Sheffield United have defeated Wrexham 3-1 in their FA Cup fourth round replay to set up a tie against Tottenham in the next phase.
It was a white-hot atmosphere in South Yorkshire, with the travelling Wrexham contingent urging their players on with decibel-defying noise and non-stop chanting throughout the contest. The melodic backdrop offered a real edge to what was an already intense battle on the Bramall Lane turf.
It was the Championship promotion-pushers who looked the more threatening in the opening 45 minutes, with Paul Heckingbottom’s Blades controlling possession and creating ample space. Clean-cut opportunities were few and far between (save for James McAtee’s one-v-one) but when chances fell, Rob Lainton was quick to snuff out the danger.
Goalless at the break, but it was actually the National League side who came out in the second half with the bit between their teeth. Phil Parkinson’s men were on it with far more intent to attack, but that was perhaps to their detriment as Sheffield United were able to get their noses in front in the 50th minute.
Renowned for their overlapping centre-back system under Chris Wilder, the Blades still utilise the unconventional set-up to devastating effect, with Chris Basham heavily involved in Anel Ahmedhodzic’s deadlock-breaker. Both defenders combined with Ben Osborn to eventually breach Lainton’s net.
The non-league outfit, though, refused to feel sorry for themselves, biting back with aplomb and eventually restoring parity through Paul Mullin. The reliable goal-getter both won and converted a penalty after Ahmedhodzic was alleged to have tugged on his shirt inside the box.
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The location of the pull certainly looked dubious, but referee Leigh Doughty pointed to the spot — and Mullin duly dispatched. The fan favourite then had another opportunity to convert from 12 yards and send the travelling Welsh fans into raptures, after he was again fouled inside the penalty area.
This time substitute Oliver Norwood hauled him down, but Adam Davies produced a strong save to deny the typically-clinical marksman. From there, though, the momentum appeared to shift, with the hosts seizing the initiative and pushing for a winner, urged on by a baying Bramall Lane crowd.
The winner eventually came through perhaps the only striker more reliable than Mullin below the Premier League: Billy Sharp. On hand as ever, the veteran sharpshooter capitalised on Max Cleworth’s mis-controlled touch to race through on goal and slot comfortable into the bottom corner.
Sander Berge would wrap things up moments later after being set up by Manchester City loanee James McAtee, who had another fine game pulling the midfield strings. The 20-year-old produced a quite brilliant reverse pass to send Berge through on goal. The vision would have made Pep Guardiola proud.
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You can see why the Catalan coach rates him so highly. Having previously described him as a “special player”, the young midfielder appeared six times for City last season (including twice in the Premier League), and will be hoping his loan move to the Championship has caught the attention of the makers and shakers back home.
He will now have another chance to showcase his talents in this competition, with Sheffield United now booked in to face Tottenham in the next round. If he produces the goods against Guardiola’s kryptonite, the City boss may want to keep him around for next season’s north London journey.
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