Sheffield United win midfield battle against Crystal Palace to seal first Premier League victory in 12 years
John Lundstram scores the only goal of the game at Bramall Lane to give the promoted side their first win of the season
With spells at Leyton Orient and Oxford United, Scunthorpe and Yeovil Town, John Lundstram’s is not the CV of the average Premier League player.
But that is the Chris Wilder way and perhaps that made it all the more appropriate that the unheralded midfielder gave Sheffield United their first top-flight win for 12 years.
A manager whose career began in the depths of non-league believes there is talent to be found in the lower divisions. A team with two promotions in three seasons started with a solitary summer buy and, on the only Premier League ground to have staged Test cricket, United passed an early examination.
Their anthem, the Greasy Chip Butty Song, got a raucous rendition before kick-off, but the final whistle drew louder cheers after a deserved victory.
“This is definitely a day for our supporters to relish and stick in the memory bank,” said Wilder, the manager and the most famous fan who was serenaded as “one of our own”. “They have definitely been through the mill. To be a Sheffield United supporter, you are definitely not a glory hunter.”
But this was a kind of unglamorous glory. United’s may seem the throwback formula, their starters all British or Irish, their players the graduates of the school of hard knocks, but there is subtlety in the Steel City, clever coaching underpinning a rise that owes much to team spirit. Wilder has tweaked a winning formula this season and reaped a reward.
Lundstram only started five Championship games last season but Wilder insisted: “I always thought he had a part to play [in the Premier League]. I thought he was outstanding today.”
If Lundstram owed his place in the side to his manager’s more pragmatic gambit, bringing in a third central midfielder to replace the departed No 10, Mark Duffy, a supposed defensive move had an attacking benefit.
When Luke Freeman, on for the injured John Fleck, had a shot parried by Vicente Guaita, Lundstram swept in the rebound. He has now scored in all four divisions of English football.
His inclusion was a reason why United were the superior side in midfield. They usually had a man in space and, in Oliver Norwood, they had the game’s finest passer. Norwood allowed others to venture forward and Lundstram was the provider when David McGoldrick should have broken the deadlock.
The scorer of a century of lower-league goals ought to have added a first at this level; instead Guaita made a point-blank block.
He later saved from Jack O’Connell, one of United’s increasingly famous overlapping centre-backs. In reality, however, they overlapped less than usual and a returning central defender played part of the plotline.
The re-signed Phil Jagielka’s late cameo was rapturously received and his first United appearance since the 2-1 defeat to Wigan Athletic that sent them down 12 years ago, just as Lundstram’s goal was Bramall Lane’s first at this level since David Unsworth’s decisive penalty that day.
United have customised their gameplan. “Well-balanced,” Wilder said and his often raiding defenders were restrained. George Baldock, an old Oxford teammate of Lundstram’s, subdued Wilfried Zaha, whose first start since he submitted a transfer request was a quieter affair than a summer which brought bids from Arsenal and Everton.
He had assistance. “The midfield three kept the shape and blocked off holes and got bodies around their best players,” Wilder said. Without inspiration from Zaha, Palace were muted. Christian Benteke and Andros Townsend drew saves from Dean Henderson but regular slow starters remain goalless.
“There is no magic wand,” said manager Roy Hodgson. “I can’t be happy with the Crystal Palace performance. We didn’t get going in the second half.”
His complaint with referee David Coote was that substitute James McCarthy was cautioned for reacting to what he called a “very nasty challenge” by Baldock, who was also booked. It was, though, a day for the history books at Bramall Lane.
Updated: August 18, 2019 08:36 PM