United had been pointing to a run of games against teams outside the top six - Manchester United apart - in the lead up to Christmas as games that could lift them off the foot of the table and away from relegation trouble in the Premier League.
After gaining just one point from their opening eight fixtures – with four of those against the Premier League’s best – the Blades were hoping for a change in fortune.
But they were left with the same old sinking feeling after Sebastien Haller lashed West Ham to all three points that a performance that carried more menace deserved.
Given the build-up, and the increased urgency, this defeat will have hurt as much as any other at the start of this strangest of seasons.
The Blades’ lack of goals coming into the game was an obvious concern - only four in eight games - but they did nothing to allay fears that they were able to shoot themselves out of trouble.
Twice in the first half they fashioned glorious openings, only for the man played in to shoot straight at Hammers goalkeeper Liucasz Fabianski.
First, George Baldock was released in behind Arthur Masuaka inside the opening three minutes, but he shot straight at Fabianski’s near post instead of driving the ball across him.
Then Baldock turned provider, sliding in Oli McBurnie just inside the area but again he could only fire the ball in the keeper’s direction.
Fortunately for United, Aaron Ramsdale at the other end was in resilient mood, getting a strong hand down to Vladimir Coufal’s shot across goal after swift build-up play by Masuaka and Jarrod Bowen had opened the Blades up.
Tomas Soucek should have done far better when a cushioned header from Haller took him behind the defence but he could only scuff the ball wide.
McBurnie finally did make Fabianski work with a towering header from a Chris Basham cross that the Polish keeper had to extend himself to tip around the post.
But West Ham had been carrying the greater threat and they took the lead on 56 minutes. Bowen raced across the edge of the area and laid the ball off to Pablo Fornals. His initial shot was blocked by Basham but Haller was on hand to blast it home from 20 yards. Ramsdale got a hand to it but the ball was hit with such ferocity there was no keeping it out.
Declan Rice could have doubled the lead but he steered a front-post header against the cross bar.
McBurnie rattled the frame of the goal moments later after Rhian Brewster played him in behind the defence.
Whereas Rice’s header was more speculative and could be categorised as unfortunate, McBurnie should really have found the net after bearing down on goal and thundering the ball past Fabianski from 10 yards.
It summed up Sheffield United’s problems in front of goal.
Sheffield United: Ramsdale; Basham, Egan, Ampadu (Robinson 62); Baldock, Berge, Norwood, Fleck, Lowe; McBurnie, McGoldrick. Unused substitutes: Lundstram. Burke, Jagielka, Verrips, Osborn, Brewster.
West Ham United: Coufal, Balbuena, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Masuaka, Rice, Soucak, Fornals; Bowen, Haller. Unused substitutes: Randolph, Diop, Johnson, Noble, Snodgrass, Lanzini, Benrahma.
Referee: M Atkinson (West Yorkshire).
Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today. Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you’ll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app and receive exclusive members-only offers. Click HERE to subscribe.