Blades End 2016 On A High

Last updated : 01 January 2017 By deadbat

As with the previous game United had probably not been quite at their best but they controlled most of the game and the football and finally right at the end the vital goal came. Once again, they had to thank Simon Moore for an excellent save from Northampton’s only meaningful effort on goal from a Matty Taylor free kick but aside from this United had most of the ball but struggled to break down a well organised and resilient Northampton side. The lack of quality in the final third had frustrated the crowd but a bit of quality from Paul Coutts led to the Freeman finish and the almighty roar that came showed what an important goal it was. United went to the top of the league; a position they kept after Bolton’s own late show against a wobbling Scunthorpe side.

United made one change from the win against Oldham as Leon Clarke was rewarded for his impact after he came on in that game; getting the start for Matt Done who dropped to the bench. Louis Reed had a rare outing on the bench also after not being involved much in recent times as Wilder kept up his habit of keeping fringe players involved.

Northampton had former Blades loanee John Joe O’Toole in their starting line up and were of course managed by former Blades skipper Rob Page. They were buoyed by a late win at Oxford on Boxing Day and were backed handily by around 2,000 fans; the biggest away following to come to the Lane this season by some distance.

United began well with Clarke’s knock down leading to Sharp hitting a volley that ended up going wide for a throw in. Fleck then had a shot blocked and another effort crowded out. Northampton though broke well twice in the early stages and Anderson got down the left to put over two dangerous crosses.

Sharp headed over at the back post from a corner and then Coutts forced the first save as his low effort was smothered by Smith who seemed to see the shot late as it went through a number of bodies.

United were not having it their own way and Anderson headed just off target before Richards had a shot well blocked by O’Connell. The home side came back into the ascendancy with the heavily marker Duffy starting to pull the strings. He had a curled effort saved and then another free kick which deflected wide after Sharp was fouled when the referee tried to play advantage. Fleck ran through three men before being crowded out and then two excellent Freeman crosses just evaded the strikers.

Northampton broke out and United cynically brought two players down. After the first advantage from the foul from Fleck, the referee had to stop play after Ebanks Landell chopped down Hoskins and rightly was booked.

The best chance of the first half came when Freeman sent over another great cross but Clarke failed to make contact right in front of goal. He was under heavy pressure from a defender and took a knock in the challenge. It was still a poor miss.

Clarke was deemed fit to continue and had a better effort, a header that flicked wide just before the break. It had been a decent contest that had seen Northampton try and attack when they could but United had still kept the ball well and may have been disappointed with their final ball or choices when well placed.

The second half saw United start on top and Northampton slowly started to sit back deeper and deeper but the home side struggled to break down a stubborn and well organised outfit. Clarke headed wide from a difficult chance and then Sharp played in Freeman but the ball was cleared.

Clarke came off for Lavery on the hour mark as United tried to inject some more movement and pace into their attack. United were now dominating the ball and Northampton were just sitting in two banks but for all the pretty tip tap football, they struggled to get into meaningful areas with poor final crosses from too deep. At times they were guilty of overplaying and tried to go through massed ranks of defenders. Duffy had a shot blocked and then from a Basham ball Sharp’s effort at the far post struck the post before being cleared in the scramble. It was now one way traffic.

Scougall was brought on for Basham as United went to a 4-4-2 with Duffy going wide left and Scougall playing down the right but coming inside when he could. Fleck had a wild effort over the bar and then Lavery showed good footwork to link with Lafferty as United won a corner. The home crowd were now upping the volume as the game entered the final 10 minutes.

Done came on for Lafferty as United threw more attacking threats on – albeit with Done used more out wide. For all the domination, United were almost given a shock when after a foul from Ebanks Landell, Taylor hit a great 30 yard free kick that was heading for the top corner but Moore made a great save flinging himself to his right hand side to push it over the bar. It was Northampton’s only effort of the half but was as good an opportunity as either side had made.

Duffy shot just wide and then Lavery almost forged an opening but had his shot blocked. United continued to throw men forward but at times the play was a bit slow and the final ball continued to be poor.

Northampton made two changes to try and take the sting out of the game further with Richards taking an age to depart the pitch leading to the slow hand clap from the majority of the crowd. It was a 10 man wall United had to get through but as the game ticked towards the end it seemed like Northampton had done enough to get the valuable point until late drama ensued. The clock had reached 89 minutes when a piece of quality down the right-hand side led to the goal.

More patient build up saw the ball switched from left to right and Coutts drove past a defender and almost pushed his own man Ebanks Landell out of the way to carry on his run. He got to almost the by line before sending over an inviting cross. Nyatanga half blocked it but it fell nicely to FREEMAN who smashed the ball home. The billowing of the net was met by the huge roar of the crowd and the Blades players piled on top of the goal scorer at the Kop End.

The referee opted to only play an additional three minutes of stoppage time which started almost immediately after Northampton restarted the game. In this extra time, United nearly scored again. Good work from Lavery who burst forward saw him go past two defenders and after Smith saved his effort Scougall crashed the rebound onto the bar. Sharp used his experience to help the ball into the corner on two occasions and the final whistle came soon after to signal an excellent end to the year for the Blades who moved to the top of the league.