NEVER let it ever be said that 0-0 draws are uneventful.
Many bystanders who made a cursory glance at last night’s result may have come to one seemingly obvious conclusion – that this was the evening when Sheffield United’s flickering chink of play-off light was finally switched off.
Yet on closer inspection, there was plenty more than met the eye, as the Blades’ home fixture with their London visitors produced another draw which no-one will ever forget – for the second successive year.
Last season’s encounter in S2 was controversial in the extreme, with Keith Stroud sending off three players, brandishing 11 yellow cards and awarding four penalties – with two missed in a helter-skelter 2-2 draw.
Despite all that card-happy madness, the drama was arguably surpassed this time around, with Eddie Ilderton this time the unfortunate party to take centre stage.
The key moment arrived in an incredible episode shortly after the half-hour when Ilderton awarded a penalty to the Bees and sent off Kieron Freeman, only to then rescind both awards in stunning fashion as chaos reigned.
In the end, justice was served with Freeman’s last-ditch challenge to deny Marcello Trotta finally deemed an excellently-timed one which clearly won the ball, but it took several minutes of confusion to come to the correct conclusion.
Infuriated Blades players descended on both the official and assistant Mark Dwyer, while seething Blades fans aired a stirring chorus of “You’re not fit to referee” before a dramatic and major about-turn. It proved the talking point of an evening in which two separate South Yorkshire contingents were baying for a home win, with United willed on by their near-neighbours from across the Tinsley Viaduct in Rotherham.
In years gone by, the Blades have come to the assistance of the Millers in stricken times, but couldn’t significantly do so again with Steve Evans’s side desperate for a favour off counterpart Nigel Clough to help aid their pursuit of the second-placed Bees.
But the night saw Mark Warburton’s side – on this, Bees’ assistant David Weir’s first return to the Lane – move six points clear of the Millers.
They face an uphill task to reach their target of second place, with the Blades’ top-six quest looking even more herculean in comparison, with Clough’s side trailing sixth-placed Peterborough by six points, having now played a game more.
Perhaps now for Unitedites, it truly is all about Wembley – if only in the FA Cup semi-final in 11 days’ time.
Brentford may have been comprehensively taken to the cleaners at the New York Stadium a week earlier, but they soon displayed plenty of evidence that a repeat wasn’t on the cards down the road.
Their start against the Blades was imposing, rhythmical and sustained – albeit aided by some cheap surrendering of possession by the hosts at times.
A skewed clearance by Mark Howard was seized upon by Trotta, who cut in before firing in a goalbound shot, which took a deflection off John Brayford, only for Freeman to save the day with a last-ditch clearance. The Bees kept coming with Clayton Donaldson spurning two half-chances before United drew breath and had a decent shout for a penalty turned down after Alan McCormack’s untidy challenge on Jamie Murphy.
An alert saving clearance from Jake Bidwell denied a lurking Paynter before the loan striker – without a league goal in nearly a year – was again thwarted by fine defending from James Tarkowski when destined for a tap-in.
Then came the controversy surrounding Freeman with the fact that five minutes of added-on time were signalled at the end of the first half testament to one of the more bizaare footballing episodes with Ilderton afforded a chorus of boos when he left the field.
The pattern of the first period, with the Bees assuming territory and control, continued on the restart, with the Blades starting to retreat en mass in a bid to take the sting out of the visitors.
Freeman made his second telling intervention to block a goalbound Toumani Diagouraga strike, but to their credit, the hosts, despite being second-best and with plenty taken out of their tank following a gruelling recent schedule, summoned enough strength to just about hang in there.
After Jonathan Douglas fired at Howard, a rare home chance arrived with Ryan Flynn blazing over and while not much polish was on show going forward, there was persistence.
Ten minutes from time, David Button was called upon to tip over Chris Porter’s looping header following Ben Davies’s deep free-kick, the prelude to a lively finish.
First, an unmarked Trotta spurned an excellent headed chance following sub Stuart Dallas’s cross before Flynn was a whisker away with an effort.
Dallas then dragged a shot wide before Trotta – not his best night – shot straight at Howard. Some game.
Sheffield United: Howard; Davies, Brayford, Collins, Freeman; Flynn (Kennedy 90), Coady, Doyle, McGinn (Baxter 83), Murphy; Paynter (Porter 59). Unused substitutes: Scougall, Long, Khan, Dimaio.
Brentford: Button; McCormack, Tarkowski, Craig, Bidwell; Douglas, Diagouraga (Saville 71); Judge (Dallas 79), Forshaw, Donaldson; Trotta. Unused substitutes: Lee, Dean, Grigg, Reeves, Yennaris.
Referee: E Ilderton (Tyne & Wear).