Result: Crawley Town 1 Sheffield United 1 - McNulty penalty saves a point for dominant Blades

The equaliser: 'Marc McNulty converts United's  penalty. Photo: Blades Sports Photography
The equaliser: 'Marc McNulty converts United's penalty. Photo: Blades Sports Photography

Matt Done came back into the Blades side at Crawley in the only change made by Nigel Clough from the win over Rochdale.

Done replaced Marc McNulty in the starting XI.

Crawley's 'Lewis Young- Crawley  and United's  Jamie Murphy. Photo: Blades Sports Photography

Crawley's 'Lewis Young- Crawley and United's Jamie Murphy. Photo: Blades Sports Photography

But Jason Holt, on loan from Heart of Midlothian, was again ruled-out through injury. Ryan Flynn featured after emerging from his comeback following an Achilles complaint unscathed four days earlier against Rochdale. Izale McLeod, who spent a brief spell at Bramall Lane earlier in his career, spearheaded Town’s front line with former Sheffield Wednesday defender Richard Wood tasked with anchoring their rearguard.

Dean Saunders, the Crawley Town manager, had urged the club’s fans to create a wall of noise when Sheffield United rolled into West Sussex for this pivotal fixture in League One.

Nigel Clough’s players, boasting a wealth of Championship and in some cases top-flight experience, are not the types to be intimidated by terrace hostility.

Instead, it was on the pitch where today’s match would be won, lost or drawn.

Jay McEveley’s challenge on Gavin Tomlin, the thwack of boot on shinpad reverberating around the Stadium, signalled United were determined not to take a backward step. Likewise an intricate interchange, instigated by Paul Coutts and maintained by Jamie Murphy, on the edge of Lewis Price’s penalty box.

Ryan Flynn, making his second start following an Achilles problem, had earlier announced his presence with a driving run and shot which rebounded off a defender as the Town goalkeeper prepared to make a save.

Then, out of nothing, Iain Turner was forced to do exactly that when Mathias Pogba unleashed a venemous 35-yard effort which the former Scotland B international palmed over the crossbar. A memorable attempt but relatively routine save.

The elements, squally rain and swirling wind, were also proving a factor.

Nevertheless Clough, barking instructions from the technical area and becoming increasingly animated as the half progressed, wanted his players to keep their boots on Town throats.

In the 16th minute, United had a ‘goal’ correctly ruled-out for offside when a glancing touch from Basham helped an angled drive from Bob Harris find its way into the back of the hosts’ net.

Lewis Young was cautioned 60 seconds later for tripping Murphy as he moved ominously towards the edge of the area but the Scot could not find a team mate from the subsequent set-piece.

The partnership between John Brayford and Flynn was causing Town all manner of problems along United’s right-flank with Coutts working well in the space in between.

Indeed, in the 24th minute, it was his centre which forced Anthony Wordsworth to hack the ball behind for a corner.

The midfielder, on loan from Ipswich Town, was a lucky man because it could just as easily ended-up nestling in his own goal.

Town’s most obvious route to goal, however, seemed to be pumping high balls towards Turner rather than the pace of McLeod. It was from one such delivery that Pogba saw a snap-shot cannon back off an unwitting defender.

McLeod, the former United loanee, joined Young in the referee’s notebook after catching Harris with a late challenge.

And United pressed again although, with 12 minutes of the opening period remaining, Kennedy was withdrawn presumably due to injury, with Kieron Freeman entering the fray. Freeman took up a position in midfield with Basham now tasked with partnering McEveley.

In the 37th minute, the almost incessent pressure nearly told. Flynn reached the by-line and cut back a low cross which Murphy met first time. His shot was saved by Price and, when Michael Doyle met the rebound, only Richard Wood’s superb block prevented him from breaking the deadlock.

United, who returned a possession figure of 69 per cent during the first-half, began the second in exactly the same fashion. There was, however, one notable difference with the visitors moving the ball visibly quicker, particularly when the looked to turn defence into attack.

Brayford drew a smart save from Price with the rebound flying just behind Done before Harris arced just wide from the edge of the area after profiting from Murphy’s industry and invention.

Town had been working hard to stay in the game and so, in the 60th minute, Saunders introduced Smith at Lee Fowler’s expense. Brayford, surging forward on the overlap again, forced Price to make yet anotger block. But, still, United could not find a way through.

The danger was the Town would gain encouragement from the fact the match was not already well beyond their reach. And so it proved when, in the 63rd minute, they took a shock lead.

Wordsworth swept an inswinging free-kick towards the penalty spot and WOOD turned the ball home.

That was the cue for Murphy and Flynn to switch flanks before the latter made way for Marc McNulty.

The pattern of the game, though, did not change with United continuing to do absolutely everything but score.

Freeman clipped a high ball into the box after ghosting across the edge of the area but Price claimed.

Done buzzed around the six yard box and Coutts saw a shot deflected behind.

Such was United’s superiority, Basham now felt able to camp himself in Town’s final third and exchange passes with team mates. Still, however, Town’s slender advantage remained intact.

That was, until, Doyle flicked on Turner’s clearance and Ryan Dickson brought down Done as the striker darted through. Woods, for reasons best known to himself, chose to contest the decision and was duly booked. Likewise his captain who didn’t. McNULTY kept his cool to level from the penalty spot with 10 minutes remaining.

Murphy saw a shot deflected behind - again - as United turned the screw a notch tighter. If, indeed, that was even possible to do. Darren Ward came on for Town in the 90th minutes as Edwards trudged off.

But they negotiated safe passage through five minutes of added time. Somehow, inexplicably, this match finished all-square.Crawley: Price, Young, Dickson, Wood, Bradley; Edwards, Wordsworth, Fowler, Tomlin; Pogba, McLeod.

Subs: Jensen, Smith, Morgan, Anderson, Bawling, O’Connor, Ward.

Blades: Turner, Brayford, McEveley, Kennedy, Harris, Flynn, Doyle, Coutts, Basham, Murphy, Done.

Subs: McNulty, Willis, Davies, Reed, Freeman, Adams, Calvert-Lewin. #

Referee: Charles Breakespear (Surrey).