Bradford City, Nigel Clough had insisted beforehand, would be a very different beast to the team beaten 6-0 by their namesakes from Bristol in midweek.
The visitors’ hopes of gatecrashing the top six party might be slim but, after being humbled by Steve Cotterill’s side at Valley Parade, manager Phil Parkinson will have been intent on witnessing some sort of response.
With five former Sheffield United players in their matchday squad, they nearly produced exactly that when Andy Halliday, assisted by Tony McMahon, flashed a low shot past the foot of Mark Howard’s post as early as the first minute.
The Glaswegian tried his luck again soon after but, on this occasion, his curling effort from the edge of the box sailed comfortably wide.
With Clough’s side still firmly in the promotion mix, there was a discernible difference between the approach these two rivals adopted.
City, with very little to lose, were going about their work with a freedom and throwing caution to the wind. United, by contrast, had entered this Yorkshire derby under considerably more pressure. And so, until John Brayford powered down the flank in the 10th minute, were inevitably much more measured.
Nevertheless, they created the best opportunity of the early exchanges. Brayford’s persistence allowed him to whip a dangerous centre across Ben Williams’ six yard box. Andrew Davies got a slight touch which diverted the ball past the onrushing Steven Davies but straight to Jamie Murphy. Celebrating his 100th start for the hosts, he scooped it over the crossbar and into the away supporters behind City’s net.
United were indebted to Chris Basham soon after as a match whish had so far been much to open for Clough’s likeing unravelled even more. Billy Knott miscued from close range and Billy Clarke seized his opportunity to beat Howard but not the centre-half.
Steve Davies, who was passed fit yesterday following a foot problem, began limping in the 21st minute following a tangle with an opposition defender which had nearly sent Paul Coutts scampering through. United were probing well from midfield, with Jose Baxter attempting to thread balls through to colleagues in more advanced positions. Michael Doyle, meanwhile, swept up if they fell short.
The pattern of the contest did not change as the half progressed. United were enjoying more possession but City had the luxury of flooding men forward whenever there was a chance to break.
Murphy wrestled himself into a decent position with 15 minutes of the opening period remaining but lost his footing at the vital moment.
Steven Davies received a talking to from the referee after questioning a heavy challenge on Coutts as United edged forward again.
Then, there was a moment of magic from Kieron Freeman whose back-flick wrong-footed City’s defence and released Jason Holt. But his cross was untouched. A slick passage of play in the 37th minute ended with Brayford winning a free-kick just outside the penalty area. Steven Davies took it and won a corner when his set-piece rebounded off the wall.
Doyle, surprisingly given some of the challenges which had gone before, received the first caution of the afternoon for a tackle on Knott.
United made a change for the start of the second-half with Kennedy making way for Craig Alcock.
Coutts made inroads in the 51st minute but Steven Davies could not connect with his cross while, at the other end, James Hanson headed straight at Mark Howard. Four minutes later, Rory McArdle joined Doyle in the referee’s notebook.
In the 57th minute, United took the lead. Doyle sent Murphy scampering towards The Kop and, when he beat Andrew Davies, the hosts’ captain saw a shot blocked by McArdle. However, HOLT made no mistake and turned the ball home.
That was the cue for City to introduce Mark Yeates at Halliday’s expense. United responded by trying to force the issue with Freeman and Coutts, who had both impressed, stretching the visitors’ rearguard before the ball was cleared.
McMahon, who also boasts a spell at Bramall Lane on his CV, was booked just past the hour mark for a late tackle. It wasn’t the first time late challenge had been made but the officials had seemingly missed many.
Coutts made his presence felt again, this time at the opposite end of the pitch, when Yeates spread an excellent crossfield pass which ended with James Meredith trying to shoot.
Basham followed suit with a brave header to stop Hanson turning home following a corner as City roused themselves. Yeates unleashed a fine first time strike as United began to lose some of the control they had established but the ball flew straight at Howard and was comfortably saved.
Davies tried his luck from distance when the referee waved advantage despite a foul by Andrew Davies but Williams was able to shepherd the ball past the post.
The introduction of Yeates, however, had equipped City with an extra cutting edge and, in the 79th minute, he forced Brayford to head
clear a curling, angled shot which would have certainly troubled Howard had it reached him.
United made their second change with nine minutes of normal time remaining when Baxter, who deservedly received a good round of applause from the home crowd, made way for Che Adams. The youngster, signed from Ilkeston last year, immediately tried to take on his marker but was crowded out.
Then, in the 84th minute, and after Jon Stead had replaced Knott, City levelled courtesy of an excellent finish by CLARKE.
He picked his spot, in the bottom left hand corner of Howard’s net, perfectly and the goalkeeper was powerless to keep the ball out.
Adams demonstrated his attacking intent with another driving run which saw the ball switched to Coutts but, as Steven Davies challenged, Williams jumped to pluck it out of the air.
The match, once again, had opened-up and, in the 90th minute, McArdle was sent-off after collecting his second yellow card of the match for a foul on Steven Davies midway into City territory.
That marked the end of Yeates’ contribution and the substitute was duly substituted himself as City reorganised.
Gary MacKenzie came on but there were no more goals.
SHEFFIELD UNITED: Howard, Brayford, Basham, Doyle, Murphy, Baxter, Coutts, Freeman, Kennedy, S Davies, Holt. Substitutes: Alcock, Scougall, McNulty, Willis, Done, B Davies, Adams.
BRADFORD CITY: Williams, Darby, Meredith, A Davies, Hanson, Clarke, Knott, Routis, McArdle, Halliday, McMahon. Substitutes: Dolan, Liddle, Zoko, Yeates, MacKenzie, Stead, Urwin.
REFEREE: Graham Scott (Oxfordshire),