Sheffield United 2 Preston 2: Blades endure frustration at Bramall Lane
But one of Slavisa Jokanovic’s catchphrases is “this is the Championship.”
In the Championship, even back-to-back wins are a difficult feat of consistency and just when it looked like they had achieved it, Emil Riis snatched a 2-2 draw for Preston North End.
His goal in the fifth added minute not only punctured the mood but cast Robin Olsen’s debut in a fresh light for the second time. First he was the villain, then he redeemed himself – what to make of it by full-time?
At least it was clear what type of night Morgan Gibbs-White and Sander Berge had, the former scoring for the second game running, what looked like the winner from the Norwegian fair reward for his cameo from the bench.
Hard though it was to take last night, consecutive home matches after the international break represented a big step forward for Jokanovic’s side, but there are still plenty more to be made.
Considering they kicked off on such a high, the Blades had not stormed into the match and breathed a sigh of relief that Josh Earl volleyed Daniel Johnson’s cross wide at the far post.
In the eighth minute, though, weekend service was resumed.
The Blades’ two changes introduced more players unscarred by last season’s relegation – Olsen, forced to quarantine after the international break, and Luke Freeman, who spent last season on loan at Nottingham Forest.
Makeshift left-winger Freeman provided the breakthrough, his cross put away by Gibbs-White despite him slipping as it arrived. From 1-0 up, it looked set up for another command performance, Billy Sharp putting his head in his hands after it steered a Rhys Norrington-Davies cross wide in the tenth minute.
Olsen justified “Sweden’s No 1” chants by confidently taking a cross but soon after he was at fault for the equaliser.
Ryan Ledson’s sweeping pass was excellent, Johnson’s chest control to set up the finish even better. Olsen, though, was marooned when the ball picked Johnson out, screeching into a handbrake turn on the wet surface which presented a goal so open it was almost insulting.
The Blades continued to look confident going forward, John Fleck producing a backheel then thumping a Freeman cross not far over, Sharp volleying the wrong side of the crossbar.
The problem was the equaliser made Preston’s attacking players confident too, and the Blades defenders less certain.
John Egan produced a good block to deny Sean Maguire and Olsen saved low from the striker.
Despite the attacking promise of the first half, for a long time the second looked locked in at 1-1 until the 61st-minute introduction of Berge, first on the left wing, then the right.
A rare exception had been Olsen’s lucky escape in the 57th minute after he dwelt too long on the ball. Eventually he picked out former Blade Ben Whiteman but Sean Maguire scuffed the shot.
Former Rotherham United loanee Daniel Iversen needed to make one big save too when Gibbs-White’s pass allowed Fleck to burst through the middle. His dink almost beat the goalkeeper.
It was clear Olsen had been forgiven when the fans got to their feet to applaud an excellent 83rd-minute save rushing out to deny Riis one-on-one and Berge quickly magnified its importance.
Fleck made another powerful run into the area and Sharp’s smothered shot fell for Berge to finish with ice-cool composure.
The Blades used their nous late on, running the ball into the corner after Iversen saved, but did not deal with a free-kick pumped into the box from just inside their half. When the ball fell to Riis at the far post, he pooped the party.
Sheffield United: Olsen; Baldock, Egan, Robinson, Norrington-Davies; Norwood (Hourihane 77), Fleck; Gibbs-White, Ndiaye (Brewster 71), Freeman (Berge 61); Sharp.
Unused substitutes: Basham, McBurnie, Foderingham, Bogle.
Preston North End: Iversen; van den Berg, Storey, Bauer, Hughes; Johnson (McCann 83), Whiteman, Ledson, Earl; Maguire, (Potts 70), Riis. Unused substitutes: Rudd, Cunningham, Lindsay, Browne, Murphy.
Referee: G Eltringham (Tyne and Wear).