Forward thinking finally pays off for Sheffield United’s John Egan

Burnley and Sheffield United are built on the centre of their defences but in that respect at least, they come at the game from very different angles. The Blades come at you from angles, making up for their inability to afford 24-carat goalscorers by threatening from so many sources.
Sheffield United's John Egan scores at Burnley. Pictures: PA.Sheffield United's John Egan scores at Burnley. Pictures: PA.
Sheffield United's John Egan scores at Burnley. Pictures: PA.

Where Burnley’s centre-backs are expected to be the defensive platform from which they have been defying the odds for years, the Blades have caught teams on the hop by attacking from deep.

So while James Tarkowski’s fourth goal in 137 appearances might have been an unexpected bonus for the Clarets, the brilliant volley which brought John Egan’s maiden Premier League goal was greeted with a “What took you so long?” from his manager, Chris Wilder.

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Both these small squads are creaking under a punishing schedule yet ahead of Tottenham Hotspur and Everton because their managers accept nothing less than total commitment.

Burnley's Matej Vydra has a shot on goal.Burnley's Matej Vydra has a shot on goal.
Burnley's Matej Vydra has a shot on goal.

“Forward! Forward!” yelled Wilder, unwilling to settle for a very respectable point in cold, wind and rainswept Lancashire after Egan’s 80th-minute equaliser.

What probably added to his hunger for victory was the feeling it ought to have been wrapped up by half-time.

“From an effort, attitude and enthusiasm point of view it was really good, (I’m) just a touch critical that we didn’t put them to bed in the first 20, 25 minutes,” reflected Wilder. “When we were on top we were just a little bit rushed and lacked composure.”

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Egan was one of those guilty, getting forward in open play but taking his eye off a first-half cross a forward might have buried before making up for it with a volley any attacker would be proud of.

Sheffield United's David McGoldrick (front) and Burnley's Kevin Long battle for the ball.Sheffield United's David McGoldrick (front) and Burnley's Kevin Long battle for the ball.
Sheffield United's David McGoldrick (front) and Burnley's Kevin Long battle for the ball.

It had been a good seven days for the Blades and because of that, Wilder named an unchanged side which flew out of the blocks. Perhaps also because of that, they began to look leggy in the second half. If the early post-resumption games have been slow burners, it would be understandable if the later ones increasingly fizzled out. It took all Sheffield United’s reserves of determination to claim a late point.

Oli McBurnie forced Nick Pope to save well with his feet inside two minutes and Sander Berge had the ball in the net in the fifth.

Playing his sixth game in 18 days after three in the previous 186, Jack Robinson produced a mixed bag of a performance before making way for the fit-again Jack O’Connell after 55 minutes.

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The centre-back’s long throw has added yet another angle of attack but when Pope failed to deal with it and Berge tapped in, the goal was disallowed because Robinson overstepped the touchline.

When he gave the ball away in the 10th minute Dwight McNeill picked out Jay Rodriguez, who switched the play only for Matej Vydra to shoot wide as Dean Henderson charged out.

Missing Tarkowski’s regular partner Ben Mee with an ankle injury left Burnley potentially vulnerable at the back. Kevin Long made his first Premier League start since 2018 having played the majority of his football on loan for a variety of clubs including Barnsley. At 29 he is no youngster learning the game.

The Blades pushed hard to exploit Mee’s absence, with Robinson playing his part.

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Burnley were fortunate not to concede a penalty when the ball accidentally struck Erik Pieters. This season’s handball rule is an ass, but video assistant referee Stuart Attwell scrutinised the pictures a long time before not applying it.

It was tempting to say a striker might not have been distracted as Egan was by Pope running across his eyeline at a Ben Osborn cross, but David McGoldrick seemed hesitant to throw himself at a deflected O’Connell cross shortly after the latter’s introduction.

Berge and Egan disappointingly missed the target with headers, and at the end of the first half the Blades were made to pay. Rodriguez flicked on a McNeill free-kick and McBurnie lost concentration and Tarkowski for just long enough.

It made the second half a tactical conundrum for Wilder, initially switching to 3-4-1-2 with McGoldrick in the hole, then bringing on league debutant Jack Rodwell initially in midfield as the Blades went to the diamond they chased FA Cup victory with seven days earlier.

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The visitors remained the stronger team but in their weariness they struggled to ram home the advantage. Their best player was Osborn, who seven days earlier was preparing for a Premier League debut. He brought a freshness O’Connell will hopefully soon be able to inject after his injury-enforced lay-off.

Inevitably gaps opened, and McNeill had a terrible 71st-minute miss when Henderson parried a fierce Rodriguez shot.

An 80th-minute corner was worked so Osborn’s delivery was pretty much a straight ball, flicked up by substitute Billy Sharp for Egan to despatch.

“That should have been his 10th goal of the season, not his first,” was Wilder’s opening gambit when asked about it afterwards. There really is no pleasing some people because those people are relentless winners.

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Henderson made a good added-time save from Pieters, albeit the ball was probably going wide, but a share of the spoils felt fair.

“We lacked a little bit of energy but we didn’t lack heart so get a result from a losing position is always satisfying,” said Wilder.

“Four points off Burnley over the season is a good effort for us and four points from a tough week, we’ll take that.”

He can be happy after a draw, even if he is constantly looking for more.

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