Blades match verdict: Leyton Orient 1 Sheffield United 1

Bob Harris celebrates.  Picture: Martyn Harrison
Bob Harris celebrates. Picture: Martyn Harrison
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Sheffield United have proven adept at missing opportunities this term.

It is a habit they must kick if the play-offs are to finish on a positive note after another nearly passed them by.

Jason Holt

Jason Holt

Nigel Clough’s side, who enter their final match of the season against Chesterfield on Sunday assured of a top-six place, created enough opportunities to establish a commanding lead before Mathieu Baudry edged Leyton Orient ahead midway through the second-half.

But as Bob Harris - whose equaliser delivered the point required to guarantee participation in the end-of-season knockouts - later emphasised, ultimately it was a case of job done.

“It’s that time when everyone needs to take something,” Harris said. “Whether you are at the top or the bottom, we’re all fighting for our lives.

“Yes, we were disappointed not to take more back home with us but, at the end of the day, we did what we had to do.”

Despite their respective positions in the League One table - while United can begin plotting a course towards Wembley, Orient are contemplating trips to the likes of AFC Wimbledon and possibly Wycombe Wanderers instead - Saturday’s contest was never going to be the mismatch it appeared on paper.

Fabio Liverani, whose employers had slashed ticket prices in a bid to swell the crowd, acknowledged beforehand that Orient entered the game facing a do-or-die situation and, for all their obvious limitations, his team went about its work with the tenacity to match.

Baudry’s goal, his first since August, did prevent the Londoners from enduring a fourth successive defeat. Likewise the efforts of Alex Cisak who thwarted Jason Holt, Jamie Murphy and Che Adams with some fine reaction saves. But it was not enough to lift last year’s beaten play-off finalists out of the bottom four with only one fixture remaining.

Harris believes that, having reached the semi-finals of both the FA and Capital One Cups in the space of nine months, United have accumulated the knowledge which could help propel them back into the Championship at the fourth time of asking.

“You’ve already seen that we rise to the occasion,” Harris said. “I’m not sure why that is but the bigger the game, the more it seems to bring out in us, so hopefully we can do the same all over again. The football in those just seems to suit us and it always makes for entertaining stuff. We’re looking forward to it.”

“I think all four teams who end up in the play-offs will fancy their chances. We’ve seen a lot of each other and we fancy our chances too.

“We’ve had two good cup runs now, and you could say that what we’ve got coming up now is effectively three cup games.

“Hopefully what we’ve taken from those runs will shine through now. It might help some people, it might not, because everybody is different.

“But the one thing you can say is that, having been out there at Wembley in front of 80,000 people, we won’t be stepping into the unknown. We know how to handle it, and that’s the key.

“We’ve got a group who stand up in the big games, as we had to show at times out there again. That’s important.

“We’ve got players who don’t shy away in these situations. We’ve got a great group in the dressing room and a great staff egging us on.”

A relegation battle was probably not what Liverani envisaged when he accepted his first managerial positing since parting company with Genoa in 2013 four months ago.

From United’s perspective, the penultimate outing of the regular campaign was memorable for much more encouraging reasons, with two teenagers - Adams and Dominic Calvert Lewin - handed the responsibility of helping them across the line.

Calvert-Lewin is the latest Redtooth Academy graduate to earn senior recognition and, less than a fortnight after signing a new long-term contract, made his professional debut at a pivotal stage of the game.

Rochdale’s failure to beat MK Dons ultimately rendered events at the Matchroom Stadium a mathematical irrelevance but it was still a considerable show of faith from Clough.

“Dominic has been training with us for the past few weeks,” Harris said. “So we all know what he can do.

“He’s quick, he’s a big lad who takes the ball well and he’s nice and sharp in and around the box. It’s always nice to have lads coming through the ranks and it keeps us older ones on our toes.

“Those of us who have been in the business for a while will help him as much as possible. We’ll pass on what we can and help to keep him on the straight and narrow.”

