BILLY Clarke came back to haunt Sheffield United and severely dent their automatic promotion aspirations as Crawley Town triumphed at Bramall Lane tonight, writes Dom Howson.
The striker, who enjoyed a productive loan spell at United last season, claimed his 13th goal of the season with 13 minutes left after Paul Hayes robbed Neill Collins of possession.
Hayes made it 2-0 in the 84th minute to condemn the Blades to their fourth home defeat of the campaign. Danny Wilson’s troops have not scored at home since February 16.
Wilson made one alteration from the side who drew at Walsall last weekend, recalling Ryan Flynn to midfield at the expense of Barry Robson, who dropped to the substitutes bench.
Apart from a couple of Flynn set-pieces, United created little in the early stages.
At the other end, Matt Hill had to be alert to cut out Clarke’s dangerous centre.
Collins nodded a Flynn corner wide while Kevin McDonald drilled a shot off target. Danny Higgingbotham tested the reflexes of Paul Jones but he was equal to his free-kick.
Five minutes before the interval, United came close to opening the scoring as Flynn’s strike cannoned off the post and bounced to safety.
Then George Long pulled off a fine stop on the stroke of half-time to keep out Clarke’s header.
It was the hosts who made a bright start after the break, with captain Michael Doyle hitting a spectacular volley against the upright.
With 24 minutes remaining, Wilson threw on Chris Porter and Callum McFadzean to try and spark his troops into life. Porter nearly made an immediate impact, heading Dave Kitson’s cross narrowly wide.
Clarke and Hayes then took centre stage to derail United’s promotion bid.
United: Long; Higginbotham, Maguire, Collins, Hill; Flynn, Doyle, McDonald, Murphy; Kitson, Forte. Substitutes: Westlake, Porter, Robson, Ironside, McFadzean, Kennedy, Coyne.
Crawley: P. Jones, Sadler, Essam, Clarke, Torres, Walsh, Hunt, Proctor, Bulman, Adams, M. Jones. Substitutes: Dumbuya, Connolly, O’Brien, Elford-Alliyu, Maddison, Hayes, Malins.
Referee: Nigel Miller (County Durham).