Manchester United collapse at Old Trafford to hand victory to astoundingly low-lying Sheffield United
After defeating a spirited Liverpool only days ago, Manchester United’s home fixture against a Sheffield United side in danger of setting a record-low points tally was to be a free hit. Three easy points, and a chance to fill out United’s goalscoring statistics.
Even when Eric Bailly was ruled out of the lineup moments before kick-off, few had any immediate worries about the loss of United’s most in-form centre back.
Despite the universal assumption, United’s confidence did not translate into a fast start against the Blades. Quite the opposite – the entire team was plagued by lethargy, and Chris Wilder’s men rose to try and claim the low hanging fruit.
United have suffered unnecessarily from corners throughout this season and though it seemed obvious that the visitors would pin their hopes on set-pieces, defensive disarray returned once again to hand a goal to the opposition.
Kean Bryan rose highest to head in the opener, David De Gea failing entirely in his attempt to punch away the threat. The goal was given after the briefest hesitation, but frustration soon boiled over into outright anger when replays clearly showed that Billy Sharp had thrown himself into De Gea as the Spaniard leapt towards the ball.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his staff had every right to be furious with the lack of VAR intervention, though truly the fault lay with United’s inability to kill off Blades’ hopes far earlier in the game.
The response to conceding, usually immediate, was sluggish. United struggled to break down such a resilient opposition, and it was a blessed relief when Anthony Martial was at long last able to knock home the equaliser as the first half wore on.
At least, it should have been the equaliser.
Harry Maguire, despite making significantly less contact with Aaron Ramsdale than Sharp had with De Gea, had supposedly fouled the ‘keeper prior to Martial’s shot and therefore invalidated the goal. VAR? Unable to check as referee Peter Bankes had blown his whistle too early.
After 45 minutes Sheffield United held the advantage, thanks to an absolute shambles of a first-half.
Half-time: Manchester United 0 – 1 Sheffield United
United were in dire need of a fast start to the second half. They started slowly.
At the heart of the Blades’ defence was 38 year-old Phil Jagielka, who played as though a man possessed as he led his defence in repelling any attempt at a Manchester United attack.
And when the resistance was eventually broken, it could only be breached from a set-piece of United’s own. Maguire, after falling foul of poor refereeing in the first half, turned up with a captain’s goal to bullet home a header from an Alex Telles corner.
Finally looking to shrug off the cobwebs that had slowed everything down for most of the game, United stepped onto the front foot and began to search for their winner.
Shockingly, appallingly, dreadfully, the defence decided to fall apart at precisely this moment.
Under pressure from Oliver Burke, De Gea and Bailly stand-in Axel Tuanzebe failed time and time again to clear their lines when a simple clearance would have voided the danger. Instead the ball fell to John Lundstram who gave Burke yet another chance, and his shot took a monumental deflection off Tuanzebe to confirm one of the worst goals United will ever concede.
Heads fell across the pitch. With only 15 minutes to go, the comeback spirit that has so often imbued this side was nowhere to be found. Sheffield United held on and secured only their second win of the season, taking their tally to a mere eight points.
A reality check had undoubtedly been coming after months of unchecked victories for Solskjaer’s side. But this is more than a reality check. It is a humbling.
With the bitterest of tastes in our mouths, we can now only hope that the players react the right way to this setback and push forward to cover up the embarrassment.
Full time: Manchester United 1 – 2 Sheffield United
Man of the Match: Phil Jagielka