Sheffield United 2 Oxford United 1
Oxford United were beaten by two second-half goals as Sheffield United came from behind to beat them 2-1 at Bramall Lane this afternoon. Leading through a Kane Hemmings goal at the break, United battled hard but were finally undone by goals from Billy Sharp and James Wilson to give the Blades their first win of the season.
The Blades, with former U’s skipper Jake Wright at the heart of their defence, were fired up and there was a yellow card for Chris Basham inside the first minute for a late lunge at the grounded Chey Dunkley. Their fans were understandably anxious after no wins from the first four games and that meant tension when the U’s, prompted by skipper John Lundstram, went forward, but also when a home player dwelt on the ball or misplaced a pass. United thrived on that.
Chris Maguire rattled in the first effort on 12 minutes, forcing keeper Simon Moore to get down smartly to his right to save his 25-yard shot, and the same player then fired into the side netting from a superb cross from Hemmings as United settled and zipped the ball around neatly. Wes Thomas had another effort saved on 15 and United were on top.
On 16 minutes they made that count as Hemmings smashed them into the lead. It came from a free kick conceded by Wright, booked for bringing down Wes Thomas. The Blades switched off and when the free kick was played short for Sercombe he had acres of space to advance and hammer in a fierce shot that Moore could only parry away. Hemmings is a goalscorer who thrives on precisely that sort of opportunity and as others dwelt and hesitated he was on to the loose ball in a flash and firing it into the roof of the net for his second goal for the club.
The home side came back strongly and it took a perfectly timed tackle by Joe Skarz to keep the lead intact as Matt Done looked favourite to reach a ball into the penalty area. Simon Eastwood then tipped a 25-minute free kick over the bar after a block saw the ball loop over the seemingly stranded keeper, before Chey Dunkley made an equally goal-saving block on 27 when Done once again seemed to have the goal at his mercy. Not to be outdone, Phil Edwards slid in for another important challenge a minute later as every player dug in to keep hold of that priceless lead.
The unflappable Skarz was forced off at half time but Aaron Martin slotted in alongside Dunkley and continued the ‘they shall not pass’ attitude, despite the home side starting strongly in the second period.
However it was the U’s who almost scored the next goal when Maguire, class throughout once again, cut back a clever free kick that everyone in the ground was expecting to be crossed to the back post. Lundstram strode on to the ball and got a well-struck shot on target but Moore saved the first effort and then scrambled the ball to safety as players tried to pounce on the loose ball.
Maguire had two shots in ten seconds somehow blocked by teammate Thomas but the Blades had been knocking at the door and on 65 were level when a cross from the left gave captain Sharp the chance to volley past Eastwood at the back post. The goal broke the tension among the home fans but the Yellows protested vehemently, if in vain, that there had been a foul on Martin.
Now Bramall Lane came to life and the atmosphere was much more like this famous old ground of the past. United had defended bravely but were finally undone by a simple goal. Ruffels conceded a free kick on the left. A well-flighted dead ball, a powerful run from James Wilson and a thumping header past the helpless Eastwood from six yards out.
Back came the Yellows for one last push. Maguire had a free kick saved by Moore on 85, Thomas looked to be fouled inside the area in the 90th minute and they ended the game very much on the front foot.
They had certainly done enough to get something out of the match but the Blades were pre-season favourites for this division and you suspect that their slow start will have little bearing on the final table. They will be there or thereabouts and United had pushed them all the way. So far the away results that underpinned last season's promotion have been elusive but show this commitment and togetherness and things will turn their way.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures Darrell Fisher, stats by OPTA
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