Caolan Lavery’s failure to appear denied journalists and supporters alike another chance to discuss his leap across one of England’s greatest footballing divides.
But there was still no shortage of talking points as, despite the new Sheffield United centre-forward’s absence, goals from Sheffield Wednesday’s Will Buckley and Ben Whiteman saw this intriguing ‘mini derby’ end all square.
Manager Chris Wilder, who watched the action unfold from the directors’ box, will have been frustrated by the sight of a United team failing to translate its superiority into a more convincing scoreline. It had, until League One victories over Oxford and Gillingham, threaten to become a familiar theme at Bramall Lane this term. Nevertheless, the performances of John Fleck and Callum Semple made for more pleasurable viewing while David Brooks nearly capped an inventive shift by snatching an equaliser before the impressive Whiteman struck.
Although Carlos Carvalhal was not present, the Portuguese will study assistant Lee Bullen’s report with interest when it arrives on his desk this morning. Glen Loovens and Vincent Sasso, who returned to Hillsborough on a permanent basis after leaving S.C. Braga last month, anchored Wednesday’s rearguard and used their experience against United’s youthful attack. Loovens’ touch was understandable rusty at times - twice he nearly sold Cameron Dawson short with poor back passes after being harassed by substitute Connor Hall. But, with the hosts producing the better passages of play and field position, it proved a useful exercise for the Dutch defender.
The contest also marked the latest phase of George Long’s rehabilitation following a series of chequered displays at the beginning of the campaign. The United goalkeeper, who recently lost his starting place, enjoyed few opportunities to prove his worth. But, as the hosts pressed and probed, Long cut an assured figure between the posts and did well to parry Buckley’s initial shot before the Sunderland loanee converted on the rebound.
Despite their acclaimed academy programme, United used last night’s match to improve the sharpness of numerous first team players. Ethan Ebanks-Landell, signed on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers less than a week ago, featured after appearing during Sunday’s victory at Priestfield while Chris Hussey and Harry Chapman also took part.
Chapman was responsible for carving the evening’s first chance when his long-range free-kick but there was a shortage of genuine opportunities until Fleck and Kimarni Smith tested Dawson during a late United surge.
Wednesday responded when Devante Rodney forced Long to block. The striker was a threat but, for the most part, it was the hosts who looked more likely to open the scoring until Buckley’s 69th minute effort.
Ebanks-Landell was inches away from connecting with a corner midway through the opening period while earlier Whiteman showcased his prowess from set-pieces by forcing Dawson to intervene again. The midfielder, who can count himself unfortunate not to have enjoyed more exposure at senior level this term, bypassed Loovens and Sasso again with another fine delivery towards Ebanks-Landell following Hussey’s run.
Rodney nearly punished United’s profligacy when, seconds before the interval, Matt Penney burst down the flank and crossed for Rodney to glance wide. Instead, that task fell to Buckley who, after being sent clean through by Fraser Preston’s pass, headed home at the second attempt during the closing stages. Whiteman, though, deservedly levelled with an excellent finish with 10 minutes remaining.
Sheffield United U23: Long, Cummings, Hussey, Whiteman, Ebanks-Landell (Smith 67), Semple, Chapman (Charlesworth 67), Fleck, Wright jnr (Hall 46), Reed, Brooks. Not used: Perryman, Hallam.
Sheffield Wednesday U23: Dawson, Percival (Centeno 79), Penney, Murphy, Sasso, Loovens, Stobbs (Hayford 88), Clare, Rodney (Preston 65), Clarke, Buckley. Not used: O’Grady, Willis.
Referee: Daniel Middleton (Derbyshire).