After the dramatic intervention of ‘Mr Sheffield United’ in Billy Sharp in the previous weekend’s opening-day draw at Bournemouth, it was somewhat fitting that John Lundstram, an everyman member of a Blades squad who have earned their shot at the big time by navigating the muck and nettles of lower-division football, was afforded a piece of the limelight.
An unheralded player who has now scored in all four of English football’s divisions, Lundstram is the embodiment of a Blades line-up abundant in talent, heart and humility and one which has emphatically shown itself to be greater than the sum of its parts in their glorious renaissance under manager Chris Wilder.
United may have broken their transfer record on four occasions this summer, but this is a group who are as far away from ‘big-time Charlies’ as it gets at Premier League level.
Before the game the big talk centred on a player in the opposing ranks in Wilfried Zaha.
Good enough to play for Barcelona, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich in the opinion of leading pundit Graeme Souness, but swamped on the day by an insatiable Blades side who set about him with a discernible relish.
The tone was set by a meaty early challenge on him by Lundstram, whose popularity was further enhanced by his low finish just after the restart after Vicente Guiata parried substitute Luke Freeman’s effort.
On grabbing the headlines the Liverpudlian, with whom Wilder kept faith from the opening day with the likes of Ben Osborn and Mo Besic having to settle for a place on the bench, said: “It was a good day with the atmosphere and everything about it.
“You could feel it in the air that something special was going to happen. We nullified their strengths, were good going forward and thoroughly deserved it.”
On his goal, the midfielder, forced to bide his time for his chance after being on the bench for much of the second half of last season, added: “I thought Callum (Robinson) was going to turn and swivel on it at one point, but thankfully I put it in.
“It was a special one and one I will never forget. I am just glad our season is up and running with the points.
“It was tough, but the lads were unbelievable last year and I could not get in the team as they were that good. Fair play to the lads; hopefully I can keep playing well and stay in the team.”
Having enjoyed plenty of their own way on their travels last season – only Manchester City have scored more away goals in the top flight this year – Crystal Palace encountered a road block at Bramall Lane.
After grafting for their lead United were in no mood to relinquish it as they followed Wilder’s pre-match missive to the letter.
Wilder spoke about the importance of not allowing opposing teams to “stroll about for ninety minutes” in his match programme notes and neither should visitors be allowed to “play nice football and climb back onto the bus with three points”.
On the trip back home to the capital, the Palace team coach is likely to have been a quiet one after being outfought and out-enthused by an unquenchable Blades side, whose spirit was summed up by the relentless performances of substitutes Oliver McBurnie and Freeman.
McBurnie’s attempt to whip up the crowd for one last push towards the end of the game after chasing down an opponent and making a challenge was a joy, as was Freeman’s ferocious industry and endeavour after taking the chance, afforded to him by the early injury to John Fleck, with both hands.
Commitment oozed from every pore from those in red and white and for the watching Brian Deane – part of a Blades line-up that had similar qualities in plentiful supply in the late Eighties and early Nineties – it must have felt like a nostalgic rewind.
An early scare from Christian Benteke aside, United were handed few scares from a Palace side who stroked the ball around comfortably enough, but with Zaha and Andros Townsend on nothing like their ‘A’ games.
The hosts were not at their best either in the first period, but patiently probed, led by the class of Oliver Norwood, and it was somewhat of a disappointment that they passed up a glaring chance just before the break.
Patrick van Aanholt’s casualness was punished with Lundstram afforded space down the right to tee up David McGoldrick from point-blank range, but he inexplicably fired straight at visiting goalkeeper Guaita with the goal at his mercy.
It had the potential to be a definitive moment, but the gravity of that miss was eased by Lundstram, whose timing in scoring his first Blades goal since February 2018 was exquisite.
At the other end, Dean Henderson kept out a deflected shot from Townsend, but it was not the precursor to a fightback with Palace punished for a passive and inhibited showing.
Jack O’Connell and McBurnie went close to adding to United’s advantage, but one goal was enough – with the hosts negotiating seven minutes of added-time with a fair degree of comfort before the love-in with Unitedites beckoned at the final whistle.
Senses filled yet again under Wilder, the Blades will stride out against Leicester – Jamie Vardy et al – with a spring in their step.
Bramall Lane may soon be a fully-operational cashless stadium, but few will say that the Blades are not already quids in, flush with the currency of hope and rich in belief.