Sheffield United returned to winning ways when they overcame 10 man Doncaster Rovers at Bramall Lane
Conor Sammon and Billy Sharp, who made over 100 appearances for the visitors earlier in his career, scored for Nigel Adkins’ men after Cameron Stewart has cancelled-out Chris Basham’s opener. The result was hard-fought as Rovers worked tirelessly to stay in contention following Gary Mackenzie’s exit. It was notable for the impression made by Paul Coutts, making his first outing since Adkins’ appointment in June, too. The Scottish midfielder, signed by Nigel Clough from Derby County last term, marked the occasion with an accomplished performance against United’s South Yorkshire rivals before predictably being withdrawn.
Basham, wearing the captain’s armband in Jay McEveley’s absence, had earlier broken the deadlock with a thunderous strike before Stewart restored parity with a well-taken set-piece. Sammon converted from Coutts, making his first outing of the season, as United roused themselves against opponents who saw MacKenzie dismissed in the 39th minute after a challenge on Craig Alcock.
Coutts received a deserved round of applause when he eventually made way for Che Adams after producing a fine display on his return to action following a knee complaint. There were several more near misses, most notably from Sammon and Neill Collins, as United went in search of a third. But, despite their numerical disadvantage, Rovers proved difficult opposition. Substitute Adams thought he had won a penalty midway through the second period but was instead cautioned for simulation after darting beyond Andy Butler.
It proved only a temporary reprieve, though, as Sharp extended United’s lead when he rounded the goalkeeper and turned home with 10 minutes remaining. Despite failing to claim his first victory since being placed in caretaker charge, Rovers manager Rob Jones could take some comfort from the resistance his players demonstrated against a United team which, despite its superiority, was forced to work hard for the points.
Rovers, making two changes to their starting eleven as opposed to United’s five, made an encouraging start but fell behind in the 17th minute. Jones, who has stated his intention to replace Paul Dickov on a permanent basis, had clearly issued instructions to test the hosts’ defensive capabilities by launching a series of aerial balls into Mark Howard’s box and, together with some intelligent running off the ball, it was a ploy which caused Adkins’ players several anxious moments. Basham appeared to have put United firmly in the driving seat with an emphatic finish from Alcock’s cross but their lead lasted only eight minutes with Stewart threading a free-kick, contested by the home bench, between the goalkeeper’s outstretched palm and his left hand post.
Sammon thought he had edged United back in front midway through the half but, following a delightful piece of skill to trap a looping pass forward, saw his angled shot fly across the line and wide. He made no mistake, though, in the 35th minute; directing home from close-range after racing to meet Coutts’ centre. Rovers’ frustrations were compouned moments later when referee Mark Heywood showed MacKenzie a straight red card after a tangle with Alcock in front of The Kop. At first glance, it seemed a harsh call but the angry reaction of United’s players suggested there might have been more to his challenge than at first met the eye. Alcock, who had impressed, failed to appear for the start of the second-half. Presumably due to injury. Jones signalled his intention to press by introducing Richard Chaplow at ther expense of Paul Keegan. Nevertheless, it was United who seized the initiative with Sammon seeing a looping effort from distance bounce back off the post in front of The Kop before Stuckmann survived again, this time following a skirmish in the six yard box.
Sammon’s influence had grown as the match had progressed and, as Rovers came under increasing pressure, he seemed to have created enough time and space to try his luck again only to misjudge his angles as Sharp called for a pass. With Rovers massing men behind the ball whenever United were in possession, Kieran Wallace attempted to change the dynamic with a driving run which pierced their rearguard but his low shot was comfortably saved. Adams, who had earlier replaced the excellent Coutts, received a yellow card for diving after beating Butler while Sharp saw an attempt palmed away by Stuckmann. Adams endured more disappointment when Cedric Evina excelled himself to deflect his shot away to safety. Sharp made no mistake when he claimed his latest United goal in clinical fashion during the closing stages when James Coppinger’s back pass fell woefully short.
Sheffield United: Howard, Basham, Flynn, Coutts (Adams 68), Sharp, Baxter (Reed 55), Collins, Sammon, Alcock (Freeman 46), K Wallace, Edgar. Not used: McNulty, Woolford, Long, McGahey.
Doncaster Rovers: Stuckmann, Evina, Butler, Wellens (Gobern 71), Williams, Mackenzie, Keegan (Chaplow 46), Taylor-Sinclair, Anderson, Coppinger, Stewart (Forrester 55). Not used: N’Guessan, Mandeville, Marosi, McKay.
Referee: Mark Heywood (Cheshire).