sheffield United kept up their promotion challenge as Ched Evans yet again got on the scoresheet for the 32nd time this season but the game was not without controversy, hinging on Bournemouth’s goal.
The dynamics of the race for automatic promotion from League One seemingly change by the hour.
But United, who started this afternoon’s contest against Bournemouth in third following Sheffield Wednesday’s victory at Huddersfield Town earlier in the day, knew a positive result would see them return to the box seat with only five matches remaining.
Travelling north languishing in mid-table, Paul Groves’ charges acquitted themselves well before the break with Hines and Thomas showing signs of forging a good partnership in attack.
But Evans has few peers in this competition and, after over half an hour of stubborn resistance, he broke Bournemouth’s resolve.
That was the cue for United to move through the gears with Williamson going close to doubling their advantage following Quinn’s clever set-piece but Addison intervened.
Danny Wilson, the United manager, had insisted beforehand that his team were involved in a “four way shoot-out” for the right to be fast tracked into the Championship.
And, having steadfastly refused to trash-talk any of United’s rivals since being appointed 11 months ago, he issued his now customary warning that Bournemouth, despite having little to play for other than pride, would prove extremely dangerous opponents.
So it proved when, with barely two minutes on the clock, Simonsen was forced to dart off his line and smother Thomas’ shot.A good passage of possession, with McDonald and Quinn at the fore, settled the home side’s nerves.
But some tricky running from Hines, whose low centre of gravity consistently tested the mobility of Collins and Maguire, served as a reminder that Wilson was correct to sound a note of caution.
Lowton was involved in the delightful 14th minute move that saw the former Scotland under-21 international midfielder blaze over.
Warming to their task, Cresswell and Quinn then came within a whisker of hunting down Flahavan as the Bournemouth goalkeeper tried to clear.
United won another corner as the midway point of the first-half approached but Williamson’s clipped effort towards Cresswell at the near post failed to trouble a defence containing former Bramall Lane youngster Francis.
With sections of a subdued crowd growing impatient for a breakthrough, Wilson’s men continued to adopt a patient approach. Trying to pass rather than power their way through the two banks of four Bournemouth massed in front of Flahavan’s area, McDonald and Williamson continued to probe while Cresswell, playing despite a broken nose, was his usual slavish self.
They had to as referee Andy Woolmer stopped the action whenever either side attempted to execute anything which even resembled a full-bloodied tackle.
A roar enveloped Bramall Lane when McDonald’s first time chip sent Cresswell scampering down the wing in the 32nd minute.
Quinn threaded the ball beneath the onrushing Flahavan after being fed by his team mate but was adjudged to have strayed offside.
Arter was cautioned soon after for deliberate handball and United twisted the knife still further when EVANS fired them into a 35th minute lead.
Lowton whipped in a cross after good work by McDonald and when the ball was half cleared following Cresswell’s attempted header, the Wales international emphatically powered home before wheeling away in celebration for the 32nd time this term.
Bournemouth made a bright start when Hines hunted down Simonsen and Collins. But Groves was forced to contemplate a change in tactics when CRESSWELL scored United’s second from close range. Evans was the provider, crossing after showing good industry as he ran down the flank towards the Kop.
McDonald saw an effort deflected wide as United threatened a third but Hill headed clear as Francis tried to muster Bournemouth’s response.
O’Halloran was introduced at Cresswell’s expense and his first contribution was a lovely piece of control in a promising move which ended with Maguire spiralling a wasteful shot well wide. O’Halloran’s pace wcaused Bournemouth’s rearguard all sorts of problems here.
In the 67th minute, though, HINES handed Bournemouth a lifeline.
Simonsen seemed set to roll the ball out to Lowton but the forward nipped in and ran it into an empty net.
Woolmer and his assistant allowed the goal to stand, much to the obvious disgust of the United keeper and his team-mates.
Wilson, arms outstretched on the touchline, also seemed thoroughly perplexed by the decision as Simonsen and at least six colleagues claimed the ball had been illegally knocked out of his hands.