Liverpool 3 Sheffield United 1: Pride in defeat for the Blades - who go out by the front door

THE LAST team to beat Liverpool at league level at their Anfield citadel - Bill Shankly would have called it a bastion of invincibility had he still been around - happened to be from Yorkshire, 27 games previously.

Leeds United’s late win in these parts in October 2022 was a shock, for sure. A victory for Sheffield United on Thursday would have registered far, far higher up the Richter scale in truth, with respect to where the Blades currently find themselves and at this stage of a long and bruising old season.

As expected, the rock-bottom Blades did not emerge victorious. But they gave their lofty opponents a fair old scare which has to be something given this campaign.

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Jurgen Klopp, who has seen a fair few things in time, urged caution beforehand ahead of talk that United - with 77 concessions already this term, a record after 29 games at Premier League level - were easy beats from the outside and he was right to be.

Sheffield United's Jayden Bogle (right) pulls back on Liverpool's Luis Diaz during the Premier League match at Anfield: Picture: Peter Byrne/PA Wire.Sheffield United's Jayden Bogle (right) pulls back on Liverpool's Luis Diaz during the Premier League match at Anfield: Picture: Peter Byrne/PA Wire.
Sheffield United's Jayden Bogle (right) pulls back on Liverpool's Luis Diaz during the Premier League match at Anfield: Picture: Peter Byrne/PA Wire.

United produced the sort of hearty, disciplined and gutsy performance that has sadly been lacking for much of this season. Some of the over-my-dead-body defending has previously been conspicuous by its absence.

Yes, they gift-wrapped the softest of openers to the hosts following an awful episode for Ivo Grbic.

But they got over it admirably and would stun Anfield when Gus Hamer’s header deflected in off Conor Bradley a few minutes before the hour mark.

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Big players with World Cup medals in their safe change games. When Liverpool needed something special, they got it with a blockbuster from Alexis Mac Allister on 76 minutes.

It was a strike of screaming quality not in keeping with a second half when the Reds were ragged until that moment. Title-chasing sides have to find a way at this time in proceedings and this one did.

A late header from Cody Gakpo sealed the victory, but there were pride and substantives on the night from United who did not roll over and let their bellies be tickled.

Defeat yes, but the South Yorkshire outfit went out of the front door to coin one of Chris Wilder’s favourite phrases and there was stuff to admire on the night.

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With their cathedral stuffed to the gills on the sort of wet Merseyside evening in the working week which has seen many a famous Anfield night of yore, United almost shook most of the stadium to its core inside the first minute.

They should have in reality. At Liverpool, visiting sides cannot wish for a better opportunity as the one that James McAtee spurned inside the first minute.

Liverpool, with just one clean sheet in their previous nine Anfield matches for all their excellence, switched off following a long throw from one of their old boys in Jack Robinson.

It was flicked on by Anel Ahmedhodzic and McAtee arrived, unchecked, at the far post. With plenty of the goal to aim at, he fired straight at Caoimhin Kelleher.

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From McAtee’s resulting corner, nodded on by the recalled Auston Trusty, Ben Brereton Diaz almost got a telling touch at the far post.

Anfield was aghast, but the hosts would eventually shake off the rust.

Just as you cannot pass up big opportunities when you head to Anfield, displaying charity at the other end is also foolish in the extreme.

In April fool’s week, Grbic had a stinker.

Under no pressure, the Croatian waited an eternity to clear and then wanted the ground to swallow him up after his clearance was charged down by Darwin Nunez and crept apologetically, almost embarrassingly, into the net on 19 minutes.

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It ruined an opening that Wilder would have otherwise been fairly content with, aside from the two big moments.

Pacified by the goal, Liverpool enjoyed almost total hegemony for the rest of the half, with their only warning coming just before the interval when a nice move ended in Jayden Bogle testing Kelleher at his near post.

Grbic, at least, ensured he was not beaten again in the first period.

Before the goal, he tipped over Mo Salah’s curler and made a decent save to deny Dominik Szoboszlai as the Reds sought a killer second. Nunez also wriggled clear and shot straight at him.

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Mac Allister and Luis Diaz, an irritant down the left, also went close for the hosts with a precision curler, but the scoreline was at least United’s friend of sorts at the interval, when many had been fearful of a battering beforehand.

Liverpool sought the second goal to turn the game into the formality they and their fans desired.

For the Blades, it was about trying to stay organised and in the game and let the clock be their accomplice and allow a bit of home anxiety to potentially seep in.

Hamer fired a free-kick at Kelleher, while Liverpool’s slow start to the second period enabled United to grow and how.

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Hamer kept alive on the left and a glorious moment soon germinated.

McAtee’s cross from the right found Hamer at the far post, with his header deflecting off Conor Bradley’s ankle and slipping underneath Kelleher - as the Anfield angst became prevalent.

Wilder sensed a mood change and was right to and threw on Oli McBurnie, WIll Osula and Ben Osborn.

Attacking the Kop, Liverpool almost produced a riposte, with Virgil van Dijk’s header kept out by Grbic.

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There were some hairy moments for the Blades, but no onslaught. By their high standards, Liverpool were sloppy and lost their way. Salah got the hook after an hour.

Substitute Andy Robertson then fired off target on the volley when well placed. It was becoming a tale of frustration for the hosts.

The classy Mac Allister applied the balm. Later, he smacked the crossbar with a sublime free-kick.

Class tells, eventually and that was reinforced with another silky performer in Gakpo glanced in a late third from Robertson’s left-wing cross.

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Liverpool: Kelleher, Bradley, Konate, Van Dijk, Gomez (Jones 72), Mac Allister, Gravenberch (Robertson 60), Szoboszlai (Gakpo 72), Salah (Ellliott 60), Nunez, Diaz. Substitutes unused: Adrian, Tsimikas, Clark, Quansah, Danns.

Sheffield United: Grbic; Bogle, Holgate (Ben Slimane 88), Ahmedhodzic, J Robinson, Trusty (Brooks 78); Souza, Arblaster, Hamer (Osborn 62); McAtee (McBurnie 63), Brereton Diaz (Osula 63). Substitutes unused: Foderingham, Larouci, Curtis, Norwood

Referee: S Attwell (Warwickshire).

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