Sheffield United secured their place in the League One play-off with this draw at Brisbane Road.
Sheffield United entered today’s fixture at Leyton Orient knowing any of these outcomes would see them secure a League One play-off place. On paper, with Fabio Liverani’s side languishing at the other end of the table, this match appeared a relatively routine affair.
In practise, however, it threatened to be anything but with the hosts slashing ticket prices for home supporters in order to swell the crowd inside their ground.
United made a solid enough start with Bob Harris, fit again following injury, propelling a deep third minute cross towards Steve Davies who had peeled away towards Alex Cisak’s far post but the Polish goalkeeper saved.
But, predictably given the high stakes, Orient immediately established a high tempo too with Mark Howard twice advancing off his line to collect high balls during the early skirmishes.
Nevertheless, it was United who carved the first two real chances of note.
The first, with 10 minutes gone, should have been taken. Especially as it fell to arguably their best finisher in recent weeks.
Jason Holt burst through Orient’s defence and found himself bearing down on Cisak but, with Jose Baxter surging forward in support, saw his close-range shot saved.
The second opportunity fell to Jamie Murphy, who had earlier been the victim of a heavy challenge from Dean Cox, six minutes later.
His low drive, from just outside the penalty area, appeared to take an awkward bounce off the uneven playing surface before flashing just wide.
A lively crowd, including a sell-out contingent from South Yorkshire, provided a racous soundtrack to the game.
However the match had begun on a sombre note with a minute’s silence to honour the memory of those who died in the Bradford City fire 30 years ago.
Once Sebastian Stockbridge, the referee, had got proceedings underway, both teams had gone about their work with a real desire and determination. Harris and John Brayford, named captain in Michael Doyle’s absence, flung themselves into tackles while Baxter also had the bit between his teeth. Orient too with Kieron Freeman flinging himself in front of a powerful drive from Chris Dagnall after Shaun Batt had been booked.
Dagnall continued to pose a threat and, as the half hour mark approached, he tested Howard’s positioning with an angled shot after Brayford had done well to shepherd him away from goal.
That cameo did, though, mark the start of an encouraging period for Orient with Chris Basham and Paul Coutts both making important interceptions.
Orient continued to improve as the half progressed but, for the most part, United kept them at arms-length.
Howard’s fingertips diverted a good effort from Batt over the crossbar before the Orient captain drew a corner from Brayford. But, from the resulting corner, it was United who nearly scored when Murphy darted deep into opposition territory before exchanging passes with Che Adams. Again Cisak proved equal to the task and scrambled the ball away to safety with a good reaction block.
Despite Orient’s flurry, United will have finished the opening period, bookended by two good sights of goal, largely satisfied with their work. Small details in need of improvement though included getting to grips with Orient’s well-marshalled offside trap and asking more weighty questions of the hosts’ back four.
Orient, meanwhile, possessed plenty of endeavour but, so far at least, too little quality on the ball.
They introduced Jobi McAnuff, in the 52nd minute, to try and rectify that situation with Batt the man to make way.
Moments later, Adams came close to opening the scoring. Coutts recycled the ball with a header after Murphy made inroads and Davies, showing good strength to take care of two Orient defenders, created the space for Adams to ghost in off the right flank. Cisak, not entirely convincingly, parried his strike away.
At the other end, Cox tested Howard’s handling as the game began to open up while a deft chip from Holt nearly fell for Freeman as United responded in kind.
In the 62nd minute, Orient made their second change of the afternoon when Josh Wright replaced Lloyd James.
Soon after, United made a double substitution. Dominic Calvert-Lewin was introduced for his debut and Stefan Scougall also entered the fray with Adams and Davies making way.
In the 73rd minute, Orient took the lead from a Cox corner conceded by Brayford. The ball was deposited into the middle of Howard’s penalty area and, MATHIEU BAUDRY climbed highest to turn it home with 20 minutes remaining. Almost straight from the restart, Scougall looked destined to level but a superb tackle from Nathan Clarke, as he primed to shoot, saved Orient.
But, six minutes after falling behind, United did equalise. HARRIS marked his return from injury with a powerful shot which wrong-footed Cisak after taking a deflection. Clough’s charges, though, more than deserved to be on level terms.
Credit too, however, to Orient who did their best to try and push the visitors back.
They won a series of corners but, at the other end of the pitch, just before Calvert-Lewin was cautioned, Baxter hit the woodwork with a free-kick.
Brayford saw yellow for a foul and, moments after David Mooney had been introduced at Bartley’s expense, Jay Simpson saw a set-piece touched over by Howard.
Doyle came on for Coutts during the closing stages of the game as Murphy was inches away from touching home at the far post.
But, with the scoreline remaining the same, United secured the point they required to ensure a top six place.
LEYTON ORIENT: Cisak, Cuthbert, Baudry, Clarke, Omozusi, Batt, Bartley, James, Cox, Simpson, Dagnall. Substitutes: Woods, Lowry, Wright, Taylor, Hedges, McAnuff, Mooney.
SHEFFIELD UNITED: Howard, Harris, Brayford, Basham, Murphy, Baxter, Coutts, Freeman, Adams, S.Davies, Holt. Substitutes: Alcock, Doyle, Scougall, Willis, B. Davies, Reed, Calvert-Lewin.
REFEREE: Sebastian Stockbridge (Tyne and Wear).