“We weren’t really bothered about what was happening with Rochdale. We’ve just focused on ourselves, not the situation there. And that’s what we’ll do going forward too.”

Despite their perilous predicament, Orient began the afternoon having lost only once in five appearances at home. Nevertheless, they should have fallen behind during the opening skirmishes when Holt punched a hole in their rearguard only for Cisak to make the first of several blocks which culminated in him being named the sponsors’ man of the match.

Murphy was the next to show with a low drive which the Pole, on loan from Burnley, diverted away to safety before Chris Dagnall, Orient’s most dangerous performer early on, forced Kieron Freeman to fling himself in front of a powerful shot.

Shaun Batt also went close as the hosts tried to wrestle control but Murphy ensured the half was book-ended by two slick United moves after combining with Adams. Again, though, Cisak intervened. Just as he did when the 18-year-old profited from Steven Davies’ show of strength at the beginning of the second period.

Baudry’s contribution - a powerful header from Dean Cox’s corner - exposed the carelessness which, unless rectified, could cost an otherwise mature and accomplished United dear over the coming weeks.

But after Orient captain Nathan Clarke had produced a superb tackle to deny substitute Stefan Scougall what would have been a certain goal, the visitors also revealed the dogged streak that Clough has engendered in his side.

Harris’ conversion came via a deflection but parity was the very least United deserved while only the width of a post prevented Jose Baxter from securing fifth position in the table. That will now be up for grabs when sixth-placed Chesterfield visit Bramall Lane in six days time.

“We’ve got a big game comingm up now in front of 20,000-odd people,” Harris said. “Chesterfield turned us over at their ground earlier in the season and so, with that in mind, we want to finish as high as we can.”

LEYTON ORIENT: Cisak 8, Cuthbert 8, Baudry 6, Clarke 7, Omozusi 6, Batt*7, Bartley***6, James**6, Cox 6, Simpson 6, Dagnall 7. Substitutes: Woods, Lowry, Wright**(62) 6, Taylor, Hedges, McAnuff*(52) 6, Mooney***(86).

SHEFFIELD UNITED: Howard 7, Harris 7, Brayford 7, Basham 7, Murphy 6, Baxter 7, Coutts***6, Freeman 7, Adams**7, S Davies*7, Holt 6. Substitutes: Alcock, Doyle***(91), Scougall*(66) 7, Willis, B. Davies, Reed, Calvert-Lewin**(66) 6.

MANAGERS’ VIEW - Fabio Liverani: “Unfortunately, today it was all in our hands and now it is not. But we still have a chance. It’s a shame because we should have been stronger at the back.”

MANAGERS’ VIEW - Nigel Clough: “We are delighted to get there at last and do it on our own merit. The only thing we are disappointed with is to not win the game. We created the chances to do it.”

HERO: It was a memorable afternoon for Dominic Calvert-Lewin who made his Sheffield United debut as a second-half substitute. The teenager is highly regarded by manager Nigel Clough and looks destined to enjoy a bright future in the game.

KEY MOMENT: Had Sheffield United converted one of the three first-half chances which came their way, or indeed scored first before Mathieu Baudry pounced, then Leyton Orient would probably have folded. Instead, the hosts took the lead courtesy of the Frenchman before Bob Harris delivered the point Nigel Clough’s side deserved and required.

VIEWPOINT: The play-offs beckon for Sheffield United. There is still room for improvement, which is encouraging, but only minor adjustments rather than wholsale changes are required given their habit of impressing on the big stage. Matt Done, who missed this game through injury, will also increase their attacking threat.

REF WATCH: Sebastian Stockbridge (Tyne and Wear). Four Sheffield United players - Bob Harris, Jose Baxter, Paul Coutts and debutant Dominic Calvert-Lewin - were cautioned. Leyton Orient’s Scott Cuthbert, Mathieu Baudry and Shaun Batt also received yellow cards during this hard-fought but fairly-contested game.

ATT: 7,249.