Preston 2 Sheffield United 2: Repeat trick for Riis and Blades have themselves to blame

THE phrase 'Living the Dream' will forever stalk Preston company director Peter Ridsdale from his time at Leeds United.

For his current club and opponents Sheffield United, Tuesday night was all about striving to keep another dream alive in the depths of mid-winter - to maintain their prospects of having some fun towards the business end of the Championship table when the daffodils come out in spring.

Both these sides find themselves floating around mid-table, albeit with a sliver of hope amid a campaign which is bizarre even by the Championship's unpredictable standards with Preston and the Blades among several play-off wanabees who are playing catch-up.

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In the event, this point does not particularly help either, but the greater satisfaction in the circumstances belongs to Preston and United had only themselves to blame for surrendering two precious points.

Sheffield United captain Billy Sharp rues late developments at Preston. Picture: PA.Sheffield United captain Billy Sharp rues late developments at Preston. Picture: PA.
Sheffield United captain Billy Sharp rues late developments at Preston. Picture: PA.

Down to ten men from the 38th minute following the dismissal of Andrew Hughes for bringing down Rhian Brewster in the box, it looked like being a decidedly long evening for North End when Billy Sharp tucked away a resultant penalty - his 100th league goal since returning to United for a third spell - to double the visitors' lead following Jayden Bogle's 17th-minute opener.

It should have been the precursor to a comfortable second half, but the Blades were guilty of dropping off in intensity and coasting- particularly during the final quarter and paid a heavy price after encouraging a Preston side on.

Just like in the reverse fixture at Bramall Lane, the Blades were left to bemoan the presence of Preston forward Emil Riis, who followed up his late leveller in the autumn to provide a repeat trick, turning in a cross at the far post from ex-United striker Ched Evans - given applause when he came on by Unitedites.

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Back on dug-out duty after his Covid absence, manager Paul Heckingbottom predicted a high-energy game in his pre-match musings and he was bang on the money in a rip-roaring start. Unfortunately, the game ended in the same fashion and his side were the leggy ones, even with an extra man .

It proved a second sickening away day in a row, albeit for different reasons than Derby on Saturday. Again the Blades have only themselves to blame.

Excellent opportunities in the space of sixty seconds early on provided encouragement for both, but it was the Blades who would take the game by the scruff of the game and dictate, with Conor Hourihane and Oli Norwood winning the central midfield battle early on.

The opening chance came to Preston with Wes Foderingham grasping Hughes’ effort at his neat post before the Blades keeper produced a vital point-blank save to block Scott Sinclair’s strike after the visitors were caught cold on the counter following their own corner.

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Play switched straightaway, with a fine finger-tip save from Daniel Iversen keeping out Iliman Ndiaye’s low drive, but there was no chance for respite.

Iversen kept out John Egan’s header from a corner with the ball finding its way to Bogle, who drilled home a thunderous low drive in a crowded box for his second goal of the campaign.

United proceeded to control the tempo with the recalled Brewster firing straight at Iversen before providing a more telling moment.

He gave Hughes the slip with the panicking home defender then untidily bundling down the Blades striker in the box, with referee David Webb having no hesitation in pointing to the spot and dismissing the North End player.

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Sharp is not one to usually pass up such gifts, sending Iversen the wrong way to guild an excellent away-day half far removed from the passivity at Derby.

On the restart, fine reactions from Iversen kept out Ndiaye’s curler - before Foderingham produced his second key save with a terrific reflex save to keep out Browne’s header as home fans in the Town End finally started to belatedly believe. A sign of things to come.

A third goal would have dampened their enthusiasm, with Brewster close on a couple of occasions for United. He received support from the away end, but no goal.

The well-stationed Foderingham made a good save with his legs to block Riis' low shot but Preston soon found a lifeline when Alan Browne turned in Daniel Johnson's cutback from close range to start the fightback.

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United did not take the hint and plucky, proud Preston persisted and Riis gave them their reward.

Preston: Iversen; van den Berg, Bauer, Hughes; Potts (Rafferty 45), Browne, Whiteman, Barkhuisen (Evans 65); Johnson; Sinclair (Cunningham 40), Riis. Substitutes unused: Ripley, Lindsay, McCann, Maguire.

Sheffield United: Foderingham; Basham, Egan, Robinson; Bogle, Norwood, Hourihane, Stevens (Norrington-Davies 84); Ndiaye (Berge 84); Sharp, Brewster (McGoldrick 70). Substitutes unused: Eastwood, Burke, Slater, Gordon.

Referee: D Webb (Co.Durham).

Attendance: 12,954 (2,510 Sheffield United supporters).