HE may have been on the losing side on his debut appearance on A Question Of Sport on Friday evening, but there was no denying Billy Sharp two days on.
It is a forte of those who don the captain’s armband to provide valuable contributions in a team’s hour of need and Sheffield United’s irrepressible heartbeat emphatically came to the fore – just as he did in the reverse fixture on an intoxicating opening day.
Trailing to an easy-on-the-eye Bournemouth outfit, Sharp and his team-mates were handed a healthy test of character.
Chris Wilder’s Blades side have usually found a way throughout his magnificent tenure and here was another case in point. They were not to be moved.
Sharp started the comeback with a leveller in first-half stoppage time – his first in the top-flight on home soil – and one of the Blades’ unsung heroes of their momentous, wonderfully absorbing and compelling season sealed the deal in John Lundstram.
In tough conditions on a greasy surface, the Blades were not at their flowing best, but their spirit, desire and application which have delighted Wilder – in the thick of it in the second half when he received a caution following a touchline contretemps.
At the final whistle, thrilled Unitedites showed just what they thought of it by chanting ‘The Blades are staying up’ after seeing the hosts close in on 40 points and eclipse their entire tally they amassed in their last top-flight campaign in 2006-07.
It is not even mid-February, with the Blades heading off for their mid-winter break in Dubai in rude health with thoughts of Europe also in their minds.
Wild conditions – which had threatened this fixture – mercifully relented ahead of kick-off, with the sun even making an appearance as home fans greeted record signing Sander Berge with warmth on his home bow.
Unfortunately, the elements dictated that Berge’s mother and brother were not in attendance, with their flight turned back to Oslo after being unable to land at Manchester Airport.
It may have been a blessing in disguise and it was a day when Lundstram, the player who he has usurped in the Blades’ line-up, proved a point.
Berge’s chief contribution in the first half was one he would rather forget after giving the ball away in the build-up to Bournemouth’s 13th-minute opener.
Play switched to Ryan Fraserwhose cross found Harry Wilson – and after his initial effort was blocked, Callum Wilson instantly blasted home the rebound.
A jolt for the Blades, but in truth, it had been coming.
The visitors stroked the ball around with ease for much of the first period, marrying it with a prodigious work-rate and clever movement.
The penchant of Bournemouth’s attack-minded players to stay down on the floor when challenged was rather less edifying.
The Cherries announced themselves when Harry Wilson headed wide before his namesake hooked a shot over – but the England striker soon fared better.
Moments later, Philip Billing was inches away from turning in Fraser’s centre as the Blades were forced on the back foot.
Good sides regroup and respond, which is what United did.
A shot into the side-netting from Sharp saw him arrive at the party before Jack O’Connell nodded over with the Blades belatedly generating a head of steam in the lead-up to the break.
A smart stop from ex-Blades keeper Aaron Ramsdale thwarted Oli McBurnie before Oliver Norwood’s deflected effort sailed just wide.
The hosts persisted and the Cherries cracked and it will surprise few that Sharp was the beneficiary as he netted the sort of stock-in-trade strike he has forged his goal-laden career on.
His gravitation to the back post was pure instinct, as the classically-trained goal poacher fired home the loose ball after John Egan’s effort had been blocked after Bournemouth failed to cope with Enda Stevens’ low cross.
Clearly in the mood, Sharp went close to a milestone first top-flight goal in front of the Kop soon after testing Ramsdale at his near-post as the Blades rediscovered their old selves.
This time, it was Bournemouth’s turn to dig in before tempers was raised following Egan’s challenge on Dan Gosling, which he appeared to make a meal of.
Amid the commotion on the touchline, Wilder and Andrew Surman received cautions after a bit of a shoving match before both sides recomposed themselves.
A hooked shot from Ake went close before Dean Henderson showed why so many observers are clamouring him to be handed his England debut with a stunning reaction save to deny Fraser.
Both sides pushed for a winner and a story was almost tantalisingly provided by substitute Lys Mousset against his old employers, only for Adam Smith to save the day with a timely block.
Mousset was then afforded his moment – if no place on the scoresheet – when he teed up Lundstram for his match-winning contribution, a pinpoint low finish with Wilder’s canny substitutions reaping a harvest.