Sheffield United 2 Bristol City 1: Blades launch Paul Heckingbottom era in promising fashion

ACCORDING to the Sheffield United hierarchy, Paul Heckingbottom will not be judged on results on a Saturday – or any other day, presumably.

DUCK BROKEN: Sheffield United's Rhian Brewster celebrates scoring the first goal against Bristol City at Bramall Lane. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
DUCK BROKEN: Sheffield United's Rhian Brewster celebrates scoring the first goal against Bristol City at Bramall Lane. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

The Blades new manager has been around the block long enough to know full well that the club’s supporters will not afford him that luxury. He has to earn their respect and this represented the perfect beginning in that regard.

In United’s previous home game against Coventry City eight days earlier, boos arrived at the final whistle from Unitedites.

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Here, there was warm acclamation which greeted Heckingbottom’s team’s efforts and more significant than the applause which greeted Heckingbottom, assistant Stuart McCall and coach Jack Lester, at their introduction ahead of kick-off.

Billy Sharp scores past Bristol City goalkeeper Daniel Bentley to make it 2-0 at Bramall Lane. Picture: Alistair Langham/Sportimage

As starts go, Heckingbottom could not be anything but enthused by what he witnessed, particularly in a brisk and energetic opening 45 minutes full of tempo, crisp passing and good movement – crowned by a merited opener from Rhian Brewster

It was a half which saw the matchball changed for a fluorescent yellow ball as the snow started to fall at a freezing Bramall Lane. Those in red and white continued to provide illumination amid a winter wonderland scene by the end of the game.

Just like at his previous club in England in Leeds United, back in February 2018, Bramall Lane was the venue for Heckingbottom’s first match in charge – this time at the Blades helm.

That result went against Heckingbottom and here the outcome was much more satisfying as United served notice to sides above them that they are certainly not out of the play-off picture.

NEW TEAM: Stuart McCall, Jack Lester and Paul Heckingbottom, right, soak up the atmosphere ahead of Saturday's game at Bramall Lane against Bristol City. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

One game into his tenure, Heckingbottom witnessed a landmark goal, with Brewster scoring the first league goal at Bramall Lane in his 19th league appearance here.

The goal scored by his replacement was comforting and familiar. It would have come as no surprise whatsoever that it arrived from Billy Sharp with his late goal securing victory.

It was a game also notable for 13 minutes of stoppage time following a head injury sustained by visiting defender Nathan Baker, who received lengthy attention from medical staff before being stretchered off after falling awkwardly following an aerial challenge with Chris Basham in the 51st minute.

Fielding a 3-4-3 formation, United looked fluid and threatening – more especially in the first period – with Morgan Gibbs-White right at the heart of it.

UP AND RUNNING: Sheffield United's Rhian Brewster celebrates scoring the first goal against Bristol City at Bramall Lane. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Heckingbottom spoke a fair bit about the long-term at his unveiling on Thursday, yet in the here and now, the importance of the loanee is undeniable – and how he will be hoping he is not recalled by Wolves in the new year.

Gibbs-White’s low cross just evaded Brewster a few minutes in before he instigated a sweet move with a beautiful crossfield pass.

David McGoldrick’s backheel was latched onto by Enda Stevens, whose low cross was headed just off target by Jayden Bogle.

Bogle then found himself in a great position following a gem of a Gibbs-White pass, with the move eventually ending with Brewster firing wide from a tight angle.

City’s sole moment of danger was in isolation, yet it could and perhaps should, have yielded a breakthrough when Chris Martin’s point-blank header was parried by Wes Foderingham after the hosts dozed off from Alex Scott’s corner.

The goal that United deserved would eventually arrive when there were 40 minutes on the clock and it was a cracker.

Probing work by Conor Hourihane, restored to the starting line-up by Heckingbottom – the midfielder was captain under him at Barnsley – and Stevens found Brewster, who turned neatly before firing home a clinical low shot.

The interval arrived at a timely juncture for Robins chief Nigel Pearson to no doubt let it be known to his players what he thought about a pretty dire display.

More of the same would have been the message in the home dressing room.

The visitors crept into the game on the resumption although the flow was checked following the long stoppage while Baker was attended to.

Play resumed after a break of just over 10 minutes and after City contrived to produce a decent chance on the counter for Tyreeq Bakinson, whose low shot was blocked by Foderingham, United went close to sealing it.

Clever work by Norwood and substitute Sharp set up Gibbs-White, whose powerfully-struck shot bounced off the chest of City keeper Daniel Bentley to deny him the goal which would have put gloss on his vibrant display.

The second goal was destined to be scored by Sharp.

He had gone close with an acrobatic volley which was tipped over by Daniel Bentley, but he was not to be denied, the beneficiary of intelligent work from David McGoldrick before burying his cross from the right at the far post in time-honoured Sharp fashion and from his sort of range.

John Egan had earlier gone close with him and Basham policing things well at the back in a reassuring blast of the old. A good day, all around.

Sheffield United: Foderingham; Basham, Egan, Davies; Bogle, Norwood (Berge 90+1), Hourihane (Osborn 90+10), Stevens; Gibbs-White, Brewster (Sharp 69), McGoldrick. Unused substitutes: Burke, Robinson, Ndiaye, Eastwood.

Bristol City: Bentley; Vyner, Kalas, Baker (Atkinson 62); Scott, Bakinson (Semenyo 76), Benarous (Wells 64), Massengo, O’Dowda. Weimann, Martin. Unused substitutes: Simpson, Dasilva, O’Leary, Pring.

Referee: G Eltringham (Tyne and Wear).