Give them nothing, absolutely nothing,’ had been Nigel Clough’s message to his players as they prepared to face Coventry City today.
A reference to the visitors’ fragile confidence. Their egos battered and bruised by a debilitating sequence of results and position perilously close to League One’s relegation zone.
What actually transpired, rather than an all out assault on Jamie Jones’ goal, was a brutal armwrestle with Bob Harris cautioned for a deliberate foul on Jim O’Brien and Michael Doyle flying into a series of full-bloodied challenges as the hosts and his former club battled for midfield supremacy.
Dominic Samuel did his best to break the stranglehold during the early exchanges but lacked the experience required to embellish a mazy run towards the penalty box or test Iain Turner, again deputising for the injured Mark Howard, after finding himself in space.
Nevertheless, moments before O’Brien joined Harris in referee Darren Drysdale’s notebook for a wild lunge on Jamie Murphy, United wasted a glorious opportunity take a ninth minute lead. Jamal Campbell-Ryce, restored to the starting 11 after missing Tuesday’s victory over Notts County, powered towards the by-line and drove a fine low cross past the near post. Michael Doyle should have scored but took fresh air shot and the chance was gone.
And so, seven minutes later, was Jose Baxter for what appeared to be a two-footed tackle on Adam Barton just past the halfway line. Tempers had been simmering beneath the surface for some time and they boiled over in the home stands too when, despite few signs of obvious protest from the United bench, the City player recovered when the action resumed. The sight of Samuel being allowed to chase a looping centre despite clearly being offside further fueled the fire.
United were working like Trojans to try and overcome their numerical disadvantage. Inevitably, though, spaces were emerging for City to exploit. Barton returned a 29th minute corner into the penalty which Matthew Pennington headed straight into Turner’s arms.
The atmosphere took another downward turn in the 33rd minute when SAMUEL gave City the lead before showboating in front of The Kop. He held of Harris, who had earlier received a yellow card, before threading the ball past Turner as Doyle attempted to make up ground. Clough was furious. Not at the sight of his team conceding but that play had been allowed to continue after an earlier offence.
Samuel tried to double City’s lead soon after but McEveley blocked.
Drysdale’s increasingly erratic judgement continued to be tested as members of both teams went to ground.
Campbell-Ryce did exactly that when he was tripped by Luke Williams 25 yards from goal but Harris’ free-kick hit the wall before Barton was booked.
United found themselves two down in the 48th minute when SAMUEL pounced again.
Turner saved the youngster’s first attempt, from Aaron Phillips’ cross, at point blank range. But he was powerless to prevent Samuel blasting home the rebound. United, who had introduced Terry Kennedy for Campbell-Ryce at the start of the second-half, attempted to muster a response. Murphy shot wide and Brayford made a series of foraging runs forward before City’s Jack Finch replaced Barton. Eventually.
Luke Williams departed the action in much smarter fashion - after City had been warned for timewasting at a throw-in when he made way for George Thomas just before the hour mark.
Thomas dragged a shot well wide following a decent run from Fleck while, at the other end, Done lost his footing as he prepared to shoot from an acute angle after peeling off the shoulder of Pennington.
Coutts and Kieron Freeman exchanged places in the 70th minute as United, inevitably, began to visibly tire.
Ryan Haynes replaced debutant Chris Stokes soon after.
Then, United staged a remarkable fightback.
In the 79th minute, DOYLE beat Jones after receiving the ball from Murphy following Pennington’s goal-line clearance from Done. Then, almost straight from the re-start, MUPRHY levelled with a deflected effort after an exchange with his fellow goalscorer.
SHEFFIELD UNITED: Turner, Harris, Brayford, Basham, Doyle, Murphy, Baxter, Done, Coutts, McEveley, Campbell-Ryce. Substitutes: McNulty, Willis, Davies, Reed, Freeman, Kennedy, Adams.
COVENTRY CITY: Jones, Fleck, Williams, O’Brien, Samuel, Barton, Phillips, Tudgay, Martin, Pennington, Stokes. Substitutes: Burge, Webster, Jackson, Turgott, Haynes, Finch, Thomas.
REFEREE: Darren Drysdale (Lincolnshire).