Proud Sheffield United display gives cause for optimism despite 2-1 Manchester City defeat

With just 20 per cent of the ball and six shots – all in the last 20 minutes – to Manchester City's 30, Sheffield United were well beaten on Sunday, even if the scoreline did not reflect it.

You would never have known as they were applauded off.

When you are so far behind financially and technically as the Blades are of the best team on the planet, defeat is not inevitable, just pretty likely. So how you lose is important.

Sunday's 2-1 loss gave optimism to a crowd who must have feared something demoralising.

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With manager Paul Heckingbottom directing from the sideline whilst Pep Guardiola was in Spain convalescing from back surgery, they showed tremendous tactical discipline and hunger to work.

As City tried to throw their weight around with referee Jarred Gillett late in the first half, George Baldock happily took a yellow card to send a message to Jack Grealish's ankle that even though the man in black seemed in awe of them at times, their hosts would not be bullied.

When Erling Haaland headed in after 63 minutes not only did the floodgates not open, the game began to be played in the whole of the pitch, not just a third, and substitute Jayden Bogle equalised brilliantly.

A crowd of 31,336 making the noise of three times that lapped it up. Every block, every tackle, every Wes Foderingham save, every long throw Jack Robinson wound up, every corner won was surely cheered louder than City's winning goal in June's European Cup final.

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BRAMALL PAIN: Chris Basham reacts to Rodri's winning goal for Manchester CityBRAMALL PAIN: Chris Basham reacts to Rodri's winning goal for Manchester City
BRAMALL PAIN: Chris Basham reacts to Rodri's winning goal for Manchester City

So it was cruel that having improbably levelled in the 85th minute, Sheffield steel undid them.

When Haaland was unable to stretch to a Grealish cross, Kyle Walker – local lad and former Blade – wanted to keep the ball alive more than Yasser Larouci wanted to shepherd it out. His pull-back bounced off Phil Foden and Rodri smashed it in after 88 minutes.

Few teams can play fantasy football, fewer still can find a way to win when even that is not working.

You felt for downtrodden hosts who lost a defender to injury in the opening 20 minutes – significant only right at the death – and conceded a harsh penalty in the 36th.

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HEAD BOY: Manchester City's Norwegian striker Erling Haaland breaks the deadlockHEAD BOY: Manchester City's Norwegian striker Erling Haaland breaks the deadlock
HEAD BOY: Manchester City's Norwegian striker Erling Haaland breaks the deadlock

Minus Pep's promptings – or at least with them diluted by a phone line – City were not at their brilliant best in finding ways to seep through the tiny cracks but certainly not poor either.

Left wing-back Ben Osborn, in his third starting position in three matches this season, coped well with Walker becoming the right winger of a five-man attack when City had the ball, allowing Robinson to shadow Bernardo Silva inside.

Losing him to an 18th-minute groin problem was a blow but with summer signing Larouci in his place, the hosts continue to defend the same way, Gustavo Hamer deeper in a five-man midfield as they sensibly came away from the 3-4-2-1 of the opening fixtures.

The suffocated Silva drifted closer to deep midfielder Rodri than Haaland for some air and to feel the ball.

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COOL FINISH: Jayden Bogle of Sheffield United celebrates equalisingCOOL FINISH: Jayden Bogle of Sheffield United celebrates equalising
COOL FINISH: Jayden Bogle of Sheffield United celebrates equalising

City’s possession monopoly took 28 minutes to create a real scare.

Even then, John Egan and Foderingham were in the faces of Haaland and Julian Alvarez, strangling their shots at source.

It seemed the Blades' luck had run out on 36th minute when the ball struck the arm of Egan, out from his body for balance as he left his feet. It was the sort of thing often given as a penalty these days, but the rulemakers really need to tell us what else a defender is supposed to do.

Haaland charged at the penalty, boos ringing around the ground, as if he planned to smash it into next week but could only wallop the post.

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City were even more relentless after the break, camping in front of Foderingham's goal.

When Haaland headed a great chance wide in the 51st minute, then saw Foderingham pull off an incredible 61st-minute save, it looked like it was not going to be his day, and perhaps not his team's either.

But he only needs one chance and his team were making plenty. Grealish got to the byline and Haaland rose above Robinson to head in.

Heckingbottom later revealed the plan had been to dig in until the fit-again Oli McBurnie was ready to make an impact but instead of a winner, he had an equaliser to chase. Perhaps booted up the backside by Cameron Archer’s £18.5m arrival to take his place, he lifted his side after relieving rookie Osula.

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Ruben Dias had to block a Hamer shot when Robinson's throw-in dropped to him and before the ball went dead Anel Ahmedhodic shot wide of the goal Ederson vacated. McBurnie headed wide at a corner.

Foderingham made a plunging save to deny Alvarez and it was his long ball McBurnie chested to Traore. Vinicius Souza's tackle worked the ball to Bogle, who steadied himself and scored.

From noisy ecstasy to the deflation of Rodri's winner minutes later was a heck of a come-down but no one came to Bramall Lane expecting to see their team take any points.

They left instead with pride and priceless belief aplenty.

Sheffield United: Foderingham; Ahmedhodzic, Egan, Robinson; Baldock (Bogle 71), Souza, Norwood (Basham 80), Hamer, Osborn (Larouci 18); Traore; Osula (McBurnie 71). Unused substitutes: Davies, Trusty, Coulibaly, Marsh, Brooks.

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Manchester City: Ederson; Walker, Dias, Ake, Gvardiol; Rodri, Kovacic (Foden 86); Silva, Alvarez, Grealish; Haaland. Unused substitutes: Phillips, Doku, Ortega, Gomez, Bobb, Palmer, Lewis, McAtee.

Referee: J Gillett (Merseyside).