Sheffield United 1 Millwall 2: Millwall nemesis Jake Cooper stuns Blades again

Spot on: Billy Sharp fires Sheffield United level from the spot against Millwall. Picture: Sportimage.Spot on: Billy Sharp fires Sheffield United level from the spot against Millwall. Picture: Sportimage.
Spot on: Billy Sharp fires Sheffield United level from the spot against Millwall. Picture: Sportimage.
BEAUTIFUL Downtown Bramall Lane is the colloquialism used to describe Sheffield United’s famous home by stadium announcer Gary Sinclair.

Most Unitedites would happily settle for calling it a plain old fortress once again. Unfortunately, fortress is a word which you cannot throw in the direction of S2 in recent times.

You have to go back to July 2020 for the last time that the Blades won three successive league games on home soil.

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It was certainly a different scenario in the Blades’ previous campaign at this level - a glorious promotion journey in 2018-19 - a season when no Championship rival took more points at home than Chris Wilder’s side, who mustered an impressive 49.

One side who sampled success at the Lane in that memorable campaign were Millwall and United had the misfortune to be on the receiving end of an unwelcome blast from the past again in Jake Cooper.

On the previous meeting of these sides in Sheffield, the big defender netted a 95th-minute equaliser back in April 2019 - a strike which was greeted with even more euphoria at Elland Road than at the New Den in a promotion run-in which saw the Blades and Leeds pitted in an engrossing race for promotion.

In this latest visit, he broke ten-man United in the second minute of added on time with the winner - the final act to another controversial episode between these two sides which again featured a sending off.

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It arrived on 54 minutes when Morgan Gibbs-White received a second caution after appearing to dive when he was 'challenged' by Scott Malone.

Just before half-time, Malone had rightly been penalised after clumsily catching John Fleck just inside the box - allowing Billy Sharp to cancel out Jed Wallace's stunning early opener from close to the touchline.

Both decisions looked correct, but referee Matthew Donohue's failure to punish George Saville - on a booking - for a trip on Fleck shortly after the hosts saw red looked far more reprehensible and infuriated Slavisa Jokanovic, who witnessed another galling episode in a stop-start season thus far.

After such an exhilarating finale three days earlier, the devout hope was that United would carry on from where they left off with similar intensity, but unfortunately, the exact opposite applied.

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From the opening whistle, Millwall looked stronger and slicker in their work and positively flew out of the traps with a real intent, with Jokanovic’s concern clear to see ahead even before Milwall’s opener on 11 minutes.

There may have been conjecture as to whether Wallace’s strike was actually a cross or an audacious attempt on goal, but there should have been no surprise that the moment was delivered by the midfielder, who did appear to look up before his venomous effort in fairness.

The 27-year-old is a player whose value to Millwall is simply inestimable and he showed abundant early evidence of the wherewithal which had seen him involved in eight of the Lions’ 11 Championship goals ahead of kick-off.

His dipping effort from close to the right-hand touchline flew over Robin Olsen at a rate of knots after a nice interchange with one-time Blades player Ryan Leonard.

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It was not the precursor to improvement from the hosts as Jokanovic stood with his hands in his pockets just outside of his technical area, clearly not amused at developments.

Millwall’s energy and movement caused no end of problems and United looked off the pace in comparison and it took a good twenty minutes or so to get into the game in any shape or form.

Fortunately, Millwall couldn’t add to their lead and prey on the clear angst of home supporters, with a shot which flew over from Malone being the closest they got. Fortunately, for the hosts, the former Huddersfield Town player would have a decisive hand at the other end just before the interval.

Before that, David McGoldrick - handed his chance to impress from the start as a reward for his outstanding weekend cameo - spurned an opportunity to follow up his winner against Stoke with his second goal in successive matches, but this time his attempt was really weaker.

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Played in by a defence-splitting pass from Gibbs-White shortly before the half-hour mark, McGoldrick aimed for a precision finish in the bottom corner with plenty of the goal to aim, but Bartosz Bialkowski made an important block.

Sharp's leveller got United - and McGoldrick - off the hook in many respects. Regardless of that development Jokanovic would have been demanding much more on the resumption.

Instead, an incredible miss close to the goalline at full-stretch from McGoldrick will have made the Serb rue developments even more and there was worse to come when Gibbs-White saw red.

It took away the strides United had made in a start to the second half which had been as lively as the first-half opening had been lethargic, only for the game to swing back to Millwall.

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In fairness, United dug deep and a fine tip-over from Bialkowski denied Ndiaye - who came on for Conor Hourihane after just 38 minutes in a tactical switch.

Mason Bennett went close to a late winner, which duly came when Cooper converted with a piledriver.

Sheffield United: Olsen; Bogle (Basham 56), Egan, Davies, Stevens; Hourihane (Ndiaye 38), Fleck; Gibbs-White, McGoldrick (Norwood 67), Osborn; Sharp. Substitutes unused: McBurnie, Mousset, Foderingham, Robinson.

Millwall: Bialkowski; Leonard, Ballard, Hutchinson, Cooper, Malone (Bennett 83); Evans, Saville; J Wallace, Bradshaw (Smith 75), Ojo (Afobe 75). Substitutes unused: Long, Kieftenbeld, Pearce, B Mitchell.

Referee: M Donohue (Greater Manchester).