Latics blunt Blades to earn point
Date published: 26 December 2013
SHEFF UTD 1 ATHLETIC 1
ATHLETIC earned a useful point at Bramall Lane, holding off a second-half revival by a Blades side inspired by a brilliant equaliser from former favourite Jose Baxter.
Jonson Clarke-Harris had given the visitors an early advantage in an entertaining cross-Pennines battle, as Lee Johnson’s rejigged side blunted the Blades and appeared the more dynamic of the teams on show.
Baxter, though, blasted in a superb 25-yard free-kick to level matters with the first shot in anger from Nigel Clough’s side after 54 minutes, meaning the points were shared.
The former Everton man’s celebrations were muted.
But the biggest United home crowd of the season’s would not have been had Baxter’s left-footed shot rebounded in, rather than away to safety, off a post in added time.
The result leaves Athletic a point clear of their Boxing Day opponents in the Sky Bet League One table, with a game in hand.
With depleted playing resources due to injuries, Johnson named an imaginative line-up, with James Tarkowski in front of the back four, tasked with closely watching Baxter.
Adam Rooney was on the right side of a five-man midfield and Jonson Clarke-Harris ploughing a lone furrow up front.
And his side got off to the perfect start after less than five minutes had elapsed at Bramall Lane.
Korey Smith won the ball back and Rooney shaped a lovely cross into the area which Clarke-Harris, getting in front of his marker, guided neatly past George Long with his head.
It was the 19-year-old’s fifth goal of the season, on his comeback from a one-match suspension.
Clarke-Harris thought he had made it 2-0 after 19 minutes.
Athletic broke with purpose and as Smith’s strike was beaten out by Long, the ball was despatched expertly on the volley – only for the flag to go up for offside.
Athletic were quick to the tackle and dominating the midfield battle at this stage, as the visiting supporters gave ex-striker Chris Porter some hammer and a more-loved former favourite Baxter acclaim.
A glancing, off-target Porter header he couldn’t connect with fully just before half-time was as close as the disjointed Blades got as Athletic’s tactics of flooding the midfield worked a treat.
Clarke-Harris forced Long into a low save from his 25-yard free-kick four minutes into second half as Clough’s side tried in vain to gain momentum.
When the game-changer came, it was quite brilliant.
Suitably, it arrived from the foot of Baxter. Genseric Kusunga pushed Porter in the back 25 yards out and from the resultant free-kick, Athletic’s former talisman hammered a piledriver of a shot which whizzed past the right arm of Mark Oxley and into the top corner. It was the first real effort of the match from the Blades, 54 minutes in.
Buoyed by the equaliser, Stephen McGinn hit a shot that bounced off Oxley’s chest and to eventual safety as United drove forward.
Athletic recovered and Rooney had a low drive from the right pushed out by Long as the visitors broke with purpose with 10 minutes left.
United then went within inches of taking an injury time lead, twice.
Baxter’s deflected shot beat Oxley but rebounded off the far post and from a corner seconds later, Porter’s effort was hacked off the line as Athletic clung on for a deserved share of the spoils.
Sheff Utd (4-4-2): Long; McMahon, Collins, Maguire, Hill; Miller (Taylor 85), Doyle (c), McGinn, White (Murphy 9; Flynn 85); Baxter, Porter. Subs not used: Howard, Coady, Brandy, Lappin. Goals: Baxter (54)
Athletic (4-1-4-1): Oxley; Brown, Lanzoni, Kusunga, Grounds; Tarkowski; Rooney, Smith (c), Mellor, Petrasso (Millar 89); Clarke-Harris. Subs not used: Schmeltz, Winchester, Byrne, Rodgers, Plummer, Rachubka. Goals: Clarke-Harris (5)
Referee: Mark Brown.
Attendance: 19,551 (1,088 visiting fans).
Star man: Matteo Lanzoni
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