Ched Evans on the attack for Sheffield United
Ched Evans on the attack for Sheffield United

SHEFFIELD United fell to a free kick from Jonnie Jackson, the same player whose free kick defeated Sheffield Wednesday just seven days previously.

In-form players, two clubs who not so many moons ago were locking horns in the Premiership and managers bristling with belief and confidence.

Today’s match at The Valley - a showdown between, before kick-off at least, the division’s top-ranked teams - contained all the ingredients for a classic League One encounter.

Predictably a sizeable crowd converged upon this corner of the capital to witness leaders Charlton Athletic lock horns with second-placed Sheffield United.

The vast majority of which expected to witness Chris Powell’s side consolidate their position at the head of the queue for an automatic return to the Championship.

It was United, though, who came the closest to obliging their fans during the early exchanges when McDonald clipped over the bar following third minute short-corner routine.

Nevertheless, this proved to be a cagey affair until Jackson handed Charlton the lead, as he did against Sheffield Wednesday last Saturday.

Maguire stopped Wright-Phillips in his tracks with a crunching tackle and United, showing a willingness to pass their way out of trouble, came within a whisker of sending Evans clean through when Quinn produced a near perfect 10th minute pass.

On the pitch, there has been little to separate these two rivals in recent weeks.

Off it, though, they have adopted very different tactics in the bid to recapture former glories.

Charlton, having emerged from a period of financial turmoil, embarked on a wholesale makeover of their playing staff on the eve of the season.

United, by stark contrast, travelled south with the majority of the squad that suffered the indignity of relegation last term still intact.

The secret of Danny Wilson’s success has been coaxing the best out of footballers whose pride had taken a terrible battering in the months leading up to his appointment following Micky Adams’ departure in May.

NUnited, though, were stopped in their tracks when JACKSON looped a free-kick over the wall and beyond a despairing Simonsen after Collins had been penalised for a foul 25 yards out.

United, who could be forgiven for feeling slightly aggrieved at the setback following a positive if not perfect start, responded with a long-range effort of their own.

But Williamson’s 26th minute set-piece - after Wiggins had been cautioned for hauling down Evans - was palmed around the foot of the post by Hamer.

Cresswell caressed the ball home in the 33rd minute but was adjudged offside and Pritchard made a terrible hash of a volley at the other end of the pitch.

With Charlton gathering momentum, Jean-Francois’s poor 50th minute header presented Green with a chance but he shot straight at Simonsen.

Green did exactly the same less than 60 seconds later but, on this occasion, the United goalkeeper was forced to parry due to the ferocity of the strike.

Evans, struggling to escape the shackles of Taylor and Morrison, saw his route through blocked by the Charlton centre-halves after Doyle’s raking crossfield pass.

McDonald, adopting a more industrious approach, attempted to barge rather than bewitch his way into the area in the 58th minute but was again shepherded out.

Williamson and Quinn both whipped in corners in quick succession and when Hamer fumbled the latter’s effort, the crowd held their breath when the ball fell at Evans’ feet.But he could only blast over the bar and was left punching the air in frustration.

Wilson cajoled and encouraged from the touchline but while his players had enjoyed plenty of possession, for once they were struggling to complete that key final ball.