pulling one back on 39 minutes, it was the 255-strong band of Cod Army supporters who were celebrating at the end.
After their disappointing performance against Peterborough in midweek, United couldn’t get their act together and looked a side devoid of inspiration.
The Blades remain fifth in the table, but are now just three points against Barnsley and Peterborough, in seventh and eighth place in the League One table respectively, although the Bramall Lane outfit do have a game in hand.
“Mistakes have cost us, it’s difficult to win games when you’re giving teams goals,” said Clough.
“Poor decisions, poor delivery, we hit the first man too many times and didn’t put the ball in the right areas.
“We’re lacking confidence at home. There was a lot of effort, you cannot accuse anyone of not putting enough in.”
Clough made two changes from the side who slipped up in midweek against Peterborough, with the headline piece of team news seeing Steven Davies make his debut after arriving on loan from Blackpool for the rest of the season.
Jose Baxter was also restored to the side after serving a three-match suspension, with Marc McNulty dropping to the bench and Ryan Flynn missing out due to a hamstring injury.
An undistinguished first twenty minutes saw the hosts fail to piece anything together at all, with Baxter operating in a central midfield role and Paul Coutts, over the bout of illness which afflicted him in the week, on the right with Davies up front alongside Done.
It was all rather tame and flat in the early spring sunshine with the only incident of note seeing ex-Blades player Stephen Jordan depart with an early injury to be replaced by Nathan Pond.
A rare moment of indecision just past the 20-minute mark saw Baxter profit from an error from Conor McLaughlin before driving forward and unleashing a 25-yarder which flew comfortably over.
The first meaningful passage of team play belonged to Fleetwood and it produced an eye-catching opener on 25 minutes.
Slick play saw Jamie Proctor supply Morris on the left and the Blackburn Rovers unleashed an excellent 20-yarder which flew past Iain Turner in front of the Kop.
After Tuesday night’s development, it was just what the hosts could have seriously done without and a tough afternoon then got a whole lot worse on 35 minutes.
Chris Basham was penalised for a foul on Morris, meaning that the Blades’ utility man will now serve a two-match ban after reacting the bookings threshold, but the next development was even more disconcerting.
Nick Haughton’s followed his own free-kick which had cannoned into the wall, with the youngster seeing his effort fly in at the near post for his first senior goal - to leave the home fans aghast.
After a dismal opening 35 minutes, the merits of a Blades goal in double-quick time could not have been overstated.
Thankfully, it arrived on 39 minutes following the hosts’ first spell of meaningful pressure.
A well-worked short corner routine first ended in Michael Doyle seeing his header from Jamie Murphy’s cross tipped over by Chris Maxwell, but respite was not forthcoming.
From the resultant flag-kick on the opposite flank from Baxter, Basham flicked the ball on and Done, close to the goalline, bundled the ball in for his sixth goal in Blades colours and 20th of a prolific campaign.
It at least give the Blades something to build on for the second half, attacking the Kop, with the home supporters no doubt expecting a much improved display.
The tempo was better on the restart, but chances proved at a premium in the early stages of the half, with Maxwell gathering a looping header from Doyle with comfort before Baxter steered a shot wide after being teed up by Done.
Fleetwood, with goalscoring Haughton bringing some nice skills to the table, possessed a semblance of threat on the break with a low shot from ex-Rotherham and Bradford player Gareth Evans held by Turner.
Most of the play was at the other end, with several corners coming to nothing as the Blades sought a way back, with their man most likely looking to be Murphy on the left.
As the half progressed, so did Fleetwood’s sense of comfort with the hosts failing to overly trouble them.
In a bid to reignite his side, Clough threw on Che Adams for Baxter on 69 minutes in the hope that the young striker’s effervescent and pace might start to stretch the visiting defence.
As the clock ticked, a sense of desperation started to creep in from the Blades, with a rare moment of trouble ending with Doyle’s shot from eight yards out tipped over adeptly by Maxwell with 15 minutes to go.
It was Fleetwood who if after were producing the more telling pockets of play, with Clough making his second change with ten minutes left with McNulty coming on for Davies, who had an extremely quiet debut.
McNulty fired one effort wide, but there was no grandstand finish from the Blades, with Fleetwood the better side on the day and possessing the poise and control, taking the spoils.
Sheffield United: Turner; Brayford, Basham, McEveley, Harris (K Wallace 87); Coutts, Doyle, Baxter (Adams 69), Murphy; Done, S Davies (McNulty 80). Substitutes unused: Alcock, Willis, B Davies, Reed.
Fleetwood Town: Maxwell; McLaughlin, Roberts, Jordan (Pond 11), Chicksen; Evans, Schumacher, Murdoch, Haughton (Dobbie 77), Morris (Crainey 84), Proctor. Substitutes unused: Ball, McAlinden, Hunter, Springthorpe.
Referee: Darren Deadman (Cambridgeshire).
Attendance: 18,668 (255 Fleetwood fans).