Sheffield United’s Michael Higdon ended a seven-year wait to score again in English football, but found little to celebrate as his new team crashed to an opening-day defeat.
United’s new striker has spent the last seven seasons plying his trade, first in Scotland and then in Holland.
The Liverpool-born forward’s previous goal in the Football League came for Crewe at Millwall in 2007, before he earned a move north of the border to Falkirk.
He spent last season at NEC Nijmegen in the Dutch league, netting 14 goals in 32 appearances, but the 30-year-old was tempted back to English football last week by Nigel Clough.
Just four days after arriving at Bramall Lane, the Blades’ chief handed Higdon an immediate debut as the lone striker against Bristol City and also made him captain.
It looked bleak when another debutant, Bristol City’s Aaron Wilbraham, headed in Mark Little’s 20th-minute cross against the run of play.
But Higdon ended his seven-year itch with a glancing header from Ben Davies’s free-kick 12 minutes later and United should have been in front at half-time.
Somehow they failed to score with Jamie Murphy and Stefan Scougall both going close, and Bristol City defender Aden Flint making three goal-line clearances to cap an impressive afternoon.
The half-time whistle came at the wrong time for United, who were in full flow, and after the interval the game went flat.
The lunchtime kick-off looked to be petering out into a 1-1 televised draw before Wade Elliott popped up with a 72nd-minute winner.
The midfielder, who Blades fans will not need reminding thwarted their Premier League dreams in 2009 when he netted the winner for Burnley in the Championship play-off, raced on to Wilbraham’s flick to rifle the ball beyond a stranded Mark Howard.
Despite some near, late misses, the Blades were unable to grab an equaliser to leave Higdon frustrated.
“I was really excited before the game and couldn’t wait to start,” said Higdon, his thick Scouse accent prominent despite his nomadic career.
“As a striker, you just wish you can get off to a good start with a goal.
“We conceded one early but I managed to get the equaliser, which was a great feeling.
“But the over-riding feeling is disappointment with the result.
“I didn’t think it was justified, I thought a draw would have been a fair result.
“We had more chances than they did. But you have to play for the 90 minutes, especially against a quality side like Bristol City, who have a few players who can hurt you.
“It was disappointing, but I also think there was a lot of plusses for us from the game.
“We should have been three or four goals up at half-time, that’s what we were saying in the changing room. It was a bit flat from us (in the second half) which was disappointing.
“As the manager said, there are 45 games to go and if we create that many chances again then I am sure we will be 4-0 or 5-0 up by half-time.
“It’s just one game. Obviously, you want to win your first game for the fans, there were 20,000 here and they are not stupid; they know their football and can see a lot of positives.
“For that last 30 minutes of the first half we were excellent, and that’s what need to try and repeat.
“There’s something there for us to build upon.”
Playing as a lone striker, Higdon’s role is key to how Clough wants to play and he showed glimpses that he can be the 20-goal forward United crave.
He is tall, strong and can hold the ball up, while his header showed he can prosper from the quality of crosses from the flanks from Jamie Murphy and Ryan Flynn, plus over-lapping full-backs Davies and Bob Harris.
“There was good service coming in from both sides, Harris and Davies were flying up there to support the wingers,” said Higdon. “Bristol had three big central defenders, so they were heading the majority away, but with the quality that was coming in, the quicker I get up to speed, I am going to love that for the rest of the season. I am really excited.
“You do get some games like this. It’s a bit deflating, all the hard work the boys have put in, but I am sure we can put it right next week.
“The pressure’s on to make a difference. As a striker, you score a goal and go home and you have done all right. You take the positives from it, but it’s about results and we haven’t got one. As a striker, I was delighted to get off the mark. It was a lovely ball by Ben Davies, who is absolute quality, and I will be feeding off him all season, hopefully. I nearly kissed his face off.
“It was my first (goal) in England for a while, but I think if you have a bit of an instinct it doesn’t really leave you, no matter what country you play in.
“You just try to get on the end of crosses. There were certain times when I didn’t make the right run in the second half and there were balls being whipped across the box I should have done better on.
“The games will come thick and fast now and I am sure I will get up to speed quickly. I had a great week of training, been happy with what’s been put in front of me and have battled through.
“The legs were a little bit sore. It was great to get 90 minutes, I don’t think the manager really wanted me to play that long, but I said I was fine. Hopefully I can walk (yesterday).”