Sheffield United 0 Wolves 2: Celebrating Blades beaten at Lane

Niegl Clough.
Niegl Clough.
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SHEFFIELD UNITED’S 125th birthday party was spoiled by League One leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers, who ended the Blades’ proud 11-match unbeaten run with a thoroughly professional victory.

A goal 13 minutes in from the impressive Karl Henry and a second eight minutes after the restart from Dave Edwards saw the Black Country outfit claim the spoils as United suffered their first home defeat since November 16.

It represented a reality check for the the FA Cup semi-finalists United, whose faint hopes of reaching the play-offs now appear over, with the hosts also seeing their magnificent club record run without conceding a league goal finally end.

That came when Henry’s cross found a way past Mark Howard, the first time his goal had been breached in the league since Byron Moore’s effort beat him in stoppage-time at Crewe Alexandra on February 1 - just under twelve-and-a-quarter hours.

Edwards’ killer second effectively ended the contest as Wolves secured a seasonal double over United and their 11th away victory of the campaign.

Prior to that, the Blades traded punches with the visitors and arguably were the better side, with Wanderers keeper Carl Ikeme, who spent a brief spell at S2 on loan in 2009 before injury forced him to return to Molineux, making two key first-half saves to deny Stefan Scougall and Ryan Flynn.

A fair gathering of Blades greats including Tony Currie, Alan Birchenall, Eddie Colquhoun, Len Badger, Paul Stancliffe, Keith Edwards and Tony Agana formed a guard of honour to greet the present-day United onto the Bramall Lane pitch at the start.

The scene was very much set on their big day for the Blades, who made just one change with John Brayford making his return from a calf strain.

After making just one change in their previous seven matches, Wolves switched things around somewhat following a haul of just one point from two games against Shrewsbury and Crawley, with Matt Doherty, Edwards, ex-Sheffield Wednesday forward Leon Clarke and Lee Evans handed starts.

Twelve-goal winger Bakary Sako was demoted to the bench along with ex-Rotherham United loanee Nouha Dicko.

As befitted a side unbeaten in 11 matches and seeking their seventh successive win in all competitions at Bramall Lane, it was the Blades who started the quicker, with a goal almost arriving as early as the fourth minute.

Good play down the left from Kieron Freeman set up Scougall, unmarked in the box and his goalbound effort was turned away superbly by Carl Ikeme.

Electing to field a 4-5-1 line-up, representing somewhat of a mark of respect to the Blades, Wanderers eventually settled, with Howard holding onto their first effort of note, a low shot from Michael Jacobs.

Ex-Blades midfielder Kevin McDonald, subject of a fair few boos from and playing in a deep midfield position, then saw his wild shot fly into the Kop, much to their mirth before the visitors drew first blood on 13 minutes.

The ball was fed out on the right to Henry, whose wickedly-delivered cross dissected the Blades rearguard into the path of the onrushing Edwards before nestling in the net.

The recalled Wolves midfielder wheeled away in celebration to claim the goal, but replays showed it failed to take a touch off him, with the goal belonging to Henry.

It represented the first time that the Blades had been behind in a league game since the clash at Crewe and a major test of their unbeaten credentials since that low point under Nigel Clough.

To their credit, the Blades refused to be downhearted and continued to play with a decent tempo as they sought a way back.

Ryan Flynn looked for a split second to have provided that with a free-kick taking a big deflection off Danny Baath and arrowing towards goal but Ikeme - who also spent a loan spell at Doncaster Rovers earlier in his career - eventually gathered.

A delightful pass from Scougall then set up Jose Baxter on the left with his volley flashing across the face of goal with no Blades player in the box on hand to provide the finishing touch.

Baath soon incurred the wrath of Kevin Friend by being cautioned after bringing down Baxter close to the half-way line before the visitors were within inches of a second goal mon 32 minutes.

A loose ball fell to Henry, twenty yards out and his well-directed angled shot crashed against the post with Howard beaten.

Appeals at the other end for a penalty after Coady went down under pressure from Baath fell on deaf ears before Flynn twisted and turned before seeing his low shot instinctively blocked by Ikeme in his second impressive save of the half.

United finished the half firmly on top with the alert Richard Stearman on hand to clear close-range effort from Brayford off the line to preserve the Black Country outfit’s lead.

Attacking the Kop on the restart, the hosts’ first effort of note saw the lively Scougall fire over a snapshot after Brayford’s cross wasn’t cleared with United continuing their momentum ahead of the interval.

But the hosts were handed a mountain to climb when Kenny Jackett’s side, in their first foray of the second half, doubled their money on 53 minutes.

A quality move began with a sweeping crossfield pass from Jacobs to Henry, who exploited space down the right to send off an inviting cross which was clinically side-footed home by the onrushing Edwards - who this time was rightfully able to milk the applause.

Despite the deficit, Blades fans commendably kept things in perspective with a hearty cry of “Que Sera Sera”, with any chances of gatecrashing the play-offs disappearing onto the horizon.

A path back into proceedings almost came when a fine free-kick from Baxter beat the motionless Ikeme, but unfortunately for the Blades’ sake, it hit the outside of the goal netting - and it hard not to get the impression that it just might not be the hosts’ day.

Clarke was then cut short in his celebrations after netting by an offside flag before spurning a legitimate opportunity after being sent clear, dinking the ball over the onrushing Howard, but fortunately also the goal.

With time ticking away, a touch of frustration and deflection, for the first time in the afternoon as the drizzle came down, started to creep into the hosts play, with Wolves happy to sit back and consolidate their gains.

The game soon petered out from a Blades perspective, with their offensive play starting to deteriorate as reality closed in way by way of a first home defeat in over four months.

The closest United came to a consolation was close to stoppage time when sub Chris Porter’s header sailed wide.

Sheffield United: Howard; Brayford, Maguire, Collins, Freeman (Paynter 88); Flynn (Davies 62), Coady, Doyle, Scougall, Murphy, Baxter (Porter 66). Substitutes not used: McGinn, Long, Khan, Dimaio.

Wolverhampton Wanderers: Ikeme; Doherty (Ricketts 75), Batth, Stearman, Golbourne; Henry, Edwards, Evans (Price 62), McDonald, Jacobs (Sako 90); Clarke. Substitutes not used: Elokobi, McAlinden, McCarey, Dicko.

Referee: K Friend (Leicestershire).

Attendance: 21,659.