Rock-bottom Sheffield United secured only their fifth Premier League win of the season as David McGoldrick's first-half strike was enough to clinch a 1-0 victory over Brighton at Bramall Lane on Saturday Night Football.
The Blades' fate was sealed last weekend when they were narrowly beaten by Wolves, but the hallmarks of their successful first season back in the top-flight were back on display during a resolute performance that ultimately came too late in their quest to beat the drop.
McGoldrick's winning strike (19) was far from a thing of beauty as a series of attempted clearances and ricochets allowed the striker to shoot on the turn and wrong-foot goalkeeper Robert Sanchez.
Brighton, who remain in 16th place, were denied an equaliser upon VAR review when Jakub Moder found the net from an offside position as Graham Potter's side missed the chance to go 10 points clear of the relegation zone.
Sheff Utd: Ramsdale (8), Baldock (7), Egan (7), Bryan (7), Bogle (7), Norwood (7), Fleck (7), Osborn (7), Stevens (7), Brewster (7), McGoldrick (8).
Subs: Lundstram (n/a), Burke (6).
Brighton: Sanchez (6), Webster (5), Dunk (6), Veltman (5), Gross (6), Lallana (6), Bissouma (7), Moder (6), Trossard (5), Maupay (6), Welbeck (5).
Subs: Connolly (6), Jahanbakhsh (7), Izquierdo (n/a).
Man of the match: David McGoldrick.
How Blades weathered Brighton storm
In terms of summer recruitment, Paul Heckingbottom - who secured his first win in his fifth game as Blades interim boss - claimed that he didn't believe wholesale changes were necessary - and he got a positive response from his players in the first half.
Brighton had plenty of possession, but were pedestrian, only troubling the excellent Aaron Ramsdale in the opening period when Yves Bissouma played in Neal Maupay, but the Frenchman's shot was well smothered.
- Interim Sheffield United boss Paul Heckingbottom made one change to the side that were beaten 1-0 at Wolves as Jayden Bogle replaced Ethan Ampadu. That meant John Lundstram, Lys Mousset and Phil Jagielka were among those named on the bench.
- With Ben White suspended, Graham Potter recalled Jakub Moder as one of three changes to the side that held Chelsea to a 0-0 draw on Tuesday. Adam Lallana and Neal Maupay also came in as Alexis Mac Allister and Dan Burn dropped to the bench.
The manner in which the Seagulls fell behind in comical circumstances seven minutes later will certainly have frustrated Graham Potter. Adam Webster had the first of three opportunities to clear as his touch was pounced on by Enda Stevens before Ben Osborn was sent free down the left.
The cross was poorly met by Joel Veltman before Pascal Gross lacked aggression in his challenge with Rhian Brewster as the ball ricocheted to McGoldrick for an opportune finish.
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Bissouma was Brighton's standout performer once more during a subdued first half from the visitors as John Egan did well to block one effort before another speculative drive cleared Ramsdale's crossbar.
The only other incident of note during the opening period saw McGoldrick cautioned by referee Kevin Friend for a high boot on Webster, with greater scrutiny placed on the foul following Fabian Balbuena's controversial red card for a potentially more minor infringement earlier in the day during West Ham's defeat to Chelsea.
Potter injected some much-needed intensity into his troops during the interval, and Brighton came close to levelling within a minute of the second half when Lallana shot straight at Ramsdale, and the former Liverpool midfielder was involved again after 54 minutes when Danny Welbeck flicked his pass into the path of Maupay but this time Ramsdale made an excellent save low to his right.
Pressure was mounting on the Sheffield United goal, and Brighton thought they had levelled when Moder spun and finished into the corner from Gross' corner, but the Poland midfielder was standing in an offside position from Webster's flick-on as VAR correctly ruled it out.
Unperturbed by the setback, Brighton continued to probe as Moder then turned provider for Lallana but the latter's header was directed inches wide. Bissouma flashed another shot just past the post as Heckingbottom urged his players upfield.
Potter turned to Alireza Jahanbakhsh in the final 20 minutes, and the substitute almost made an immediate impact as his low cross was somehow lifted over by Maupay from point-blank range.
When Ramsdale sprung to deny Jose Izquierdo's long-range strike, the hosts had weathered the second-half storm as Potter, wounded this week when he fell on Brighton's beach into a set of railings, was again left with that sinking feeling.
What the managers said
Sheffield United interim boss Paul Heckingbottom: "The players deserve the utmost credit. We spoke before the game and for them it's justice and the right result for their attitude because it's been a tough, tough season.
"You get what you deserve in football and tonight we got the three points. For us it was about being clinical and carrying out the game-plan and doing our jobs.
"We've said all season we have been on top in lots of games but haven't got the goal. To get the first goal was a big difference.
"We know we are a Championship club next season. It doesn't mean we're not going to enjoy these last few games. We might be planning for next season but we're looking to pick up points along the way."
Brighton boss Graham Potter: "Naturally, I'm disappointed. Our performance was below par and it was a poor goal to concede. That made it difficult against a team that was defending and we didn't have enough quality in the final third.
"I thought maybe we deserved to score overall but it wasn't to be. You go through periods like this [where you don't score] but it's something we have to improve on as you have to score to win football matches.
"We were probably not quite as good as we have been recently. We had a decent chance early with Neal Maupay and then gave a poor goal away from our perspective.
"Football is about scoring goals and we didn't do it today. We pushed and pushed, maybe could have got a goal but it was not to be. We needed a bit more quality over the course of the game.
"We are at that stage of the season where everyone is fighting for something, even if it is pride like Sheffield United."
Man of the match - David McGoldrick
Sheffield United striker David McGoldrick told Sky Sports:
"Just because we are relegated we are not sacking it off. We are playing for our futures. It is not many times we have led this season. Brighton are a good team and play some good football. They gave it to us but we showed some reliance.
"We worked hard with bodies on the line. We deserved it. It is good we showed character. We have to be a team, we can't go out there as single players, we have to be a team and we did that.
"Relegation has upset me of course. We care about this club. We are still fighting for the club."
McGoldrick has scored 39 per cent of Sheffield United's goals in the Premier League this season (7 of 18); the highest percentage of any player for his team in the competition.
McGoldrick's seventh goal in the Premier League this season - the most by a Blades player in a top-flight campaign since Rob Hulse in 2006-07 (8).
Seagulls still not safe - Opta stats
- Sheffield United picked up their first victory and first clean sheet under Paul Heckingbottom, having lost each of their first five games in all competitions under him, conceding 13 goals in the process.
- Since beating Spurs and Liverpool in back-to-back Premier League games in January/February, Brighton have only won two of their last 11 games in the competition (D4 L5).
- Sheffield United have only lost one of their last 12 league meetings with Brighton (W7 D4), going unbeaten against them in the Premier League since they returned to the top-flight in 2019 (W2 D2).
- Brighton have failed to score in each of their last three Premier League games; their longest run since going six without a goal in April 2019 under Chris Hughton.
Live Renault Super Sunday
Sheffield United travel to face Tottenham next Sunday, live on Sky Sports; kick-off is at 7.15pm. Brighton host Leeds next Saturday at the Amex Stadium at 3pm.