Sheffield United 1 Manchester United 2: Fate, fortune and Red Devils too much for battling Blades to overcome
Taking on the giants of the Premier League is tough enough for hard-up Sheffield United but on a day when their injury list mounted yet again, they found themselves fighting fortune and fate as well. The bottom team in the league were always facing a losing battle.
They did fight, the better of the two teams when the score was 0-0, but this level of football demands more than that.
The Red Devils had hit the woodwork twice before Diogo Dalot settled the game with an unstoppable shot to make it 2-1.
Manchester United are suffering a lot of injuries too at the moment but even so, their fifth substitute of the night was £55m Mason Mount. By the time the Blades made their third and final change they were down to £4m forward Benie Traore. The gaps the Blades are trying to make up really are scary but whilst Luton Town are picking up points here and there, they are stuck in concrete at the bottom of the table. Gallant losers are still losers.
Like when the teams last met at Bramall Lane in December 2020, it was the hosts who started the stronger, far more positive than in their previous games against the Premier League's superpowers, and roared on by the crowd as a result.
They lost that game too.
It took just three minutes for them to be given some encouragement, Cameron Archer hitting a shot into the midriff of Harry Maguire, then Oli McBurnie forcing the first save of the match.
When Vinicius Souza glided past Scott McTominay in a central midfield position a minute later as applause rang out for the late Tommy Hoyland, it was clear the Blades were feeling confident.
Playing a 4-4-2 perhaps less for tactical reasons, more because that was the most logical way to lay them out once Anel Ahmedhodzic joined an injury list which is starting to get ridiculous and was added to by McBurnie in the second half, wide midfielders Gustavo Hamer and James McAtee were the best players of the early stages, Hamer regularly coming off his wing to switch the ball out to the Manchester City loanee on the other.
The Blades threatened with another switch in the 16th minute, this time from McBurnie out to Auston Trusty, galloping up from centre-back, but Jonny Evans' block tackle released the Red Devils for a first attack of the game which seemed to give them a shot of confidence, despite Anthony failing to trouble Wes Foderingham.
The Brazilian shot wide on the volley a couple of minutes later.
Not that the tide had turned completely, Andre Onana getting to a floated Hamer cross before McBurnie could, then saving low after a defensive mix-up allowed Archer to carry the ball forward and shoot.
But it was the United in dark green and white stripes who took the lead after 25 minutes.
The Blades never dealt with a Dalot cross Foderingham was caught under and although there was no visiting player to capitalise, his side kept the ball alive. Bruno Fernandes' pass to McTominay looked optimistic but he was able to hold Oliver Norwood off and find the net with a scruffy finish.
But the Blades levelled inside three minutes, and McTominay had a hand in that too.
He leant into a McAtee cross, whipping his hand away only after touching it. McTominay gave Onana no chance with the power and accuracy of his penalty halfway up the side-netting.
From there it was the visitors who finished the half the stronger, Anthony's deep ball to Marcus Rashford typical of how they looked to attack. The forward turned the ball across goal a couple of yards out but Rasmus Hojland was unable to stretch to it.
After another Onana came out quickly to stop Archer finishing a return ball from McBurnie, Fernandes clipped the crossbar. Norwood's foul on him gave the Portuguese a chance at a free-kick about 25 yards out in the 44th minute but his shot was a fraction too high.
Foderingham had to save from Hojland deep into first-half stoppage time after a Rashford shot deflected to the striker.
Rhian Brewster caused Onana some anxiety with the swerve on his shot, and the save bounced too high for McAtee to get a head to.
But the Blades caused themselves problems a couple of time in the second half.
Foderingham picked out Fernandes with a sloppy pass which meant he had to save from Hojland, then Luke Thomas was beaten too easily on the left, Rashford's shot inches from punishing him.
As the pressure cranked up, Sofyan Amrabat flashed a snapshot against the frame of the goal in the 68th minute.
The away side's dominance was alowing both full-backs to get forward at will and one picked out the other, Victor Lindelof pulling the ball back for Dalot to meet it with a shot that gave Foderingham no chance from a pocket of space outside the penalty area.
Another Red Devils substitute, Alejandro Garnacho, ought to have put the game bed in stoppage time, but shot wide when he saw the whites of Foderingham's eyes.
There was some solace to be had from the fact the match was not won until the final whistle. But only some.
Sheffield United: Foderingham; Bogle, Trusty, Robinson, Thomas; McAtee (Osborn 78), Souza, Norwood, Hamer (Traore 84); McBurnie (Brewster 51), Archer.
Unused substitutes: Fleck, Slimane, One, Seriki, Buyabu.
Manchester United: Onana; Dalot, Maguire, Evans (Varane 84), Lindelof; Amrabat, McTominay (Eriksen 63); Antony (Garnacho 63), Fernandes, Rashford (Mount 87); Hojlund (Martial 63).
Unused substitutes: Bayindir, Pellistri, van de Beek, Mejbri.
Referee: M Oliver (Ashington).