This was a different kind of game to many that we have seen previously at the Lane. United were without key man John Fleck and lacked the fluency of many games at the Lane but got in front deservedly thanks to a rare goal from a corner with Richard Stearman turning home Leon Clarke’s flick. After the break John Lundstram converted Billy Sharp’s cross and that seemed to be that but poor defending saw Luke Freeman run unopposed to fire home and then the game changed. For the final stages United had to hang on and Rangers created a few decent chances but the home side dug in and did enough to claim the win. United are now right back in the playoff mix and with a game to come Friday at struggling Hull have a chance to put pressure on the sides above them.
Manager Wilder was forced into one change from the last league game as the suspended John Fleck was replaced by John Lundstram in the centre of the park. Both James Wilson and Ricky Holmes missed out through injury but David Brooks was back amongst the substitutes. QPR who had won at the weekend; started with Matt Smith and Connor Washington up top and had former Blade loanee Alex Baptiste in their rear-guard.
United kicked off but somehow conceded a corner not long after this as Smith’s flick at the near post was deflected behind. The Blades took time to settle but slowly started to come into the game with Clarke looking livelier than he had for some time. From a break down the right a cross came over and Smithies flapped at it but Baldock blazed over. Soon after United had a good chance as the ball came over from Stevens, Lundstram had his first shot saved by the keeper and then Clarke took too long and his shot deflected behind for a corner. Staring to turn the screw United then had appeals for a spot kick as Sharp was felled by a clumsy challenge from Scowen who certainly went through the back of the striker to get the ball.
The best chance of the game came when Sharp did well to rob Onouha and was in on goal. Smithies chose to sprint from his line and the Blades skipper saw the chance to try and chip him but got it horribly wrong and skewed it well wide. It was a really good chance to take the lead.
Rangers had begun well but were now very much on the defensive and United were pinning them back. Sharp crossed and it was not far off Clarke. They won another corner and from it the opening goal came. Duffy took it and Clarke did well to flick on at the near post and STEARMAN slid in and clinically converted at the back post giving Smithies no chance. It was sloppy marking but Clarke had been determined to make it his and in doing so set up a rare goal from a corner; an area where the Blades have been quite wasteful at times this season.
QPR had not really offered much but from a corner Blackman did not quite get there and the ball was headed goalward by Washington but Basham nodded away. The keeper then had the home fans hearts in their mouth as he dribbled round the same man who closed him down before clearing.
United finished the half strong with Evans shooting wide and then twice Clarke getting wide and sending balls across that just evaded Sharp.
The second half saw a sloppy start and poor defending from the home side saw the ball moved across the box without a challenge and Freeman’s low shot was saved well by Blackman who also helped deny Washington on the rebound. United were soon back on the front foot again and they were made it 2-0 after a neat move.
Duffy had been off his game but played a lovely ball down the channel and Sharp pulled it back. The ball just evaded Clarke but the home team had players queueing up and Lundstram was able to apply the final touch by side footing home at the back post. It was a simple goal in its execution and finish but seemed to have put the game away. For the next stage of the game United had control and Rangers were looking very sloppy at the back. A cross from Baldock saw Onouha and Baptiste get in a horrible mess and they nearly conceded an own goal but just about did enough to put behind for a corner, with Clarke so close to converting. Stevens and Baldock were playing higher up and the defence were first to the ball.
United had been comfortable but suddenly out of nothing and Rangers reduced the arrears. Lundstram was sloppy in possession and FREEMAN broke away. Evans could have fouled him and stopped the play but let him run and run and by the time the defence came out to challenge he had already lined up a shot and from the edge of the box curled beyond Blackman and it was 2-1. It was a good goal but too easy.
Suddenly it was game on and United from being in a position of complete control started to panic. Smyth came on for Baptiste and the home side started to panic now. They gave the ball away twice soon after and then sat off the quick, nimble QPR midfielders who were now attacking the Blades defence. A half chance came soon after but United cleared before at the other end a mis hit Sharp cross was nearly fumbled into his own net by Smithies.
Washington had a decent chance but was blocked whilst Smith’s height was causing problems. However, it was Freeman’s running that was causing the most problems and United now were giving up territory and the ball. Wilder made two changes with Donaldson and Leonard coming on for Sharp and Duffy in an attempt to stiffen up the middle of the field and give the Blades an outlet. Indeed, at this stage the midfield looked tired and were struggling to cope with some nimble runners from the visitors who now looked more likely to add to the scoring.
The game became scrappy which helped the Blades somewhat although United now were struggling to keep the ball or stem the tide. Despite this Rangers had created little despite having much of the ball. Osayi Samuel came on for Washington as the game entered the last 10 minutes. Lafferty came on for Lundstram and then Smith had a flicked header Blackman had to save. Rangers won a few set plays and Evans was booked for a drag back as the game entered the final few minutes. Smith had a good chance but headed straight at Blackman after a cross from the left hand side.
An additional five minutes of time were to be played and United were able to use up much of this time with good work from Donaldson and Baldock and then the sub Leonard who burst through and won a corner. Rangers punted one final ball forward but Clarke ran down his defender brilliantly to win a throw and this was enough to get United over the line. It was not pretty but a crucial win.