Burton Albion vs Sheffield United. Sky Bet Championship.
Saturday 18 November 2017 13:10, UK
A first-half double from Billy Sharp and Leon Clarke's header sent Sheffield United back to the top of the Sky Bet Championship with a 3-1 win at Burton.
Chris Wilder's side proved too hot to handle on a chilly night in East Staffordshire where even a stunning 25-yard effort from Matty Palmer to level things up for Albion could not prevent the Blades enhancing their promotion credentials.
United skipper Sharp lived up to his name, darting into the box in the ninth minute to try and latch onto a through ball from John Fleck.
He was eased off the ball by former Bramall Lane academy product Kyle McFadzean, too forcefully in the opinion of referee Oliver Langford, and the United striker stepped up to comprehensively find the top corner from 12 yards.
United's high energy game was forcing Burton back and into mistakes on the ball which Wilder's men were quick to seize upon.
Former Albion man Mark Duffy was denied a goal on his return to the Pirelli Stadium by an excellent block from Albion skipper Jake Buxton.
Burton's equaliser, when it came just after the half-hour mark, was slightly against the run of play, with Palmer on hand to provide an outlet for Marvin Sordell and his left-footed effort flying past Jamal Blackman who was left grabbing at thin air.
Parity was only restored for a matter of three minutes, though, as another move cut Albion's defence open once again to allow Sharp to coolly fire home hard and low.
Clarke fired against a post and Duffy sent a rising drive just over as United looked to stretch their lead even further.
But the first half ended on something of a sour note for the visitors with midfielder Paul Coutts leaving the pitch on a stretcher after a nasty collision in the box.
Albion looked more purposeful after the break as they tried to avoid a fifth successive home defeat, but they were struggling to find clear-cut opportunities to beat Blackman for a second time.
Northern Ireland midfielder Matty Lund went close with a low drive that was blocked by a white shirt with the Chelsea loanee struggling to make his ground.
United always looked a threat even though their attacks had become slightly less frequent and they were ruthless on 78 minutes as they put clear daylight between the two sides. Fleck was again the provider with a ball into the box that Clarke stooped to head past Bywater.
Substitute David Brooks almost added a fourth moments later with a burst through the middle before drilling just wide of the upright.
But there was no doubt by that stage that the points would be heading back up the M1 to South Yorkshire.
Nigel Clough: "The most disappointing aspect is that having got back in the game with an absolutely wonderful goal in less than three minutes we give another soft goal away. That is the root of our problems at home - conceding goals. We are always chasing games. Far too many defeats and far too many goals conceded.
"Away from home we find it easier to be more solid and we don't have to do so much. At home the onus is on us to try and create a little bit more. The strange stat is that we have kept more clean sheets away from home than any other Championship team in the calendar year yet at home we can't keep one to save our lives."
Chris Wilder: "Getting a result that takes us back to the top of the Championship is an outstanding achievement. A lot better teams have been turned over here in the last 15 or 16 months so we knew this wasn't going to be an easy place to come and with Nigel's connections to the club it always adds an extra little bit to it.
"We were outstanding, first half especially. To be only 2-1 up at half-time we felt a little bit aggrieved but we had to lift the players obviously because the injury to a very popular and very talented player knocked us back. We had to get into them to make sure we went out and got the correct result and I believe we did.
"We are a fair team and a committed team and unfortunately through the course of games, seasons, careers you pick up these injuries and tonight we have picked up a nasty one. We are a bit subdued. It's a difficult situation because we were outstanding and deservedly won the game."