Going into over-drive with Sheffield United as Rotherham United aim to pull clear

JACK O’CONNELL is happy to share a car with his Sheffield United team-mate Mark Duffy into work every day.

On target: Blades defender Jack OConnell celebrates scoring the first goal. Pictures: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

But the Blades defender has found he is also sharing the goal-scoring limelight with his car buddy.

For after O’Connell’s fifth-minute goal set the Blades on the road to victory against Rotherham United – and another Bramall Lane clean sheet – the centre-back looked destined for the man-of-the-match award.

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Rotherham United and Sheffield United resume battle for rewards at opposite ends...
Off: Will Vaulks sees red.

But up popped midfielder Duffy with 16 minutes remaining with a wonder strike to seal the victory and pip his team-mate to the sponsors’ award.

It is not the first time this has happened. O’Connell’s only other goal this season came in the 4-1 win over Aston Villa when Duffy also popped up with a goal.

“It does my head in, he scores every time I score,” said O’Connell, a former Millers loan player. “I have never had man-of-the-match yet.

“He’s waiting for me in the car outside, he will probably talk about it all the way home.

“It was a great goal with his left foot, I don’t think he meant it, though,” he added with a smile.

It was the Blades who emerged the happier team after this South Yorkshire derby, which was only going to end up in the hosts’ favour after Millers captain Will Vaulks was sent off in the 28th minute for a needless challenge on the halfway line on George Baldock.

Vaulks had gifted possession to the Blades but, in attempting to atone for his error, he lunged in on Baldock and referee Geoff Eltringham had no hesitation in flashing a straight red card.

“Absolutely devastated, worst I’ve ever felt after a football game,” revealed Vaulks on Twitter after the game. “First red card of my career in a game like that. I’ve killed the lads and can’t apologise enough. At no point I thought it was a red-card tackle. I was just trying to block the ball down the side and stop a counter.”

Against a Blades team third in the Championship and yet to concede in the league in 2019 at Bramall Lane, it was a case of damage limitation for the 10-man Millers. Visiting goalkeeper Marek Rodak was key in keeping the scoreline to a one-goal deficit with a string of impressive saves. The best of which was a one-handed block to thwart Enda Stevens’s header from close-range before Duffy’s long-range strike settled any home nerves.

A corner routine honed on the training ground at Shirecliffe brought O’Connell’s early goal.

The 24-year-old found space at the near post to side-foot home Ollie Norwood’s low corner and the same set-piece nearly brought a second after the interval only for a Millers defender to block John Fleck’s goalbound effort.

“That was the first set-piece we worked on yesterday, so it came off,” O’Connell told The Yorkshire Post.

“We had one in the second-half, too, where Duffy played it round the corner for Fleck. That would have been nice if that had come off.

“It was good that we scored from a set-piece against Rotherham because that is their strength.

“The attention to detail – we worked on their long throws, their set-pieces – that’s what they are good at. We got the clean sheet, which was important.

“We knew it was going to be a physical game. We let ourselves down in the first game at their place. We got bullied a bit and weren’t going to let that happen at our place in front of our own fans.

“We made sure we were physical with them and then when we could play, we played.”

Cheered on by 2,243 Millers fans in a derby crowd of 27,402 the resilient visitors were never going to concede a cricket score.

But this defeat means they travel to QPR on Wednesday night desperate for at least a point before Saturday’s visit of leaders Norwich City to the New York Stadium.

“We have got to go to QPR now full of confidence,” said Millers midfielder Joe Newell. “We have played well today and Wednesday is now a massive game.

“It is coming down to the exciting part of the season with all these games counting now and we have got to rise to it.

“We are in good form, the result here doesn’t change that. If anything, we can take confidence from it.

“We will not be downbeat after today. We showed the fans something to be proud of. Hopefully, we can take a lot from this going into the games that are coming up.

“I thought character-wise we performed today how everyone would have expected us. It was never going to be questioned.

“The sending off changed the game. They scored early on but I thought the response from us was really good. We were probably the better team after the goal but, as soon as you lose a man to a team who keep the ball and like to move you around as much as these guys do, then it’s going to be a tough afternoon.

“Vaulks is obviously gutted. The sending off is a tough one because he hasn’t touched the player and the physio didn’t come on.

“He hasn’t meant to do the player. He’s gone to block the ball.”

While Rotherham are desperate to stay in the Championship, the Blades hope to depart it in May. They host O’Connell’s former club Brentford tomorrow night, before a trip to Leeds United on Saturday.

“Tuesday will now be a completely different test because Brentford are a good passing team,” said O’Connell. “They like to thread balls in behind, stuff like that.

“Brentford is the next game and that’s all we are focused on.”