Sheffield United fall off Champions League pace after being frustrated by Brighton

Back in August, if you’d have offered Sheffield United 40 points before the end of February in their first season back in the Premier League, they would have snapped your hands off.

Enda Stevens lashes home the opener against Brighton.
Enda Stevens lashes home the opener against Brighton.

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New deal for Sheffield United midfielder John Fleck

These are heady days at Bramall Lane, days in which talk of Champions League football next season grows ever more clearer.

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Manchester City’s impending two-year ban from all European competition by UEFA only serves to heighten the growing fervour around Chris Wilder’s hitherto unfashionable Blades setting foot in Europe next year.

Enda Stevens in action against Brighton.

Fifth place might get you into the Champions League this season, but United stay sixth after failing to capitalise on Tottenham’s lunchtime defeat to Chelsea, with Jose Mourninho’s North Londoners fifth above United on goal difference and Frank Lampard’s West Londoners fourth, four points better off.

All because Sheffield United, for all their pressure and dangerous crosses, could not unlock the Brighton defence a second time.

The final ball proved elusive and the finishing was not up to the standard that had seen them win 10 of their previous 26 games.

A quiet game burst into life midway through the first half.

United had shown glimpses of their attacking threat without ever looking penetrating until Enda Stevens lashed a volley into the top corner from the angle of the penalty area.

The pressure had been building for a while with Stevens involved in the move that created the first of two corners, seeing his overlapping centre-half Jack O’Connell on his right shoulder and releasing him to create the set-piece.

It was from the second corner that the opener came, Brighton failing to deal with the ball in and Stevens firing home.

If that was a bolt from the blue then Brighton’s equaliser was equally so, if only for the simplicity with which it was executed; a hopeful free-kick into the area, header towards goal by Adam Webster at the back post and Neil Maupey darting in front of Dean Henderson to nod the ball home.

United steadily built the pressure again in the second half. John Fleck - who the club announced before kick-off had signed a new three-and-a-half-year contract - hit a rasping drive wide while Sander Berge should have done better when Billy Sharp played him in, but the big Norwegian’s first touch let him down.

Oli McBurnie, a menace outside of the box, couldn’t translate that into more dangerous areas, first seeing a stabbed shot saved and then scuffing a shot when the call was played across to him.

Lewis Dunk lashed a close-range shot over the bar as a Brighton team who looked content to settle for a point, sporadically threatened.

But Brighton held on to frustrate the Blades and keep them sixth.