It was 2018 business as usual in more than one way in the early kick-off between Sheffield United and their opponents Leeds United.
For Leeds fans it was the first chance to see their side under new head coach Paul Heckingbottom, the former Barnsley boss joining the Whites after Thomas Christiansen’s sacking after the heavy 4-1 loss to Cardiff City.
What Leeds United fans saw was…well…it was the same old Leeds United falling apart…again. In truth Heckingbottom’s inherited a Leeds United side that have crumbled since sparkling displays lit up the early season, driving the Whites to the top of the table…briefly.
All that seems so far away now with Leeds currently in a precarious 10th place in the table and looking over their shoulders at a chasing pack closing in on them.
Sheffield United 2 – 1 Leeds United – Whites flag waved early
Much hope was placed in Heckingbottom’s first selection as Leeds United boss, as per the comments made by Whites fans when the team news was released. It took all of 1m 15sec for that hope to disappear. Billy Sharp, former Leeds United striker, unmarked on the penalty spot and it was a bread-and-butter goal for the Blades frontman.
In the opening frenzy it was largely the home side who were at the fore, pushing Leeds United back and creating the better chances. Still Leeds United plugged away, looking for a way back in to a game where sloppy defending gifted an opponent yet another goal.
Leeds only really had two bookings for Adam Forshaw (5′) and Kemar Roofe (20′) to show for their opening quarter of play, although loanee striker Pierre-Michel Lasogga did threaten (23′) shooting just wide from distance. On 28 minutes the Whites were cut apart by their opponents, Leon Clarke only just failing to get on the end of a Billy Sharp ball across the face of goal.
With the game opening up, and with both side sniffing about for chances, it was a more even encounter than the opening quarter. Leeds United left-back Laurens De Bock was looking comfortable on the ball and helping to get the visitors going in the right direction.
Roofe took a hit (30′) but was able to struggle through until nearly half-time before being withdrawn, Pablo Hernandez getting the chance to float in a ball that reminded watching fans of the threat that he possesses. A precise ball in was met with a full-length Pontus Jansson diving header that forced Jamal Blackman into a smart save (above).
Leeds started the second-half with no changes and with a little more conviction. It didn’t take them long to make a massive statement and that man Hernandez was at the heart of it. Robbing an advancing Sheffield United defender of the ball, the Spaniard advanced down the right flank, putting in a deft right-footed dink that Lasogga (47′) headed into the floor and beyond the despairing dive of Blackman in the Blades goal.
With the scores level, both sides continued to push for that next goal, three points being what both sides started the day out hoping to take home. It was end-to-end stuff with first makeshift defender Stuart Dallas (54′) making a great challenge to deny Enda Stevens, before up the other end first Hernandez (57′) and Matthew Pennington (58′) had chances to get a second for the visitors.
The home side continued to press and forced a succession of corners just after the hour mark, corners that Leeds United stoutly defended. All that hard work was undone when a simple sleight-of-hand at a free-kick earned the Blades a penalty. Shaping to put one into the area, the home side flicked the ball down the right of the wall and into the area, John Fleck being brought down by Eunan O’Kane. The resulting penalty was duly converted by Billy Sharp (72′).
Leeds were now forced to go looking for a second equaliser, leaving gaps for Sheffield United to exploit and Leon Clarke (78′) nearly made it three but shot over. To their credit Leeds continued to press with Hernandez (83′) going close after working himself space in the box.
The game ended 2-1, not the best result that the 2000+ visiting Leeds United fans would have hoped for. However, apart from two lapses of concentration it was a better effort from a Leeds United side that will, at some point, find their feet under new head coach Paul Heckingbottom.