Chris Wilder always suspected familiarity would breed contempt and, only 32 days after facing each other in Shropshire, Sheffield United and Shrewsbury Town combined to produce an explosive encounter at Bramall Lane.
Although the final outcome was predictable - United climbing to second in the table after stretching their unbeaten run to 13 League One games - the manner of victory was anything but during a match which spawned three goals, two red cards and, from Wilder’s perspective, a potentially devastating casualty list.
Shrewsbury, who finished the contest with nine men after Jim O’Brien and Abu Ogogo received their marching orders during a crazy first-half, have improved beyond recognition under new manager Paul Hurst.
But once again United, winning for the fifth time since last month’s triumph at Greenhous Meadow, were just too street-smart as they negotiated safe if not entirely comfortable passage through the chaos.
“The players are a little bit more frustrated than I am,” Wilder acknowledged.
“And that possibly tells its own story about how well they’ve done in recent weeks. It’s not our fault they had a couple sent-off, that’s their indiscipline, it’s not our fault. We have to win anyway we can.”
United looked set to enjoy a routine afternoon when Billy Sharp, scoring for the seventh time in five appearances, and substitute Stefan Scougall fired them into a seemingly unassailable lead.
Sharp, who had earlier missed from the penalty spot following O’Brien’s foul on Daniel Lafferty, was among several players thwarted by Mark Halstead after Ogogo’s lunge at Paul Coutts forced referee Darren Deadman to intervene once again.
With a combination of Halstead’s brilliance and United’s profligacy preventing the hosts from extending their advantage, Louis Dodds handed Shrewsbury a lifeline when he powered home during the closing stages.
But United, who went close again through Harry Chapman, Matt Done and Sharp, wrestled back control to record a sixth straight success at home.
At this football club, with the advantage the home fans give us, it’s not had a rock solid home record in recent seasons,” Wilder said. “But that’s six on the bounce now. It’s another win for us and we move on.”
two reds and three injuries
Wilder had warned Hurst’s appointment meant this Shrewsbury team would push United much harder than the one he accused of surrendering during their last meeting a little over four weeks ago. And so it proved as Mark Duffy, Kieron Freeman and Paul Coutts all suffered knocks which could rule them out of tomorrow’s game against Bury.
Although the injuries sustained by Duffy and Freeman appeared unavoidable, the one Coutts received was anything but.
Hurst probably had a point when he claimed O’Brien was unfortunate to see red - “He’s made an honest attempt to win the ball. So, my interpretation of the new directives is that he shouldn’t have gone.” - but Ogogo could have no complaints.
“To lose Duff, Kieron and Paul wasn’t good,” Wilder said.
“We’re hoping they’ll be okay over the weekend because they’ve been big players for us. Duffy has a really tight calf, Kieron Freeman has got a really big impact on his back and Couttsy was the tackle. For him to walk off the pitch today is a bonus from us. Look at the state of the boy’s leg, that comes from a dangerous tackle. It’s sliced through his shin pad and he’s taken a big hit there.”
it could have been more
United could, probably should, have won by a much bigger margin. But, speaking afterwards, Wilder was in no mood to chastise a team which has now scored 28 goals in eight fixtures.
Sharp, who claimed a brace at Greenhous Meadow, netted his 12th of the campaign after being released by John Fleck’s pass before Scougall, an early replacement for Duffy, extended United advantage when Freeman met Coutts’ corner.
Having failed to convert from 12 yards when Lafferty was brought down, Sharp was again denied by Halstead after the former Blackpool trainee palmed an attempt from Done around the foot of the post.
Then, United’s captain saw Junior Brown fortuitously divert another shot behind for a corner rather than into his own net as Shrewsbury’s goal led a charmed life.
“We’ve set our own standard our own benchmark,” Wilder said.
“We’ve missed some chances and their ‘keeper has made some unbelievable saves. We’ve not sat back and been negative. I’d be disappointed if that was being chucked at us.”
“I appreciate people wanted to see it go from two, to three to four,” Wilder added. “But it certainly wasn’t for the want of trying. We gave it a real go out there I thought.”
the managers’ verdicts
Hurst might have inherited a team threatened by relegation. But his appointment has already had an effect. Shrewsbury, tasting defeat for the first time since prising him away from Grimsby Town, had not conceded a goal in over five-and-a-half hours until Sharp pounced.
“Their manager brings that combative streak,” Wilder said.
“Because when we first played them a few of their lads laid down and waved to white flag. They didn’t do that today.”
Hurst was quick to repay the compliment.
“We’ve come to a team that’s absolutely flying and who I expect to get promoted,” he said.
“They’ve got some exceptional players.”
Sheffield United: Moore, Fleck, Basham, Sharp, Done, Wright, Coutts (O’Connell 46), Freeman (Chapman 60), Ebanks-Landell, Duffy (Scougall 11), Lafferty. Not used: Lavery, Ramsdale, Brown, Clarke, Chapman. Shrewsbury Town: Halstead, Lancashire, Ogogo, Toney (Black 46), Dodds, O’Brien, J Brown, Grimmer, Deegan, Leitch-Smith (Ebanks-Blake 46), El-Abd. Not used: Leutwiler, Sadler, Smith, Sarcevic, Waring. Referee: Darren Deadman (Cambridgeshire). Attendance: 20,195.
Read more at: http://www.thestar.co.uk/sport/football/sheffield-united/match-report-sheffield-united-2-shrewsbury-town-1-1-8248044