Second-half goals from Bob Harris and Marc McNulty saw Sheffield United win this evening’s League One derby at Bradford City.
Phil Parkinson’s side were reduced to 10 men when Stephen Darby saw red in the 46th minute and United manager Nigel Clough watched his team take full advantage.
Harris swept home just past the hour before substitute McNulty doubled their lead during the closing stages.
United made two changes with Jamal Campbell-Ryce and Basham replacing James Wallace and Ryan Flynn. Although the latter did feature on the bench, Wallace was absent from the squad altogether after receiving a knock during last weekend’s game against Leyton Orient. Former United players Jon Stead, Billy Clarke, Andrew Davies and Mark Yeates all made City’s matchday 18 with James Hanson a surprise starter for Phil Parkinson’s side.
United had arrived at Valley Parade, otherwise known as the Coral Windows Stadium, intent on closing the gap between themselves and the automatic promotion positions which, following the latest round of League One games earlier this afternoon, was nine points.
Stemming the flow of goals being conceded by a back four which had proven almost impossible to penetrate last term had been Clough’s primary objective before kick-off. As well as winning the second of eight Yorkshire derbies his team will play this season of course.
Alan Sheehan’s third minute free-kick, which had Mark Howard scrambling across his line before flying just past the foot of his left hand post, demonstrated that would prove easier said than done against a City team which had named James Hanson in its starting eleven despite Jonathan Stead’s arrival on loan.
But Jamie Murphy should have edged United in front four minutes later when Jose Baxter seized possession and drove a wedge through the hosts’ back four. He found the Scottish winger inside the area but his shot was clipped straight towards Jordan Pickford who gratefully plucked the ball out of the air.
Jay McEveley, again partnering the on loan Paddy McCarthy at centre-half, did well to prevent Mark Yeates’ cross reaching Hanson before Murphy was presented with another chance.
Jamal Campbell-Ryce, who had caused Sheehan all sorts of problems during the opening exchanges, again beat the former Notts County defender with a deft turn and feint.
Chris Basham, deputising for the injured James Wallace in midfield, headed the ball down at the far post but Murphy, despite connecting well with a difficult volley, could not steer his shot home in front of United’s travelling support.
Christopher Routis, who had been booked in the 10th minute for tripping Basham as he powered through the middle, was struggling to establish a foothold in the game as Murphy and Campbell-Ryce made good progress down both flanks.
United were still under the stewardship of David Weir when they were beaten in the previous campaign’s corresponding fixture. Nahki Wells, who netted twice for City that day, has since departed for Huddersfield Town but Clough’s appointment 12 months ago has also seen United become a much more formidable proposition than the one which, after a brief early flurry, had been swept aside by the Bermudian.
Sheehan returned the the field of play after receiving treatment for a head wound but, after being tormented by Campbell-Ryce, he will also have been glad of the rest. Nevertheless, as United searched for the accurate final ball to embellish their good approach play, City also possessed an air of menance when they edged forward despite still waiting to forge a clear cut chance.
In the most part, that was down to Hanson’s aerial threat and, midway through the opening period, McEveley also required patching-up after tangling with his marker on the edge of the penalty box.
Unlike Sheehan, he did not recover and was substituted after 23 minutes having apparently damaged his right shoulder or arm after falling awkwardly. That saw Harrison McGahey enter the fray.
Baxter had a low, angled strike saved by Pickford after being sent scampering through by a good pass as United continued to control proceedings although, with 11 minutes of the half remaining, there was an alimighty scramble in front of Howard after McGahey had been forced to concede a corner. It ended when Basham bravely flung himself in front of the ball and was fouled.
He was responsible for sending Baxter clear - again - in the 38th minute with a deft touch after drifting out towards the flank in search of space but Pickford proved equal to the task.
Stephen Darby joined Routis in referee Simon Hooper’s notebook for a rash sliding challenge on Stefan Scougall.
Less than 20 seconds after the re-start, City were reduced to 10 men when their captain Darby received his second yellow card for hauling back Murphy. He could have no complaints but, with Hanson still spearheading City’s attack, there was a possibility it would have no great change on the dynamic of the contest.
It did, at least for a short period, as United piled on the pressure with a series of crosses and City retreated to the edge of Pickford’s area.
Campbell-Ryce saw the ball swept off away as he primed to shoot following a flowing 55th minute move.
City, who had earlier replaced McLean with Felipe Morais, made their second substitution of the evening in the 57th minute when Clarke made way allowing Billy Knott to make his 16th appearance of the season.
Baxter tried his luck again just past the hour but his shot whistled wide as United tried, without much joy, to create a clear cut chance of note.
But, in the 66th minute, Bob Harris fired United ahead with a fine finish from the edge of the box which curled beyond pickford’s outstretched palm and inside the far post.
Almost immediately after the restart, United were inexplicably denied a penalty when Rory McArdle flung Scougall to the floor inside the box but Hooper, remarkably, remained unmoved.
Basham was cautioned as the match began to develop some ‘edge’ before Hanson got his head to a corner but could not direct it home.
Jon Stead, the former United forward, replaced Hanson in the 74th minute.
McGahey needlessly conceded a free-kick right on the edge of the area two minutes later.
Sheehan unleashed a powerful strike which seemed to fly straight through the wall but Howard did superbly well to parry it away to safety.
Marc McNulty replaced Scougall 11 minutes from the end of normal time.
Scougall, like McEveley before him, returned straight to the dressing room while Baxter dropped into a deeper lying role.
City, to their credit, began to test United’s resolve - and luck - when Jason Kennedy hit the woodwork from Yeates’ 81st minute cross. But then McNulty, seizing upon a dreadful defensive slip, doubled the visitors’ advantage after finding himself one on one with Pickford three minutes later.
Campbell-Ryce made way for Flynn soon after while Yeates shaved Howard’s crossbar with a centre towards the far post.
BRADFORD CITY: Pickford, Darby, A Davies, Sheehan, McLean, Hanson, Clarke, Yeates, Kennedy, Routis, McArdle. Substitutes: Williams, Meredith, Dolan, Knott, Stead, Stead, Morais, Halliday.
SHEFFIELD UNITED: Howard, Alcock, Harris, Basham, Doyle, Murphy, Scougall, Baxter, McEveley, Campbell-Ryce, McCarthy. Substitutes: Turner, Flynn, McNulty, B Davies, McGahey, Porter, Reed.
REFEREE: Simon Hoope