Sheffield United 1-1 Birmingham: Leon Clarke nets 13th of the season to earn Blades a point
By Dan Long
Last Updated: 25/11/17 8:52pm
Man of the moment Leon Clarke scored a vital equaliser as Sheffield United held Birmingham to a 1-1 draw in the Sky Bet Championship on Saturday evening.
For all the hosts' early pressure, Steve Cotterill's Blues took the lead against the run of play when Chelsea loanee Jeremie Boga curled a superb effort beyond the reach of Jamal Blackman (38).
The hosts' dominance did pay off 20 minutes from time, however, when Clarke diverted substitute David Brooks' short pass beyond David Stockdale from close range to score his ninth goal in four games (71).
The draw was not enough to lift the Blades above Cardiff into second in the table, but it was a well-earned result for the visitors who pulled a further point clear of 22nd placed Sunderland.
There were four changes to the Birmingham side following their latest defeat to Middlesbrough on Wednesday evening, while the Blades remained unchanged following their defeat to Fulham in Tuesday night's nine-goal thriller.
The Blades dominated the ball from the outset and looked particularly dangerous on the left, where Enda Stevens and Jack O'Connell gave their opposition backline a headache, rampaging out of defence to deliver ball after ball into the Birmingham box.
Clarke netted a hat-trick against Fulham in midweek, but when Mark Duffy and John Fleck linked up, the frontman could only drag the latter's cross wide of the mark.
And when the unlikely promotion hopefuls failed to deal with a loose ball, they fell behind. Following Jota's corner, an unmarked Boga jinked on the edge of the area before thumping a curling effort past Blackman's outstretched hands.
The timing of the goal could not have been better - the Blades enjoyed almost all of the ball in the minutes that followed, but just could not make their overbearing presence count with an equaliser before the break.
Chris Wilder sent his side out with the bit between their teeth after the break, but the Blues grew in confidence and ability; Jota's dribble and shot from the byline the best example.
When the opportunity did arrive, Clarke was the only man who could have scored. Hanging back while his team-mates figured out a way to feed him, when Brooks poked the ball in his direction, there was only one possible outcome.
There was a real cup final atmosphere as the game closed, but though United continued to press, the Birmingham defence held firm to keep the scores level.
Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder: "I thought we were excellent, I thought we were really good but we didn't get the result we really deserved. Performance levels, yet again, were consistently good. It was good to see my players, after Tuesday's disappointment, back into playing with a rhythm.
It's a tough period for us with what happened last Friday and into Tuesday, but I thought the reaction of the players was great. It's a winning draw - we've not drawn many games in my time, sometimes you don't get what you deserve."
Birmingham boss Steve Cotterill: "Let's not make it that just because there was a goal today, there was total commitment. We've been unlucky on a couple of occasions so the commitment was first class - and it had to be, anyway.
"Sheffield United are very tough to play against here, with a fantastic crowd behind them. It could have been better, we know that but if you'd asked me would I have taken a point before the game with the form they are in? Yes, I probably would've done."
Man of the match - Cheikh N'Doye
For all the large periods of play that Sheffield United were in possession, it must be said that they couldn't penetrate the stubborn Blues backline to much effect, and that was largely due to the work rate of Cheikh N'Doye.
Sitting just in front of a back three, the Senegal international was on hand to nullify the potent Sheffield United attack time after time, working well to reduce David Stockdale's responsibilities and ensure a much simpler day at the office for the stopper.
Next up for the Blades is a trip to the Den as they take on Millwall next Saturday, while the Blues are in action on Monday December 4 for the West Midlands derby with Wolves at St Andrew's, live on Sky Sports Football.