Sheffield United 1 Leicester City 2 - Jamie Vardy back in Steel City to break Blades’ hearts

IN a season of untold punishment thus far, this was the most devastating blow yet for Sheffield United.
Leicester City's Jamie Vardy (left) celebrates with team-mate James Maddison after scoring his side's late winner. Picture: PALeicester City's Jamie Vardy (left) celebrates with team-mate James Maddison after scoring his side's late winner. Picture: PA
Leicester City's Jamie Vardy (left) celebrates with team-mate James Maddison after scoring his side's late winner. Picture: PA

The sight of a Sheffielder in Jamie Vardy manically celebrating his stoppage-time winner for Leicester City – with the corner flag obliterated in the process – will be a haunting one for the stricken Blades.

It was cruel in the extreme following a performance in which they had strove so manfully to take something and break the cycle of tough defeats.

The shattering moment was sadly self-inflicted.

Sheffield United's Oli McBurnie (centre right) heads the ball to score.Sheffield United's Oli McBurnie (centre right) heads the ball to score.
Sheffield United's Oli McBurnie (centre right) heads the ball to score.
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John Fleck saw his pocket picked in midfield and James Maddison supplied Vardy in an instant and it was game over.

When these sides previously met 143 days earlier, the talk revolving around the Blades centred upon Europe.

The chatter was something that Chris Wilder was intent upon not listening to.

Now the noise is about relegation and it is deafening, incessant and drowning out everything else. The Blades manager could not avoid it if he tried and is streetwise enough to know that there is no getting away from either.

Sheffield United's Oli McBurnie celebrates his goal with Oli Burke.Sheffield United's Oli McBurnie celebrates his goal with Oli Burke.
Sheffield United's Oli McBurnie celebrates his goal with Oli Burke.
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Here there was a kernel of hope by way of a potential second point of the season to end a debilitating sequence of five successive defeats against an opponent with top-four aspirations.

It was snatched from their gasp as United suffered their eighth league loss of the campaign by a single goal.

A performance which oozed commitment and ticker had seen Oli McBurnie find the net midway through the first half with his twentieth attempt of the Premier League season to cancel out Ayoze Perez’s opener two minutes earlier.

It was McBurnie’s first goal in 21 matches for club and country since netting in the Blades’ last victory, a 3-0 win over Chelsea on July 11 which seems so, so long.

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Seeking a victory to move them onto the top three, Leicester were stymied on the resumption, until United’s mask slipped fatally under the darkest of skies.

Leicester arrived in South Yorkshire with issues, although they were hardly as serious as the hosts. Yet they were pressing by their own high standards.

A run of four matches without a win – their longest winless streak since Project Restart – was one game away from equalling the Foxes’ worst sequence under Brendan Rodgers,

So devastating in their handsome victory at Leeds in October, Leicester exploded into life relatively early on their latest Yorkshire appointment with a native of these parts in Vardy showing what he is all about.

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A class act who has emphatically shown that age has not diminished his talent, the Sheffielder hoodwinked his marker with a deft spin and after Perez found him with a probing pass, he smashed a ferocious drive against Aaron Ramsdale’s near post.

That same post would be rattled moments before the break by Maddison following a similar drive with the Blades, for once this season, afforded a touch of overdue fortune.

Leicester showed signs of moving through the gears early on, but the hosts managed to hang in there before a microcosm of their fraught season arriving in the space of a couple of first-half minutes.

Wilder had spoken of the need for his side to find some quality and incision and that arrived after some smart interplay between Sander Berge – operating in a deep-lying role – and McBurnie supplied Oli Burke, but he agonisingly lost his footing when clear and the chance went begging.

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Leicester proceeded to go up the other end of the pitch and punish the hosts instantly.

James Justin’s deep cross found Marc Albrighton and after his shot deflected off Max Lowe, Perez reacted quickest to fire the rebound past Ramsdale, who could not keep his fierce effort out.

Refreshingly, the next development minutes later was one that few would have scripted.

Before the blow could have afflicted them psychologically, they were level after Leicester’s penchant for conceding from a set-play resurfaced with United being the gleeful beneficiaries.

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It was a significant moment for McBurnie, whose sense of relief after converting an excellent downward header must have been considerable after rising above his markers following John Lundstram’s corner..

Leicester hinted at a second before Maddison banged on the door. But the Blades survived.

The perils of being involved in a free-flowing match were self-evident to the hosts, given the prowess of the visitors, with United assigned with breaking their opponents’ rhythm, defending alertly and waiting for their moment on the restart.

Leicester would again monopolise possession, but could not prise open the Blades and as the clock ticked, so their levels of hope grew incrementally.

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They mixed their play up well with set-pieces looking their most likely route.

The lack of total conviction at the back from Leicester also provided a spot of encouragement and that was reinforced when McBurnie again won the air miles to head over from a corner by Fleck.

At the other end, Youri Tielemens’s shot bounced into the ground and spun over after Ramsdale failed to smother a cross, while a vital challenge from Kean Byran denied substitute Kelechi Ihenacho.

Yet this was no onslaught, but there was one late twist and it was a gut-wrenching one for the Blades.

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