MANCHESTER UNITED 1 SHEFFIELD UNITED 2
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has rolled the dice all season with Manchester United, like a high-stakes gambler at a Vegas casino, seeing his team snatch points from the jaws of disaster time and time again.
On Wednesday night, his and United’s luck finally ran out, in the most unexpected and potentially costly way imaginable as the team Roy Keane recently branded the worst in Premier League history pulled off just their second win of the season.
When Harry Maguire met Alex Telles’s 64th minute corner to guide in a superb header, his equaliser looked like being the springboard for yet another come-from-behind win for the Reds and a victory which would return them to top spot.
But 10 minutes later, a series of wretched defensive errors — Maguire and David de Gea prominent among them — saw United fail to clear John Lundstram’s cross and Oliver Burke drive in a Sheffield United winner via defender Axel Tuanzebe.
Even before the shock opening goal, the night had started in a dangerous and frustrating fashion for Solskjaer. Blades legend Billy Sharp had already been played clean through, by a delightful John Fleck pass, and been denied by the outstretched leg of de Gea with only the goalkeeper to beat.
The Spanish international was less impressive a few minutes later when the visitors won a right-wing corner which Fleck delivered brilliantly into United’s six-yard area.
De Gea might have been expected to deal with it, despite pressure from Sharp. But, as Tuanzebe failed to get a decisive, clearing touch on the ball, Kean Bryan neatly guided the ball into the home goal with a glancing header.
It was the former Manchester City youth product’s first goal for the Blades and easily the highlight of the 24-year-old’s career to date.
Chris Wilder’s side arrived at Old Trafford with just five points from their opening 19 games, their first win coming against struggling Newcastle two weeks ago.
Falling a goal behind has been the norm for Manchester United so far this season. In their 20 league games, this was the tenth time United had conceded the first goal.
Even more remarkably, in the previous nine matches in which Solskjaer had seen his team go a goal behind, United had bounced back to win seven of them.
Of course, dicing with danger in that manner has a finite shelf life and the manner in which United laboured from kick-off suggested this might not be Solskjaer’s night.
There was a disappointing, inaccurate shot wide from Marcus Rashford, who should have at least hit the target from the edge of the area after being picked out by Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s square ball.
Mason Greenwood shot straight at Aaron Ramsdale in the visitors’ goal, then saw an effort deflected behind before Anthony Martial had a “goal” ruled out for a push by Maguire on the keeper after he dropped the ball.
It was a decision which United would point out could have been applied to the opening goal but there was no doubt Solskjaer’s team was struggling to establish tempo or anything resembling a passing game.
Fernandes, so often United’s inspiration in his year at the club, was not at his majestic best and when he picked out Martial with a cross, which the striker could only head over from a difficult angle, late in the first half, it was a rare example of a flowing move from the hosts.
Still, they should have been level four minutes into the second half when Fernandes finally found his mojo, slipping through a pass which Greenwood chased clean through on goal before placing a woeful effort well wide.
Rashford struck a 25-yard free-kick straight at the keeper while Fernandes struck one into the wall from similar range before Maguire showed them the way to goal and offered brief hope.
MAN UNITED (4-2-3-1): De Gea 5; Wan-Bissaka 6, Tuanzebe 5 (van de Beek 82), Maguire 6, Telles 5 (Shaw 82); Pogba 6, Matic 6; Greenwood 6 (Cavani 65, 6), Fernandes 5, Rashford 6; Martial 5.
SHEFFIELD UNITED (3-5-2): Ramsdale 6; Basham 7, Jagielka 7, Ampadu 7; Baldock 67, Lundstram 7, Norwood 7, Fleck 9, Bryan 7 (Bogle 53, 6); Sharp 7 (Burke 69, 7), McGoldrick 6 (Brewster 79).
Referee: Peter Bankes 6.