Martin Wild reports from Greenhous Meadow
Three goals in a blistering start to the second half helped Sheffield United heap more Greenhous misery on an out of sorts Shrewsbury Town tonight. Two from ace marksman Billy Sharps and another from Dan Lafferty, condemned Town to a three-nil defeat which left them propping up the SKY Bet League One table, and in desperate need of a change in fortunes.
Danny Coyne made four changes to the side that lost late on at Walsall on Saturday. Ivan Toney returned from suspension, Gary Deegan got a recall, and there were also returns for Olly Lancashire and Mat Sadler who came in for Adam El-Abd (injury) and Ryan McGivern (who started his suspension after being sent-off at the Banks’s Stadium). Ian Black and Andy Mangan both had to be content with a subs shirt.
United got proceedings underway attacking the Salop Leisure Stand end of the stadium, backed by a large and noisy following away to our right. It was a near perfect evening for football
There wasn’t too much to enthuse over in the early throes of the game; although Sheffield did have the bulk of possession. Deegan attracted the unwanted attention of the referee with a 10th minute tackle on John Fleck, and although the official waved play on, once the ball went dead it brought a caution for the bearded miscreant.
Two minutes later Abu Agogo blocked Sharps’ goalbound piledriver from close range with the Town skipper defending the near post. The fact that he doubled over in pain might best describe where the ball hit him, without going into too great a detail.
The card count was extended in Salop’s favour when Joe Riley made an over-zealous challenge midway inside his own half, with Lafferty the latest Blade to get dumped on the pristine Meadow playing surface. The away side were certainly controlling the tempo with little seen of the Shrews as an attacking force.
There were loud and ironic cheers from the home sections when the referee blew for a foul in the Town box from a Paul Coutts corner – the second in succession that had been delivered deep to the back stick. Shrewsbury then forced a couple of their own back-to-back midway through the first half, but although there were a few ooh’s and aah’s from the crowd, there wasn’t much for the United defenders to get too concerned about.
On the half hour – and with the boos still ringing in Mr. Webb’s ears having missed a clear foul – Jayson Leutwiler was forced into the first save of the evening when Keiron Freeman set his sights on goal from just outside the box. The Swiss stopper pushed the ball out but sufficiently far enough away to prevent any damage. Toney then made it three yellows for what appeared to be a blatant trip, although the Town fan’s reactions might have told you otherwise. That said; there had been plenty more that might have been picked up on, but they weren’t deemed worthy of punishment - so perhaps consistency was the case on which to build an argument. Then, right on cue, Matt Done dropped Lancashire in the centre circle and the ref suddenly remembered where he’d kept his notebook.
60 seconds later, Lancashire returned the favour on Done and the foul was committed only a yard or so short of conceding a penalty. As it was, the free-kick was shifted across to Chris Basham whose shot was deflected behind and the corner came to nothing.
In the closing stages of the half, and with Shrewsbury starting to show something up top finally, Junior Brown lifted a free kick high into the box which George Waring did well to nod on. But Lancashire was under pressure and couldn’t keep the header down.
With one of the last kicks of the football, Fleck smashed a shot that drifted diagonally wide of the far post and the teams went in all square.
Half Time: Town 0 Sheffield United 0
At the resumption - and with both benches staying fully occupied – Fleck warmed the gloves of Leutwiler, but the away end was soon to explode when United went ahead. From virtually nothing, Sharp struck a venomous shot that arrowed into the top corner right in front of the jubilant travelling support, to make it the worst possible start to the second 45 for Chris Wilder’s side.
Lafferty shot straight at Leutwiler with the Blades tails up as they went in pursuit of a quickfire second goal, which would have made things extremely difficult for a side that seems to have forgotten how to win matches on home soil.
A Mark Duffy free-kick came back out off the face of the bar two minutes past the hour but the reprieve was brief in the extreme. In the next phase, a really poor clearance from Brown was fed back into the box, and this time the bar helped cushion Lafferty’s header over the line and into the net. Coyne threw on Mangan and Louis Dodds for Antoni Sarcevic and Waring respectively, but far from having the desired impact, it had a completely different affect.
Coutts had already gone close to a third with Leutwiler going full length to turn the ball over the top, but once again the relief didn’t last above 30 seconds, with Sharps grabbing his second of the evening having got on the end of another precision cross. Bing, bang, bosh – three goals in a devastating 20 minute spell against a Town side that looked a long way second best.
They did eventually force Simon Moore into a save, and it was a good one too - pushing away a slightly deflected Riley free kick with 20 minutes left. All the noise was understandably coming from the away end though, with most Town fans resigned to their fate - even though there was a fair chunk of time in which to mount a fightback, however unlikely that might have been. Dodds saw a thunderous shot blocked and Deegan’s effort had a similar outcome with United getting good numbers back behind the ball.
That was about it as far as the home team were concerned and they could have few complaints at the end result.
Full Time: Town 0 Sheffield United 3
Town: Jayson Leutwiler, Joe Riley, Mat Sadler, Olly Lancashire, Abu Ogogo (c), Ivan Toney, Junior Brown, Jack Grimmer, Antoni Sarcevic (Andy Mangan, 64), Gary Deegan, George Waring (Louis Dodds, 64)
Subs not used: Mark Halstead, Ian Black, Jim O’Brien, AJ Leitch-Smith, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake
Sheffield United: Simon Moore, John Fleck, Chris Basham, Billy Sharp (c), Matt Done, Jake Wright, Paul Coutts, Keiron Freeman (Reece Brown, 89), Ethan Ebanks-Landell, Mark Duffy (Ben Whiteman, 83) Dan Lafferty
Subs not used: Chris Hussey, Stephen Scougall, Caolan Lavery, Aaron Ramsdale, Harry Chapman
Att: 5,460 (1,014 from Sheffield)