The worry for newly-promoted Premier League teams is that come the second half of a season, opponents will work out their way of playing. But with Sheffield United, which way?
The return of John Egan and Dean Henderson gave Chris Wilder’s side a reassuringly familiar look at Wolverhampton Wanderers, but their football is a lot less predictable than their team-sheet.
Against Manchester United the previous week, the Blades had been wonderfully disrespectful, taking the game to the big club and playing on the front foot at Bramall Lane. Away from home against a team who, unlike the Red Devils, were above them in the table, they were more guarded and solid to preserve their unbeaten start to the season away from home with a 1-1 draw. They were not, however, negative.
“We’re a little bit disappointed not to have got more,” admitted Wilder. “We could have done with looking after the ball a little better but, credit to Wolves, they kept coming at us. I thought there were some great duels out there, honest duels, between players who gave everything.”
Coming out of the blocks so quickly put the Blades on the back foot for large patches, but did not stop them springing dangerous counter-attacks. Wolves had more of the ball and more shots, and while the visitors had a couple of reasons to count their blessings, they carried the greater cutting edge.
While Wolves were still getting their midweek Europa League exploits out of their legs and their heads, Lys Mousset pounced.
Their football is a lot less predictable than their team-sheet.Stuart Rayner
The French striker only scored five Premier League goals at Bournemouth, but has now equalled that in 58 fewer matches for Sheffield United.
Leander Dendoncker and Matt Doherty jumped in one another’s way trying to clear George Baldock’s right-wing cross but Mousset kept his eye on the ball, controlled it and while his shot was not the cleanest he will ever hit, it was more than accurate enough to put his side in front after 63 seconds.
From there the visitors were content – probably too content – to let Wolves take the initiative.
Former Middlesbrough winger Adama Traore is their in-form player and he lived up to that, nutmegging Enda Stevens, then delivering a cross for Raul Jimenez, who forced a brilliant tip-over from Henderson.
Stevens was in the book after 15 minutes for clipping Traore’s heels and was fortunate that at the end of the first half, referee David Coote took a dimmer view of the winger’s pulling than the wing-back’s. Baldock would have an escape too.
Henderson had to be quickly off his line to stop a Traore pass picking out Diogo Jota, just as Rui Patricio had been earlier when Stevens threatened to find Mousset.
Ruben Neves’s proficiency from distance would have cropped up in the pre-match briefing, and John Lundstram was quickly out the first time he had chance to pull the trigger, blocking with his turned back in the 21st minute. When Basham headed out a Traore cross in the 40th minute, Neves narrowly missed the target.
The Blades’ defending was a joy to watch, all three central defenders putting in solid but fair tackles, and David McGoldrick and Lundstram producing great challenges tracking back.
When Chris Basham hooked clear a corner the video assistant referee went looking for a penalty, but it did not take Stuart Attwell long to realise there was nothing doing. It was the same in the second half, where there seemed little reason to press the rewind button with the game having stopped for an offside, yet he looked at Henderson’s subsequent challenge. The decisions were quick and correct but the supporters, who must not have been sure what Attwell was looking for, voiced their displeasure.
The visitors were restricted to counter-attacks, but nearly doubled their lead from one in the 38th minute, Patricio saving a Fleck shot which just lacked venom after being picked out by a Mousset nutmeg. Stevens took time over a shot late in the half, but it did not show in the outcome.
The Blades restarted seemingly determined to be less passive. McGoldrick forcing two early saves from Patricio, and Mousset blazing wide.
“Didzy (McGoldrick) is disappointed not to have scored,” said Wilder of his goal-less centre-forward, “but I spoke to him in the dressing room for five minutes, away from everyone else afterwards, and told him how important he is to us. We play better with David in the team.”
Wolves equalised during possibly the Blades’ best period, Doherty pulling free at the back post to head in a Jimenez cross.
The hosts took back the initiative, but United were dangerous insurgents, McGoldrick glancing a deep Norwood free-kick wide and Stevens dragging a shot.
Most of the pressure was in the opposite direction, though, and one cannot help but think Baldock might have been booked for running across Jota had he not already been cautioned.
When Traore pulled the ball back from the byline in the 87th minute, the pressure Jota was under forced him to shoot wide.
In the 90th minute a wonderful Blades counter broke down when Jonny cut out Lundstram’s pass for Stevens but it took something more muscular and less legal for John Egan to halt the instant response.
Both sides had their chances, Wolves the quantity, the Blades the quality.
A share of the spoils felt like the right outcome.