A fortunate Callum McFadzean goal in the first minute of the second half proved to be the winner as Sheffield United beat Yeovil Town by a goal to nil at Bramall Lane in the play- off semi final first leg.
The goal, a deflected effort from the sub that went in off the post, was the catalyst for the Glovers to play their best stuff of the game after a scrappy first half. Both managers felt they had two justifiable claims for penalties; United’s two for fouls, Yeovil’s two for handballs but none were given leaving the tie poised delicately ahead of Monday’s second leg at Huish Park.
The Glovers were cheered on by a fantastic support of more than a thousand fans tonight, turning out in numbers more so than their hosts with tonight’s gate more than 5,000 down on the January fixture at the ground.
Boss Gary Johnson received a triple boost ahead of tonight’s match with the three defenders missing from action recently reporting fit. Byron Webster, Jamie McAllister and Dan Burn all returned to the starting back four with Vitalijs
Maksimenko, Lewis Young and Dominic Blizzard all dropping to the bench.
With so much at stake for the winners of the tie, maybe it was no surprise that the first half was more of a war of attrition than a stylish encounter. Good football was a rare sight in a first half punctuated by some strong challenges from both sides with referee Stuart Attwell’s whistle working overtime at certain points in the first half.
Ex Premier League striker Dave Kitson had the game’s first chance in the fifth minute but made a horrible connection with his head to Barry Robson’s cross and the ball screwed well wide. Robson, himself a veteran of top flight football albeit in Scotland, was proving influential and at the heart of what United created in the first half. He curled a free kick a foot wide of Marek Stech’s left hand post before then setting up Chris Porter with a corner but the header went wide. United had felt that Burn had grappled unfairly with Porter in the build up to the goal.
Jamie Murphy then wasted a chance to give his side the lead when he blazed over from eight yards out before United had a second penalty claim turned down when McAllister clashed with Robson as he ran into the box. Robson took a whack for his troubles and ended up going off with a rib injury on the half hour.
Yeovil enjoyed the bulk of the chances in the final fifteen minutes of the first half, the best of which fell to Kevin Dawson who drilled a low shot wide of the far post. Sam Foley also saw a shot blocked after Stech had released Paddy Madden down the left wing with a huge goal kick.
The second half opened in disastrous fashion for the visitors. A long ball found Porter in an advanced position on the left hand side. He pulled the ball back to Murphy whose cross was met by sub McFadzean. The contact was far from perfect, it took a deflection off the leg of Burn and after hitting Stech’s post, rolled apologetically over the line and into the net.
The goal fired up Town and they were the better side by far for the next twenty minutes. Their impressive work rate allied to some composed passing in possession was serving them well and they looked to be closing in on an equaliser. Young keeper George Long spilled an Ed Upson shot but no one was following up and James Hayter thought he’d given the Glovers a leveller but the striker was half a yard offside when dinking a shot over Long and into an empty net.
Stech saved a weak shot from Murphy and then parried strongly from McFadzean’s shot from a tight angle after he had beaten McAllister in the left back position. Porter then went close with a curling effort as United started imposing themselves more on the game. Angelo Balanta came on for Hayter on 72 minutes and Kitson, walking a disciplinary tightrope all night after an earlier yellow card, was also withdrawn for Joe Ironside.
Michael Doyle shanked a left foot shot well wide on 76 minutes but the majority of the action, and the controversy, switched to the other end as the first leg tie closed. Luke Ayling’s ball into the box was clearly handled by
McFadzean but the assistant referee, fifteen yards away, inexplicably failed to flag. Then, after Webster’s header was saved on the line, Madden’s ball into the penalty area bounced off Maguire’s thigh and onto his outstretched arm, again neither official spotting the offence.
In stoppage time, Webster from a free kick forced Long into a terrific tip over with an acrobatic bicycle kick then headed over from a corner as Yeovil pressed to make it 1-1. In the end though, Johnson will have to be satisfied with a single goal deficit and hope that Lady Luck smiles more on the Glovers in Monday’s second leg.