HAD WWE superstar Mick Foley last night been watching his own sport, rather than Championship football for the first time, he would surely have expected the referee to step in and stop the bout.
Or, failing that, the home bench to throw in the towel as Sheffield United found themselves on the end of an almighty pounding against Brentford after being reduced to ten men by Gary Madine’s first-half dismissal.
What Foley – who has struck up an unlikely friendship with Blades striker Billy Sharp – saw instead was a display that did justice to the ‘Forged in Steel’ tagline that adorns the club’s matchday programme.
United were, quite simply, magnificent. Refusing to buckle despite facing wave after wave of Bees’ attacks once down to ten men, Chris Wilder’s men displayed the sort of character that can make all the difference in a keenly-fought promotion race.
Dean Henderson led the way with a string of fine saves. His reflex stop to deny Neal Maupay early on when both sides boasted 11 men apiece set the tone for a fine display.
But the Manchester United loanee was far from on his own in the hero stakes as the Blades performed a rearguard action so dogged that Oliver Norwood’s 26th-minute penalty and a late strike from David McGoldrick claimed three precious points.
With Leeds United coasting to victory at Reading this win was not enough to earn a return to the automatic promotion slots.
Nevertheless Norwich City will host Hull City tonight feeling the Blades breathing down their necks after the gap between the clubs sitting second and third was cut to just a solitary point.
All in all, therefore, a good night for former WWE champion Foley to make his debut in the stands at the Lane.
He had spotted Sharp, a big fan of the sport, produce Foley’s iconic sock puppet Mr Socko from his shorts when celebrating a goal earlier in the season at Norwich.
Contact was made via Twitter and an invite issued to visit the Steel City for a home game. Just what Foley made of the penalty area tangle that led to the only goal is anyone’s guess.
Certainly, referee Tony Harrington was not interested in the home side’s appeals as George Baldock and Yoann Barbet had a coming together before crashing to the floor.
However, a linesman’s flag brought a change of mind from Harrington, who belatedly pointed to the spot.
Norwood, who earlier in the week had asked Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill to be stood down from international duty for “personal reasons”, sent Bees goalkeeper Luke Daniels the wrong way from the spot.
Foley, who had been introduced to the 24,463 crowd ahead of kick-off, may have found the award a soft one.
But the former wrestling champion is likely to have joined many braving a cold Sheffield night who winced when Madine recklessly launched himself at Ezri Konsa ten minutes before the interval.
The red card that followed undoubtedly rocked United, who were relieved to reach the interval with their lead still intact.
Benrahma went close with a free-kick, as United visibly wilted, just after Ollie Watkins had been kept out by Henderson.
The onslaught continued after the restart. Henderson was again to the fore, beating away a low drive from Maupay before getting himself in an almighty tangle when trying to hammer clear a back pass.
All he could do was fire the ball into the sky, meaning he had to scamper back and punch clear as the Bees swarmed round him.
Kamohelo Mokotjo then struck a post, and former Hull City full-back Moses Odubajo fired into the side-netting as United continued to defend as if their lives depended on it. Brentford laying siege to the home goal once a man to the good was no surprise.
Even before Madine had seen red to hand the visitors a numerical advantage the Bees had tested Henderson’s reflexes via Maupay and Said Benrahma’s free-kick.
As the chances piled up for the visitors – Thomas Frank’s men had 29 efforts on goal to the hosts’ ten – United were desperate for a second goal.
It came six minutes from time. John Fleck’s corner from the right flank was met by Jack O’Connell at the back of the six-yard box and his header fell to McGoldrick, who finished from close range.
United had their win and Foley – who fought under a number of names that included Mankind, Dude Love and Cactus Jack – had an insight into why his next visit may well be to watch Premier League football.
Sheffield United: Henderson; Basham, Egan, O’Connell; Baldock (Sharp 60), Fleck, Dowell (Cranie 46), Norwood, Stevens; Madine, Hogan (McGoldrick 46). Unused substitutes: Coutts, Stearman, Duffy, Moore.
Brentford: Daniels; Konsa (Canos 62), Jeanvier, Barbet, Dalsgaard (Forss 89); Mokotjo, Sawyers; Odubajo (Emiliano 62), Watkins, Maupay; Benrahma. Unused substitutes: McEachran, Gunnarsson, Dasilva, Sorensen.
Referee: T Harrington (Cleveland).