Likely lads are still providing brains for Sheffield United
Fortunately, what they do have is a McGoldrick and Sharp and in comparison to many of their Championship rivals, they are quids in.
Watching his side drift towards what looked likely to be a third successive defeat, Slavisa Jokanovic required help and badly needed to witness some game intelligence and inspiration.
Following the game, the United manager pointedly spoke of his side not playing with ‘enough brains’ for a significant spell after Jacob Brown’s clinical 55th-minute opener and it was a fair charge levelled at his players.
The Blades’ own brains trust in Billy Sharp and David McGoldrick – still the club’s most likely lads up top with a combined age of 68 – got together to provide the savvy in relieving and glorious fashion.
Not for the first time and probably not the last either.
The hosts’ 80th-minute equaliser may have been scored by substitute Lys Mousset – whose sense of timing in scoring his first Bramall Lane goal in almost two years was exquisite.
He could not really miss and the equaliser owed everything to the nous of Sharp and McGoldrick, who combined effortlessly to serve up the chance on a golden platter for the Frenchman.
The moment arrived three minutes after McGoldrick had entered the fray. Three minutes later, he displayed further evidence to show that while form is temporary, class is permanent.
The veteran was in the right place at the right time to latch onto Enda Stevens’s succulent low cross and instinctively prod the ball past Adam Davies – with the aid of a slight deflection off Stoke defender Ben Wilmot. Downtown Bramall Lane was beautiful once again.
McGoldrick has scored decisive goals in four home league victories in 2021. Given that the Blades have only managed eight this calendar year, it is testament to his continued importance in the winter of his career.
The forward, whose previous goal arrived on the final day of last season, said: “I was chomping at the bit to get involved. It is not ideal coming on at 1-0 down, but as an attacker, your thoughts are that you can make a difference and luckily enough, I did.
“Mousset came on and has raw pace and a different asset and everyone who comes on has. They brought me on and I have not got that pace, but I can add a different dimension.
“I love the club and football and want to play. I have got to grind it out in training every day and show and impress the manager.
“I did not have the greatest start to the season and should have scored goals and know that.
“It is one of those things, I have been hitting the back of the net in training and wanted to come out here and do it and get involved.”
This was not the scoreboard statement of United’s first home game back after the previous international hiatus, when they spanked Peterborough 6-2 and the young hearts of Morgan Gibbs-White and Iliman Ndiaye ran free, but this latest victory was more meaningful.
The accusation they had not beaten any serious Championship team of substance was heartily answered in beating a proficient Stoke side, moreso given the fact United did it the hard way in coming from behind.
Moments after the shrill of the final whistle, it was hard not to arrive at the conclusion that the final 10 minutes constituted the most important passage of action in the club’s campaign.
You also felt that everyone connected with the Blades also needed this badly.
It was McGoldrick’s afternoon ultimately, but Sharp’s impact was also plain to see, although maybe not in a way that most would have imagined at times.
After being dispossessed in the 16th minute, with the visitors’ promptly breaking upfield and earning a corner, Sharp atoned for the rare aberration when he was well stationed to clear Brown’s goalbound header off the line and showed what a good professional he is.
At the other end, Sharp’s canny movement troubled hulking defender Harry Souttar, a player being watched by several Premier League clubs. He will have learned plenty.
Sharp pulled away from his marker at the far post before seeing his header blocked by Adam Davies after being picked out nicely by Oli Norwood.
It was an occasion when the United goal-poacher did not find the net, yet his value was still crystal clear. United’s spell from the half hour up to the break was particularly encouraging. A lovely move should have ended with Gibbs-White heading the hosts in front from Sharp’s juicy cross, but his aim was wayward.
Early in the second half, Souttar’s error in failing to clear his lines near the byline let in Jayden Bogle with Wilmot clearing off the line before Stevens’s drive flashed wide and an even bigger moment soon arrived at the Bramall Lane end.
Brown got away from Norwood and John Egan and swivelled neatly before firing home a crisp drive, with the choruses of ‘Delilah’ soon ringing out from Stoke’s delighted 2,725 travelling contingent.
United stumbled and Nick Powell went close to a second with a snapshot before the hosts’ likely lads teamed up in the nick of time.
The old songs can still be the best.