A PLAYER good enough to play for Europe’s elite - whether that be Barcelona, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich.
The pre-match thoughts of Graeme Souness on Crystal Palace’s talismanic tour de force Wilfried Zaha in a Sunday morning comment piece were as head-turning as the trademark 25-yard strikes or bone-shuddering tackles that characterised his magnificent playing career.
Those Sheffield United players who happened to read the article regarding one of the top-flight’s marquee talents will have done so with a fierce determination to steal his thunder at Sheffield United’s Premier League homecoming at a packed out and expectant Bramall Lane.
Zaha - who was restored to the Eagles’ starting line-up, as expected - was pictured on the front cover of the match programme along with the ubiquitous Billy Sharp.
But with ‘Mr Sheffield United’ having to settle for a place on the bench in an unchanged line-up, despite his typically headline-writing introduction at Bournemouth, it was seemingly left to Callum Robinson and David McGoldrick to slug it out for attention on the attacking front with Zaha.
In the event, it was midfielder John Lundstram who provided the early ‘welcome’ to Zaha with a crunching challenge which was not exactly welcoming.
The Liverpudlian endeared himself even more force-ably to home supporters with a joyous moment just after the break when he tucked home the hosts’ opener after substitute Luke Freeman’s shot was parried - amid scenes of unbridled joy as the Blades secured a precious 1-0 win.
With Brian Deane -scorer of the first-ever Premier League goal in the Blades’ glorious victory over Manchester United on August 15, 1993 - in attendance, the hosts were holding out for another hero.
McGoldrick passed up the chance just before the interval, but Lundstram was not so charitable. Unlikely hero is the phrase you are looking for.
On his home debut, Robinson worked tirelessly but was kept in check by the Palace back four - and his afternoon ended on 56 minutes when he left the fray in discomfort with a hamstring injury.
It was from Robinson’s misplaced flick that helped instigate the visitors’ first chance with play quickly switching to the other end of the field, with Christian Benteke’s low shot fielded comfortably by Dean Henderson.
Palace successfully took the sting out of the home fans with a controlled opening, with Luka Milivojevic directly the midfield traffic adeptly with Robinson and David McGoldrick forced to drift out wide on occasions to try and conjure pockets of space.
The hosts’ most threatening moment arrived 24 minutes in when there were howls for a penalty after Enda Stevens’s shot struck the elbow of Joel Ward, but there was no intentional movement of the arm from the Eagles defender and referee David Coote was unmoved.
A rare sight of goal from an acute angle saw Robinson blaze over and it was pressure from the Blades striker and Lundstram which yielded the sort of chance that promoted sides should not pass up on 42 minutes.
Patrick van Aanholt was dispossessed and Lundstrum’s low cross found McGoldrick at point-blank, but his effort was blocked by Vicente Guaita, with the Blades’ marksman having plenty of the goal to aim at.
Lundstram showed him how it was done on 47 minutes. Palace were winded and never quite the same, with Zaha - refreshingly - kept quiet.
A brief moment of alarm saw Henderson keep out Andros Townsend’s deflected strike, but most of the energy and endeavour came at the other end. United were not to be moved.
Sheffield United: Henderson; Basham, Egan, O’Connell, Baldock, Lundstram, Norwood, Fleck (L Freeman 29), Stevens; Robinson (McBurnie 56), McGoldrick. Substitutes unused: Moore, Sharp, Jagielka, Osborn, Besic.
Crystal Palace: Guaita; Ward, Kelly, Dann, van Aanholt, Milivojevic , McArthur (Wickham 81), Townsend (McCarthy 69), Meyer (Schlupp 65), Benteke, Zaha. Substitutes unused: Hennessey, Cahill, Kouyate, Ayew.
Referee: David Coote (Notts).