Two of the division’s biggest teams. Two of it’s most fancied clubs.
Sheffield United and Bristol City brought the curtain-up on the new League One campaign at Bramall Lane earlier this afternoon. But, despite some enterprising play from the hosts, it was City who departed clutching three hard-earned points.
Aaron Wilbraham edged the visitors ahead before Michael Higdon restored parity soon after.
But Wade Elliott, who scored the winning goal against United during their 2009 Championship play-off final with Burnley, netted the decisive effort after combining with Wilbraham in the second-half.
Given Clough’s surprising selection - both Michael Doyle and Neill Collins were named on the bench - United nevertheless made a fluent start with Higdon, Jamie Murphy and Ryan Flynn all causing the visitors problems.
However, although City looked vulnerable at the back, they were far more purposeful going forward and took a 20th minute lead courtesy of Wilbraham’s header following a cross from fellow debutant Mark Little.
Mark Howard tried desperately to keep the ball out but could not claw it away to safety.
Higdon, though, continued to cause problems and forced Frank Fielding to tip over the crossbar after meeting Craig Alcock’s centre after earlier setting in motion the chain of events which ended with a shot from Stefan Scougall being blocked on the line.
Jamie Murphy suffered a similar fate when Aden Flint acrobatically scooped clear but United were not to be denied and Higdon drew them level with a perfectly placed 31st minute header from Ben Davies’ set-piece.
Scougall should have edged them in front soon after but could not hit the target as the contest unfolded at a furious pace.
The atmosphere turned sour, though, four minutes before the interval when Bob Harris required lengthy treatment after tangling with Little. Neither the home bench nor the crowd were amused.
Scougall, driving beyond Higdon, was inches away from seizing upon the centre-forward’s prodded pass as the interval beckoned.
Little escaped sanction after that collision with Harris but was booked after catching Murphy late during the early skirmishes of the second-half. Murphy joined him in the referee’s notebook soon after for simulation. The Scottish winger appeared utterly bemused by the decision as did Clough.
Sam Baldock and Luke Freeman tested Howard’s reflexes before a tempting cross from Davies, aimed towards Chris Basham, thrust United back onto the front foot.
But Elliott stopped them in the tracks after 72 minutes, latching onto Wilbraham’s superb touch to fire home across Howard.
Flint came to City’s rescue again in the 80th minute when he acrobatically cleared another Murphy shot off the line with Fielding beaten.
Blades: Howard,Alcock, Harris, Basham (Baxter 86), Flynn (Campbell-Ryce 63), Murphy, Scougall (McNulty 76), Davies, McGahey, Higdon, Reed.
Not used: Doyle, Baxter, Willis, Collins, Porter.
Bristol City: Fielding, Little, Williams, Flint, Smith, Elliott (Wagstaff 88), Baldock (Emmanuel-Thomas 90), Freeman (Pack 76), Cunningham, Wilbraham, Ayling.
Not used: El-Abd, Richards, Burns, Bryan.