Manchester United awful, then brilliant, then denied by Sheffield United’s Oli McBurnie in 90th minute
In the bear pit of Bramall Lane this was a raw, raucous contest as Manchester United appeared to receive a mauling, then mounted a stunning comeback only for Sheffield United to show admirable reserves of determination to salvage a point. It was the least they deserved.
In the stands even Sir Alex Ferguson laughed when Manchester United, who for 70 minutes had been taken apart, scored their third goal to take an unlikely lead but surely he would not deny Sheffield United were worthy of a point.
So much store is being put in the young players by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and here his faith was repaid with three goals in an intense seven minute burst: the first by 17-year-old Brandon Williams, the second by 18-year-old Mason Greenwood before Marcus Rashford, still just 22, appeared to claim the most unlikely of winners as Daniel James burst on the scene also. That was before Oli McBurnie’s 90th minute strike.
What a response from both sides. Manchester United had been woeful; Sheffield United had been wonderful. Solskjaer has to take credit for his tactical changes, and not least abandoning his three-man defence, but it was tough on Chris Wilder’s side who should have scored more than twice before their opponents even had a glimmer of hope. But at least they did not lose.
For most of the game it was so bad from Manchester United that it had to raise the question, again, as to whether Solskjaer is cut out to be their manager. His tactics, his set-up, his selection and his motivation of these players all have to be interrogated. On the touchline he just looked incapable of altering things. But then he did just that
Somehow Manchester United went in only a goal down at half-time. It could have been two, three for Sheffield United who had harried and hassled their opponents and not least in scoring John Fleck’s goal.
It was more than that, though. Tactically they were better set-up. They were far more motivated, more committed and more cohesive. Manchester United lacked belief and leadership and organisation and all the more principles that define a team. And could not just be because Scott McTominay was not playing.
There was also the curious decision to include Phil Jones for his first Premier League start since the final day of last season: the dismal loss to relegation Cardiff City. The defender was soon trending on Twitter which was never going to be a good thing as he spent more time on his backside than standing up.
Inevitably Jones was dumped to the turf as he was out-muscled by Lys Mousset, despite having a clear advantage on the striker, as they chased down a long ball forward. Jones panicked, Mousset gained possession and ran into the penalty area before cutting the ball back for John Lundstram whose shot was parried by David De Gea with his right leg only for the rebound to strike the onrushing Fleck and fly into the net.
The fact that Lundstram and Fleck had both broken so quickly from midfield to bear down on De Gea was another sign of Sheffield United’s greater desire.
The roar rang around the stadium and the goal was the least Sheffield United deserved. De Gea had already denied them with a superb double save as he pushed away Lundstram’s volley and then reacted brilliantly to instinctively stick out his right hand and divert David McGoldrick’s point-blank header.
There was no Dean Henderson in goal for Sheffield United – he is on a season-long loan from Manchester United – but it was not until the half hour that his under-study
Simon Moore had a meaningful touch as he easily saved Anthony Martial’s low shot. Manchester United’s first-half performance was summed up when they won a corner, took too long to deliver the ball into the area only for Fred to miscue a cross forcing Harry Maguire to try and chase it down before it went out for a throw-in.
Inevitably it sparked a chorus of “sacked in the morning” directed at Solskjaer by the home fans.
Jones was hooked at half-time. It would be a surprise to see him play for Manchester United again. He had been that poor. Brutally the announcement of the change, with Jesse Lingard coming on and a change of formation, was greeted with a ripple of laughs.
That was soon replaced by more roars as Sheffield United scored again with another smartly worked goal with the outstanding Fleck heavily involved as he used McGoldrick’s run to divert attention and play an excellent reverse pass to Mousset. He strode on and beat De Gea from outside the area with a precise, low curling shot beyond the goalkeeper’s grasp.
Surely that was it? It seemed so but then the most unlikely of comebacks happened. James was the catalyst. It was his cross that Chris Basham headed the ball out but only as far as Williams who struck a fierce first-time shot into the corner of the net. It was Williams’ first goal and suddenly there was hope for Manchester United where previously there had been none.
Incredibly they struck again with Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Marcus Rashford combining for the latter to angle a cross that was met inside the six-yard area by substitute Mason Greenwood, who had only just come on, to slide it and beat Moore. Manchester United were transformed and incredibly struck again when James broke into the area and pulled the ball back to Rashford who had cleverly peeled away to beat Moore with a side-foot shot.
It seemed over but Sheffield United showed deep reserves of resilience to salvage a point. The clock was on 90 minutes when substitute Callum Robinson lifted the ball across the penalty area to his fellow replacement McBurnie who juggled with it before firing low past De Gea. There was a long VAR check with claims that McBurnie had handled the ball before shooting but eventually the goal was allowed by referee Andre Marriner.