Oxford United 2 Sheffield United 3
Oxford United suffered a second home defeat in a row as leaders Sheffield United came from behind to win an excellent game of football 3-2 at Grenoble Road. Just as at Bramall Lane earlier in the season, the U's were good value for a half-time lead, given to them this time by a Chey Dunkley header, but found themselves outgunned after the break when two goals from Billy Sharp and a Kieron Freeman effort gave the champions elect a big three points despite a fine finish by Toni Martinez in injury time to make it 3-2.
Facing the best side in the division, United gambled by including Kane Hemmings, Rob Hall, Chris Maguire and Curtis Nelson after they had been rated 50/50 in the build up and that looked to have paid off as they started strongly. Conor McAleny was as close with a 12th-minute shot as James Hanson had been with one at the other end a few minutes earlier; not very. The U’s then started to get a real grip on the game and Dunkley stabbed a Johnson cross over the bar after 16 minutes before a Nelson volley deflected wide on 19 to force a much delayed corner from which the home side took the lead.
Perhaps crucially Jake Wright went off for treatment before the corner could be taken and while the former U’s skipper was on the sidelines Maguire swung in a wicked delivery that Dunkley rose to glance home for the opener. Would it have happened with Wright on the pitch? Who knows but you do know he would have done his utmost to stop the ball reaching Dunkley and/or or the net.
The visitors were neat on the ball but rarely threatening in the first 45 minutes as United worked their socks off to contain them and spring forward with Hall and Maguire full of tricks on the flanks and Hemmings always the out ball in front of the deeper lying Conor McAleny.
The Blades are not top of the table for nothing though and came at the U's far more after the break. On 55 minutes they were level when John Fleck sent in a corner from the right which touched off a boot and ran as far as captain Sharp who used all his experience to create space and then force the ball past Eastwood from eight yards out.
It was a fantastic game of football now. Maguire's free kick was headed back at the far post by the magnificent Nelson but Hemmings couldn't turn the ball past the sprawling Simon Moore as the keeper closed the gap quickly.
Throwing caution to the wind United went for the win but they needed the pace of Nelson to get them out if jail as Caolan Lavery threatened to burst clear. However it was a short-lived reprieve and on 72 they were 2-1 behind when Freeman ghosted in at the back post and tried to square the ball but was delighted to see it float instead inside the far post.
Five minutes later and it was 3-1. Freeman was again involved, reaching the goal line and driving for goal. Nelson mistimed the challenge, Freeman went down and Sharp did the rest from the spot to make it 3-1 and cap a fine comeback from the Blades.
The Yellows kept going and every player gave it their all. A Maguire cross on 86 caused problems, Dunkley's header from the following corner was blocked, Maguire had another shot held by Moore, Dunkley was knocked over but no penalty awarded. Whatever they tried, Sheffield seemed to have the answers until sub Martinez roared on to a Rothwell through ball and smashed a low shot past Moore to give the scoreline a more realistic look.
A fine game of football, two good teams, but the Blades with just that vital sharp edge.
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Report by Chris Williams, pictures Steve Daniels, stats by OPTA
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