Match Report: Sheffield United 2-1 Leeds United - Sharp strikes twice to down Whites
Saturday, 10th Feb 2018 16:15 by @LucasMonk_
It is patently clear that Paul Heckingbottom has much work ahead of him to make Leeds United promotion contenders after suffering defeat in his first match since taking charge at Elland Road...
Leeds United’s hopes of a top six finish were perhaps dealt a terminal blow this afternoon as two goals from Billy Sharp - in spite of a Pierre-Michel Lasogga header - saw them fall to a 2-1 defeat to Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.
Prior to kick-off, there was a palpable hope that Paul Heckingbottom, who recalled both Eunan O’Kane and Kalvin Phillips to the starting lineup in a 4-3-3 formation, would taste victory in his first game in charge of the Whites - but his new charges got off to an egregious start in this crucial Yorkshire derby in which a lot more than local pride was at stake.
It took Sharp - a former Leeds striker - just two minutes to open the scoring when the sides met at Elland Road in October, and he repeated the feat in this clash after O’Kane’s feeble clearance.
The Republic of Ireland international attempted to head a Mark Duffy cross from the right clear - but the ball fell kindly for Sharp, who mercilessly lashed the ball past Whites custodian Felix Wiedwald to score the 200th league goal of his career.
It almost got even worse for the visitors just moments later when a floated cross found Duffy unmarked inside the penalty area, but the former Birmingham City winger could only send a wild effort over the crossbar.
The Blades continued to exert attacking pressure and Sharp most certainly should have increased the margin of their advantage in the tenth minute. Lee Evans’ sumptuous delivery from a free-kick on the right was met well by the head of Sharp, though he could only head over from just a few yards out.
Leeds’ new head coach, Heckingbottom, had to wait until the 23rd minute to see his side enjoy a meaningful foray into their opponents’ half, with Lasogga turning on a sixpence before firing narrowly wide from outside the box.
The best chances continued to fall the way of the hosts, who twice came excruciatingly close to doubling their money in the 28th minute. A driven cross across the face of goal from Sharp narrowly eluded Leon Clarke, before Duffy sent a curling effort marginally wide of Wiedwald’s right-hand post.
Heckingbottom’s new team would have their most conspicuous opportunity in first half stoppage time. From a free-kick on the right, substitute Pablo Hernandez - who had replaced the injured Kemar Roofe - sent over a splendiferous ball that was met emphatically by Pontus Jansson, who saw his booming header spectacularly saved by Blades goalkeeper Jamal Blackman.
There were no further changes for either team during the interval, but whatever Heckingbottom said to his players - after an appalling first half - had an instant effect.
With just two minutes of the second period elapsed, Leeds levelled. Home defender Chris Basham carelessly relinquished possession to Hernandez on the left before the latter crossed to the far post for Lasogga, who planted a firm and fantastic header past Blackman.
That goal instilled new confidence into the visitors, who won a succession of corners shortly thereafter.
But Leeds failed to score what would have been a crucial goal whilst they were in the ascendancy and they were made to rue this in the 73rd minute of the match.
From a free-kick on the periphery of the visiting penalty area, the Blades were awarded a spot-kick after Eunan O’Kane was adjudged to have impeded John Fleck. Sharp then confidently slammed home the ensuing penalty to restore his team’s slender lead.
Leeds came closest to an equaliser late on when Laurens De Bock struck a powerful left-footed effort toward goal that flew narrowly wide following a deflection, as the resilient Blades negotiated the game’s remainder well to secure three crucial points that keep them in firm contention for the play-offs - a prize that their committed performance perhaps merited.
Sheffield United (3-5-2): Blackman; Basham, Stearman, O’Connell; Baldock, Evans (Lundstram 88’), Duffy (Leonard 77’), Fleck, Stevens; Sharp (Holmes 90’), Clarke.
Unused Subs: Eastwood, Lafferty, Wilson, Donaldson.
Leeds United (4-3-3): Wiedwald; Dallas, Jansson, Pennington, De Bock; Phillips (Ekuban 78’), O’Kane, Forshaw; Alioski (Sacko 75’), Lasogga, Roofe (Hernandez 45’).
Unused Subs: Lonergan, Anita, Vieira, Cibicki.
Referee: Andrew Madley
Booked: Evans, Fleck, Sharp (Sheff U), Roofe, Forshaw (Leeds).
Man of the Match: Billy Sharp (Sheff U).
Writer’s Verdict: Positives to take in defeat but Paul Heckingbottom needs time to assert his authority at Elland Road
A particularly disenchanting defeat for Leeds and one that feels like a terminal blow to the club’s pre-season aspirations of finishing within the play-off positions come the end of the season.
The Whites’ second half performance warrants some credence, with Pablo Hernandez and Adam Forshaw excelling in the middle of the park, but Paul Heckingbottom will have been extremely exasperated by their feeble showing in the first period. The threat posed by Billy Sharp was one that Leeds should have been acutely conscious of and their failure to stop him opening the scoring in the early stages - as he had done in the reverse fixture - was inexcusable.
Eunan O’Kane was perhaps ever so slightly unfortunate to concede Sharp’s decisive penalty, but Chris Wilder's team did just about enough to earn the three points and secure their first double over the Whites since 2005.
Heckingbottom, though, can take some solace from the return of Caleb Ekuban from injury and the performances of Hernandez and Forshaw, in addition to those of Pierre-Michel Lasogga, Matthew Pennington and Pontus Jansson ahead of his side’s match at home to promotion aspirants Bristol City next Sunday.
Lasogga scored a superlative header and played a crucial role for Leeds with his hold-up play as a lone striker, whilst Pennington and Jansson worked well in tandem to negate the potent threat of the Blades’ Leon Clarke, who has scored 15 goals this season.
The salient fact, however, is that Leeds could end the day as low as 13th in the Championship table depending on results elsewhere.
There now seems to be little chance of Heckingbottom guiding the Whites into the play-offs this season but it is imperative for him to be given the requisite time to implement his vision at Elland Road - and there are still 15 matches to play that will enable the former Barnsley boss to run the rule over his players, who now look as though they will be fighting for their futures in the coming months.
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Photo: Action Images
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