Just 18 days after meeting at the Matchroom Stadium, Sheffield United and Leyton Orient locked horns once again.
Nigel Clough’s side, who entered this match 11th in the League One table, triumphed 1-0 on that occasion. But, despite ending the Londoners’ hopes of reaching the later stages of the Capital One Cup, much had changed en route to Bramall Lane.
Russell Slade, now in charge of Cardiff City, resigned his position within 24 hours of that third round contest. Michael Higdon, who scored the only goal of the game, was suspended for this afternoon’s
fixture after being sent-off against Chesterfield last weekend.
Little wonder that both Clough and Ben Davies, the United substitute, warned during the build-up that Orient would prove a much more formidable proposition that the side United encountered less than three weeks ago.
Nevertheless, the hosts should have taken the lead after 50 seconds.
Ryan Flynn, driving beyond his marker down the right flank, cut the ball back towards the edge of the area but the onrushing Jose Baxter screwed his shot wide.
It provoked a good response from the visitors with Craig Alcock forced to scramble clear from a McAnuff corner and Henderson, the former United centre-forward, making his presence felt with two hefty challenges. At the other end, James Wallace plucked a looping ball out of the area and sent Baxter scampering clear with a perfectly judged slide-rule pass.
Orient, though, got back in numbers and Scott Cuthbert intervened when Murphy received the ball.
Cuthbert denied Murphy again in the eighth minute when Scougall prised apart their defence.
The open play, which entertained supporters but kept both benches on edge, continued.
Kevin Nugent, who took charge when Slade’s relationship with new owner Francesco Becchetti broke down, insisted yesterday that Orient would benefit from the stability their decision to offer him a permanent contract guaranteed.
Despite arriving in South Yorkshire just above the relegation zone, his players were also seeking to protect a long unbeaten run away from home. Like United, Orient, last term’s beaten play-off finalists, embarked upon a heavy recruitment drive during the close season with the likes of Henderson, Jay Simpson and McAnuff bolstering the options at their disposal.
But, as the quarter-of-an-hour mark approached, it was still the likes of Cuthbert and Nathan Clarke who were really earning their corn as United continued to apply, admittedly not overwhelming, but decent pressure.
Baxter and Scougall were both crowded out following another break forward while Flynn failed to deliver the correct pass after again beating Elliot Omozusi.
Clarke took matters into his own hands with a bone-crunching 19th minute tackle on Flynn which, despite being suspiciously similar to the one which brought Higdon a red card last weekend, went unpunished by the referee.
Towards the end of the half, however, the crowd began to grow restless as United, defending The Kop end, failed to build upon what had been a promising start.
The contest, so bright at the beginning, was not developing into a midfield arm-wrestle with precious few options, for both sets of players, whenever they sought to bring the ball out from the back.
A situation which, in fairness, probably suited Orient more.
As demonstrated when, in the 39th minute, they took the lead.
The usually reliable Mark Howard spilled Omozusi’s low cross towards the near post and, when the ball bounced off Bradley Pritchard, it fell kindly for Simpson who tapped home from close-range.
Clarke was cautioned for a foul soon after before United were booed off the pitch.
With neither manager electing to make a change during the interval, would the second-half follow a familiar pattern?
The answer, throughout its early skirmishes, appeared to be yes as United probed Orient’s durability out wide with Murphy winning a 48th minute corner and Craig Alcock, from Baxter’s resulting set-piece, seeing a powerful header beat the goalkeeper but hacked clear by Simpson before it crossed the line.
Then, 60 seconds later, Wallace inexplicably failed to claw United level.
Baxter, again, was the instigator with his low cross deflected onto the far post by Jack Price. The former
Tranmere Rovers captain had hunted the ball down but, off-balance, somehow scooped it over the crossbar from point blank range. Murphy, commendably, took time out to cajole his colleague before play resumed.
United made their first change of the afternoon in the 61st minute when Baxter, who moments earlier had been the victim of another heavy Clarke challenge, was withdrawn for Marc McNulty.
The substitute glanced an angled header wide, from Wallace’s curling centre, in the 69th minute when Orient also made a change. Simpson was withdrawn so Chris Dagnall could enter the fray.
Three minutes later, Wallace was substituted for United, apparently carrying a slight knock.
His replacement, Jamal Campbell-Ryce, immediately took up a position on the touchline with Murphy now adopting a more central role.
Chris Basham replaced Scougall with 16 minutes remaining after Alcock had been booked for mistimed challenge on McAnuff who, 60 seconds later, returned the favour and got sent-off having been caution just before the break.
McNulty had a goal disallowed for offside as Orient, now placing nine outfield players behind the ball, escaped Campbell-Ryce’s appeal for an 81st minute penalty following a tangle with Omozusi.
Basham headed wide from Campbell-Ryce while Henderson, applauded before kick-off, was booed when he made way for Bartley in the 85th minute.
McNulty hit the inside of the post when he attempted to hook home from close range when Campbell-Ryce’s clipped centre was turned back towards goal.
Then Basham hit the crossbar when he met another cross, this time from Harris.
But United, showing remarkable spirit, scored in the 90th and 92nd minute.
First, McCarthy rifled home after Woods’ parry from Doyle’s shot had produced a scramble in the box before McNulty headed home Campbell-Ryce’s cross, wrong-footing the Orient goalkeeper.
Game, set and match?No.
In the 97th minute, Orient won a corner which Price took and Vincelot headed home.
SHEFFIELD UNITED: Howard, Alcock, Harris, Wallace, Flynn, Doyle, Murphy, Scougall, Baxter, McEveley, McCarthy. Substitutes: Basham, McNulty, Davies, McGahey, Campbell-Ryce, Reed, Turner.
LEYTON ORIENT: Woods, Omuzusi, Vincelot, Cuthbert, McAnuff, Lowry, Clarke, Pritchard, Henderson, Price, Simpson. Substitutes: Batt, Lee, Kashket, Bartley, Grainger, Dagnall, Ling.
REFEREE: Andy Haines (East Yorkshire),