Sheffield United 3 Bradford City 1: Blades end year on high to delight of boss Adkins

THANKS to a frustrating Boxing Day that brought a postponement apiece and victories for the five clubs above them in the table, the 64th instalment of a Yorkshire rivalry stretching back more than a century was never going to propel the winner into the play-off places.

Sheffield Uniteds Billy Sharp celebrates scoring the opening goal.
Sheffield Uniteds Billy Sharp celebrates scoring the opening goal.

What it could do, though, was provide a clear statement of intent ahead of a second half of the League One season that seems certain to feature a promotion race that goes to the wire.

In that respect, Sheffield United delivered in front of Bramall Lane’s biggest crowd of the season as Bradford City conceded more goals than they had let in over the previous 15 hours of football.

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Billy Sharp started the scoring with a quite sublime strike before second-half goals from Conor Sammon and David Edgar underlined United’s dominance.

With a home game against sixth-placed Peterborough United to kick-off 2016 next weekend, such a convincing triumph over another promotion rival was timely in the quest to gatecrash not just the play-offs but also the race for the top two.

Manager Nigel Adkins said: “There has been a frustration at this football club for the past four or five years because of the division we are in. But everyone is working hard.

“We are at the halfway stage now and I said at the start of the season we had to stay in the race by January. I’d like to have picked up a few more results but we are in the race.

“I was pleased with our players against Bradford, that spell of 20 to 25 minutes at the start of the second half was getting towards where we want to be.

“We were all united together, we just need to do that more consistently. But it showed what we are capable of.”

United’s victory was fully warranted, even if their first-half showing had been every bit as untidy as that of the visitors.

The exception to an opening 45 minutes largely light on goalmouth action was how Sharp broke the deadlock.

Collecting a pass from Martyn Woolford, the Blades striker turned his marker expertly before drilling an unstoppable 25-yard shot beyond Ben Williams’s out-stretched hand.

It was Sharp’s third goal in as many games and his 10th of the season. The previous two had both brought 1-0 wins for United and, for a time yesterday, a repeat looked likely, such was the glaring lack of creativity on show.

Even when a rare gilt-edged opportunity did come along in first-half stoppage time as Sharp teed up Sammon brilliantly with a right-wing cross, it was spurned thanks to the unmarked loanee from Derby County somehow heading well wide from just three yards out.

Sammon’s miss drew hoots of derision from the 3,886 travelling fans behind that goal as the rest of the 24,777 crowd held their heads in disbelief.

The fear from a Blades perspective was that the wasting of such a great opportunity would, ultimately, prove costly.

Bradford may not have fashioned much of attacking note during that tepid first half but George Long had still been forced to get down to his right smartly to claw away a Tony McMahon free-kick.

Twelve minutes after the restart, however, those fears were allayed when United doubled their advantage.

Sammon took the acclaim by wheeling away in animated celebration after Paul Coutts’s cross had been bundled in at the back post but there was more than a suspicion of City captain Stephen Darby getting the final touch.

Either way, United were firmly in control by this stage and a third goal arrived just six minutes later when Woolford picked out an unmarked Edgar and the defender made no mistake from five yards out.

After that, it was a damage limitation exercise for Bradford, who up until yesterday’s visit to Bramall Lane had conceded just twice in their previous 10 games.

James Hanson was denied by a post and Long in quick succession before the Blades goalkeeper did brilliantly to keep out a deflected free-kick from McMahon.

Gary Liddle did head in a consolation goal seven minutes from time but it was not enough to appease manager Parkinson.

“I am disappointed with how we started the second half,” said the City chief. “We went too loose as a team and creaked a little bit and that’s the first time I have seen us do that for a long time.

“For that period, we made them look a good team. Obviously, Sheffield United have got some very good players and we’ve got to give them credit but we just didn’t handle that period of pressure as well as we have been doing.”

Sheffield United: Long; Brayford, Edgar, Collins, McEveley; Coutts, Basham, Hammond, Woolford (Flynn 89): Sharp (Campbell-Ryce 90), Done (Sammon 26). Unused substitutes: Howard, Baxter, Reed, Wallace.

Bradford City: Williams; Darby, McArdle, Burke, Leigh (Meredith 69); McMahon, Evans (Knott 69), Liddle, Reid’ B Clarke (Cole 76), Hanson. Unused substitutes: Cracknell, N Clarke, Marshall, Bowery.

Referee: M Haywood (West Yorkshire).