Sheffield United 3 Crewe Alexandra 3: Blades pegged back after making impressive start
The words naïve and dreadful would have no doubt come to the Scot’s lips when it came to commenting on the defending on show on a truly madcap and bewildering evening.
Most definitely out of character as far as United are concerned, although Crewe do have previous in this regard.
United’s stingy, they-shall-not-pass school of defence which has been their signature theme throughout the first third of the campaign was shot to pieces, while Crewe – with just two goals in 10 previous visits to S2 – surpassed that tally in the space of five minutes either side of half-time.
At the end of it all, you suspect both Blades manager Danny Wilson and Crewe counterpart Steve Davis, who played under him for a spell at Barnsley, probably did not know whether to laugh or cry.
Two-nil up and cruising after half an hour, thanks to a strike against his former club from Shaun Miller and Harry Maguire’s first goal at the Lane, what followed was truly from the realms of the unexpected.
Granted, you may never know what you are quite going to get from Crewe, profligate at the back in various guises over many years, yet pleasing on the eye in equal measure going forward.
But three quick-fire goals, two coming in three minutes just before the break from Harry Ellis and Mathias Pogba followed by another soon after the restart from Arsenal loanee Chuks Aneke, was pushing it a bit far.
Nick Blackman’s 10th goal of the season six minutes after the interval restored parity – the fifth goal in a frenetic 21-minute spell – and somehow, although all those present will not be sure quite how, the scoreline was to remain at 3-3.
The buoyant Blades, cock-a-hoop after a stylish swatting aside of Stevenage, were afforded a dream start with Crewe’s rookie defence providing an early and glaring present.
And the man who profited was Saturday’s hero Miller, who joined Crewe at the age of seven and had a 17-year-association with them before heading to the Blades.
Blackman’s cross on the left was misjudged badly by Ellis, who inexplicably allowed the ball to bounce over him with Miller the grateful beneficiary, bundling the ball into the net off his thigh from close range for his third goal in two games.
To his credit, the Alsager lad – who had a wretched time in not netting in 27 matches for the Cheshire outfit in a goal-shy 2011-12 – adhered to his pre-match pledge not to celebrate, maybe to spare the blushes of his one-time team-mate.
Soon after, Chris Porter blazed over as Crewe looked vulnerable and at the other end the likes of Pogba, Aneke and Lauri Dalla Valle showed touches of menace, but it was nothing to what eventually followed.
A regulation home win looked increasingly on the cards when United doubled their lead, with a milestone strike from Maguire that may have owed plenty to a superb whipped right-wing corner from Blackman, but just as much to rank bad defending.
Alex’s rearguard again went AWOL and Maguire could scarcely believe his luck as he stole in and bludgeoned a firm header past ex-Leeds United goalkeeper Alan Martin.
The teenage defender’s first strike at Bramall Lane followed hot on the heels of helping the Blades to a big win over a bona fide promotion rival in Stevenage at the weekend and his England Under-21 debut against Northern Ireland last week.
Then came the fightback, with Alex afforded hope when Ellis reacted quickest to net the rebound after captain Luke Murphy’s thundering strike shuddered the woodwork.
Just before the break, parity was restored much to the incredulity of Unitedites with Pogba coolly firing home after George Long’s punch, following Murphy’s dangerous free-kick, cannoned off one of his own defenders invitingly into his path.
Soon after the interval, Crewe took the lead to put the seal on a stunning turnaround with Byron Moore’s cross dummied adeptly by Dalla Valle before Aneke strolled the ball home.
The home crowd barely had time to digest that before Blackman netted the rebound after Miller hit the post having skipped around a couple of bewitched defenders.
Both sides had chances for a winner to seal a remarkable night .
Murphy and Dalla Vale went close following slick raids from the visitors before Porter almost got on the end of a tantalising cross from the impressive Blackman.
United’s top-scorer then saw his appeals for a penalty after tangling with Gregor Robertson fall on deaf ears before Pogba nearly won it for Crewe, with his header beaten away by Long.
Right at the finish with the final kick of the game, Blackman then saw his low shot held by Martin as the game, probably rightly, ended all-square.
Sheffield United: Long; Westlake, Maguire, Collins, Williams; Flynn (McAllister 46), Doyle, McDonald; Blackman, Miller, Porter. Unused substitutes: Cresswell, Cofie, Philliskirk, Ironside, McFadzean, Coyne.
Crewe Alexandra: Martin; Tootle, Davis, Ellis, Robertson; Murphy, Osman, Aneke (Clayton 73); Pogba, Moore (Dugdale 90); Aneke, Dalla Valle (Turton 90). Unused substitutes: Phillips, Guthrie, Daniels, Colclough.
Referee: J Adcock (Notts).