SHEFFIELD United and Crewe Alexandra boast proud reputations for producing home grown talent but it was a player groomed at Macclesfield rather than Bramall Lane or Gresty Road who spared the South Yorkshire club’s blushes following an improbable comeback by the visitors.
A match which initially seemed destined to end in a routine victory for the hosts instead produced thrills and spills aplenty.
Goals from Shaun Miller and Harry Maguire saw Danny Wilson’s side seize control during the early skirmishes before Crewe, making a mockery of claims they are too lightweight to prosper in this notoriously tough division, restored parity courtesy of Mark Ellis and Mathias Pogba.
When Chuks Aneke edged Crewe in front at the start of the second half, United were suddenly staring only their second defeat of the campaign in the face.
Although Nick Blackman, whose claims for a second-half penalty were later waved away by referee James Adock, duly equalised, the former Blackburn Rovers attacker was unable to engineer the winner his persistence deserved.
Some of the football this crazy game produced was simply a joy to behold.
Not that either manager was able to enjoy the fruits of their respective teams labours as the outcome teetered in the balance throughout.
Crewe, having travelled east in 14th, didn’t arrive suffering from an inferiority complex.
Lauri Dalla Valle forced Neill Collins to produce a perfectly-timed tackle on the edge of the six-yard box following Miller’s opener while Pogba’s volley sent George Long scrambling across his line midway through the first period.
Crewe boss Steve Davis played under Wilson earlier in his career at Oakwell and had spoken of his delight at renewing their acquaintance across the technical area.
However, the post-match glass of wine they had promised to share will have left a slightly bitter taste in Wilson’s mouth following this frustrating result.
United, already leading courtesy of Miller’s fortuitous third-minute finish, could have doubled their advantage moments later but Chris Porter swept a first-time effort over the crossbar.
The burgeoning partnership between two strikers who not so long ago seemed destined to spend the majority of the campaign on the bench has persuaded Wilson to experiment with a three-pronged attack.
So it was no surprise to see former Crewe protégé Miller, who appeared to turn home Blackman’s cross with his shoulder, dovetail perfectly with Porter again just before the quarter-of-an-hour mark but the latter had strayed inches offside.
Crewe, full of neat touches and delicate flicks, responded when Dalla Valle, signed on loan from Fulham, and Pogba, previously of Celta Vigo and Wrexham, tested United’s resolve.
Blackman, however, wrestled back the initiative with a low drive which flashed just wide of Alan Martin’s near post.
With United criticised for favouring industry over invention of late, United captain Michael Doyle revealed earlier this week that Wilson’s charges have taken a conscious decision to sharpen their attacking instincts of late.
Coaxing improved levels of performance out of fellow midfielder Kevin McDonald, whose passing repertoire would be the envy of many a Championship player, is a central part of that plan.
The Scot obliged in the 30th minute by setting in motion the chain of events which ended with Maguire powerfully converting from a corner.
Again Blackman, who went close to find the defender for a second time six minutes before the interval, was the provider.
Crewe, who reduced the deficit when Ellis turned home after Luke Murphy’s piercing shot had thundered back off Long’s crossbar, stunned the home crowd by drawing level on the stroke of half-time.
A rare error of judgement from United’s young goalkeeper - failing to deal decisively with Murphy’s free-kick - allowed Pogba to equalise before Aneke completed the turnaround after latching onto Byron Moore’s 47th minute centre.
With United less assured now than before the visitors’ second, Crewe spurned a glorious opportunity to extend their lead when Dalla Valle fired wastefully over.
It was a mistake the Finn lived to regret when Blackman pounced after Miller’s 50th minute drive rebounded back off the foot of Martin’s post. United’s leading scorer went close again after ghosting across Crewe’s penalty area.
Gregor Robertson rode his luck after tangling with Blackman in the box with 20 minutes remaining before Long redeemed himself by denying Pogba from close range.
Crewe, though, were worthy of their point.
SHEFFIELD UNITED: Long 6, Westlake 7, Maguire 7, Flynn 6 (McAllister 46, 6), Doyle 6, Porter 6, Blackman 7, McDonald 7, Miller 7, Collins 7, Williams 6. Not used: Cresswell, Cofie, Philliskirk, Ironside, McFadzean, Coyne.
CREWE Alexandra: Martin 6, Tootle 6, Davis 6, Ellis 6, Murphy 7, Pogba 7, Moore 6 (Guthrie 90), Robertson 6, Osman 6, Aneke 7 (Clayton 73), Dalla Valle 6 (Turton 90). Not used: Phillips, Dugdale, Daniels, Colclough.