Sheffield United 1 Bristol City 0 - Billy Sharp on the spot in FA Cup victory
They are into the quarter-finals of the FA Cup for a second consecutive year and given that their previous victories in this season’s competition have been followed up by much-needed Premier League wins, perhaps a West Ham United team that has looked tired in their last two matches ought to be worried.
But a cold FA Cup night in South Yorkshire was about the Blades putting thoughts of their league struggles to the back of their mind and putting Bristol City to bed. They did so with more professionalism than panache, dominating the ball but showing a lack of killer instinct.
It needed a Billy Sharp penalty, capitalising on a handball referee Rob Jones initially missed, to separate the sides.
The performances of wing-back Max Lowe and particularly Jayden Bogle, were pluses but really it was more about avoiding minuses. The real positive that could have been garnered eluded them: in his 83 minutes, Rhian Brewster looked no more likely to break his duck in red-and-white stripes.
Although Aaron Ramsdale made the first save, low from Tomas Kalas, the hosts saw most of the possession and did not do enough with it.
Their team selection was not to blame, Chris Wilder naming a strong team and sacrificing a holding midfielder for David McGoldrick behind the front two.
It was the wing-backs, signed from Derby County last summer to provide competition to George Baldock and Enda Stevens, watching injured from the stands, who provided most of the cutting edge.
Brewster played left-sider Lowe in on the right of the penalty area after 10 minutes but he put his shot onto the top of the crossbar. Bogle had the only other cast-iron chance of the half for the hosts. Ethan Ampadu clipped an excellent ball to Sharp, who returned it for a cross the wing-back directed at Max O’Leary.
Mainly, though, it was just nearly moments, Alfie Mawson forced into some good defending to stop Brewster getting onto a Sharp pass, Bogle just putting too much on a ball which threatened to play Brewster in.
Bogle produced a lovely turn in the inside-left channel but his pass left Sharp too tight to the byline to make anything of it. When Sharp picked up a loose pass and McGoldrick twinkled his toes, Bogle shot wide.
A great second-half run came to nothing when he passed to Sharp, who had stopped in his tacks, marooned offside.
Nahki Wells fired a warning shot less than a minute into the second half, twisting and turning Ampadu before shooting at Ramsdale. It was no sign of things to come.
When Bogle and Lowe combined in the 54th minute, the latter’s cross was in front of Sharp and just behind Brewster. It was as close as the latter would get.
Sharp would get another opportunity when Mawson made the save of the match, tipping McGoldrick’s shot onto the crossbar. If only he was not a centre-back.
Had the game been at Ashton Gate, the Robins would have got away with it, but because it was on a Premier League ground, video assistant referee Jon Moss was able to come to the Blades’ aid. Jones apologetically sent Mawson off.
Diving the right way was no help to O’Leary as Sharp thumped his penalty home but it did not open the floodgates.
McGoldrick nearly added a quick second after stealing the ball from Kalas but curled wide; Lowe burst onto a corner and shot wide and in stoppage time Brewster’s replacement Oli Burke took the ball around the goalkeeper, but from a tight angle, he could not beat Kalas on the line.
It was not a memorable night, but a successful one.
Sheffield United: Ramsdale; Basham, Egan, Ampadu; Bogle, Lundstram, Fleck, Lowe; McGoldrick; Sharp (Norwood 73), Brewster (Burke 83). Unused substitutes: McBurnie, Mousset, Jagielka, Foderingham, Osborn, Bryan, Maguire.
Bristol City: O’Leary; Hunt, Moore, Kalas, Mawson, Towler; Paterson, (Palmer 76), Vyner, Williams (Nagy 47); Wells (Massengo 73), Diedhiou (Semenyo 76). Unused substitutes: Bentley, Mariappa, Pearson, Bakinson, Bell.
Referee: R Jones (Merseyside).
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