Sheffield United 2 Leeds United 0: Derby win means so much as Blades bid to survive

AS three sides of Bramall Lane rose at the final whistle to acclaim a vital three points for Sheffield United, the PA announcer had a message for the couple of thousand visiting supporters who were yet to start their journey home up the M1.

“Thanks for coming today,” said the rather excitable gentleman with the microphone. “And we’ll see you all again next year.”

The barbed jibe brought merely a shrug of the shoulders from its intended targets, most of the Leeds fans still present looking so shell-shocked by what they had just witnessed that any form of coherent reply was probably beyond them.

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They may also have felt that the PA man’s words carried more than a hint of truth.

Certainly, in this unexpectedly one-sided Yorkshire derby, Leeds did not look anything like a side hoping to end their seven-year exile from the top flight come May.

Likewise, if the Blades can maintain the same level of commitment and desire for the remaining eight games then survival is well within their grasp.

In that respect, Saturday was a promising start with Scunthorpe United’s defeat at Ipswich Town meaning Micky Adams’s side were able to leapfrog the Iron into 22nd place.

More importantly, the gap between the Blades and safety was also cut from six to four points courtesy of fourth-bottom Crystal Palace being held at home by Derby County.

Suddenly, it means there is light at the end of what has felt like a very dark tunnel in recent weeks for the south Yorkshire club – as Nick Montgomery explained after a truly heartening derby win.

“I have been here 12 years and this has been the hardest (season) of all,” said the Leeds-born midfielder and veteran of more than 350 appearances for the Blades.

“It has been really tough with four managers, players coming in and out and a lot of loan players.

“Believe me, it is not easy being down there and having a lot of people write you off.

“But there is a great belief in the camp. We have shown against a top team in Leeds that we are not scared of anyone.

“Anyone who has been to Bramall Lane this season has seen a lot of performances like that against the big teams.

“The problem has been that we just haven’t got the goals our play has deserved and then we have been caught with a sucker punch.

“But against Leeds, we scored two and could have had a lot more.”

On a run-in that begins a fortnight tonight with a trip to leaders QPR, Montgomery added: “With eight games to go, we have got to give everything to keep this fantastic club in this league.”

An own goal by Eric Lichaj and Bjorn Helge Riise’s first strike in Blades colours may have been what ultimately settled this one-sided derby in the home side’s favour.

But, in reality, the contest was settled in midfield where the heroic trio of Montgomery, Michael Doyle and Stephen Quinn dominated their Leeds counterparts.

The tone was set in the opening minute when Doyle clattered into Robert Snodgrass.

It was enough to earn a mild rebuke from referee Mike Jones, which in the context of what followed was a price worth paying for a midfielder who spent all of last season on loan at Elland Road.

Taking their lead from Doyle’s full-blooded challenge, the Blades tore into the visitors and really should have been at least a goal ahead at the break.

Daniel Bogdanovic, for instance, must have spent the weekend wondering how he failed to score in the 36th minute after being found unmarked just eight yards out by a Ched Evans flick-on.

A goal seemed certain only for Kasper Schmeichel to race from his line and spread himself to block the Maltese striker’s shot.

Schmeichel then pulled off two more stunning saves before the break to keep out goalbound efforts from Quinn and Evans in quick succession.

The flurry of late chances meant Leeds were by far the happier side to hear the half-time whistle blow. Their relief, however, did not last with it taking just 10 minutes of the second half for the Blades to deservedly go ahead.

Quinn was again heavily involved, the midfielder taking advantage of George McCartney going AWOL to get to the byline and whip in a cross that Montgomery headed across the six-yard box for the unfortunate Lichaj to then turn into his own net.

Going behind usually brings the best out of Leeds but not this time as the home side continued to dominate and only a last-ditch tackle from Leigh Bromby prevented Evans from racing through on goal.

It proved only a temporary let-off, however, with the visitors conceding a second goal when Quinn slid Riise through and the substitute drilled a low shot under Schmeichel.

The game was up for Leeds, whose misery was then compounded in the closing stages when Billy Paynter was dismissed for an alleged head-butt on Shane Lowry.

It was a fittingly dismal end to a terrible afternoon for the visitors, though Montgomery insists Grayson’s side still have what it takes to win promotion back to the Premier League.

He said: “I am a Leeds fan so I would love Leeds to go up. They have got a great squad and a top manager.

“They will be disappointed with this result but Leeds are good enough to be in the top six and maybe gunning for that second spot.

“More importantly from our point of view, now we need them to do us a favour and beat some of those teams who are down the bottom.

“Hopefully, they can find the form that has put them in the top six and really help us out.”