FORGET Black Friday, this was more like Frantic Friday as Sheffield United turned the jeers to cheers against League One’s awayday specialists.
The Blades, so insipid and lifeless in the first half, produced a stirring second-half fightback to rescue a point against promotion rivals Notts County which, in a pulsating finale, almost became three.
Jamie Murphy’s equaliser with 14 minutes remaining had set up the late drama and the Football League’s last remaining unbeaten away record would surely have perished deep into stoppage time but for Chris Basham taking the ball off team-mate Marc McNulty’s toe just as the substitute seemed set to fire past Roy Carroll.
Had United snatched a dramatic late winner it would have been just reward for Nigel Clough’s men after falling behind to Mike Edwards’s opener.
That had been enough to see the home side booed off at the interval.
However, although a few United fans repeated the jeers at full-time, the rest of the 19,385 crowd were rightly much more appreciative of their side’s efforts.
And with good reason, after United,had taken the game to a hugely impressive County side in such a way that Shaun Derry seemed the happier of the two managers at the end.
Clough’s decision to switch to a two-man attack once a goal behind had sparked his side into life in a fixture that had been brought forward to avoid a clash with city rivals Wednesday’s home game against Wigan Athletic this afternoon.
For the first 45 minutes, United’s players looked like they wanted to be anywhere but the Lane on a cold Friday night with a performance that rarely flickered to life.
Jamal Campbell-Ryce tried his best to inject some fizz into the home side’s play with some trickery out wide on the right.
But, a couple of decent crosses apart and Basham’s cross that cannoned off Murphy before going behind, Carroll had precious little to concern him in the visitors’ goal.
In fact, Notts County were so in control that the Northern Ireland international did not have a save to make until United managed to step things up a gear in the second half.
At the other end, Mark Howard was not exactly over-worked.
But, crucially, he did have to pick the ball out of his net just after the half-hour mark.
A corner proved to be United’s undoing, Gary Jones using every bit of his experience to unsettle the home defence by taking an age to deliver the set-piece after having a difference of opinion with referee Robert Madley as to where the ball should be taken from.
The delay seemed to lull the home defence into a false sense of security, meaning when former Bradford City captain Jones finally took the corner, the ball flew over a stranded Howard via the merest of flicks from a County player and towards the lingering Edwards.
With an open goal at his mercy, the one-time Hull City stalwart could not miss from six yards and United were behind.
Clough’s men should have been pre-warned about the visitors’ threat with the only two saves before the goal having both been made by Howard.
First, the United goalkeeper blocked a snapshot from Michael Petrasso after the County man had cleverly created space for himself on the edge of the area.
Then, as the Blades’ defence back-tracked at speed, Jones was able to make his way forward before hitting a left-foot shot from 20 yards that Howard collected at the second attempt.
After Edwards’s opener, County continued to press and could have had a second when a loose pass out of defence handed the ball to the visitors.
Jones immediately swept into action, collecting possession before releasing Garry Thompson down the right.
A decent delivery would then have had United struggling, but the former Bradford man over-hit his cross and the danger was cleared.
It was a let-off for United and one that they were clearly keen to capitalise on once the second half got under way.
With Clough switching to a two-man attack, the Blades carried much more of a threat.
Carroll was called into action for the first time eight minutes after the restart to keep out Campbell-Ryce’s low shot.
The former Manchester United goalkeeper then produced an even better block to deny Basham as the defender looked certain to head in Campbell-Ryce’s teasing cross just after the hour.
County really should have put the game to bed 16 minutes from time when a blistering 50-yard break by Ronan Murray opened up the hosts.
Stefan Scougall, as he had done several times before, tracked back brilliantly to hold the attack up on the edge of the penalty area only for the ball to break to Mustapha Dumbuya.
He looked up before rolling an inch-perfect pass for Stephen McLaughlin.
It seemed merely a case of the midfielder picking his spot past Howard only for him to hesitate fatally which allowed Jay McEveley to block.
Two minutes later, United were level courtesy of a flying header from Murphy as he converted a left-wing cross by Harris to set up a frantic finale in which Carroll had to save smartly at the feet of Scougall and then Murphy saw a shot blocked by Edwards.
Then, right at the finish, McNulty seemed certain to latch on to Flynn’s cross only for Basham to inadvertently get in the way and ensure honours ended even.
Sheffield United: Howard; Basham, McCarthy, McEveley, Harris; Campbell-Ryce, Baxter (Reed 86), Doyle (Flynn 69), Murphy; Scougall, Higdon (McNulty 69). Unused substitutes: McGahey, Turner, Adams, Wallace.
Notts County: Carroll; Dumbuya, Edwards, Hollis, Cranston (C Thompson 67); Petrasso (Murray 62), Jones, Noble, McLaughlin; G Thompson (Hall 80), Cassidy. Unused substitutes: Smith, Spiess, Traore, Laing.
Referee: R Madley (West Yorkshire).
Bristol City stretched their lead at the top of League One thanks to a 3-0 win over Peterborough United.
Goals from Luke Freeman (2)and Aaron Abraham saw them go four points clear of second-placed Swindon.