Sheffield United 0 Newcastle United 2
- Stuart Attwell
Goals either side of half time from Allan Saint-Maximin and Jonjo Shelvey gave Newcastle United an impressive 2-0 victory at Sheffield United on Thursday night.
Saint-Maximin’s first goal for the club – a smart header after quarter of an hour – opened the scoring at Bramall Lane, though it was mainly goalkeeper Martin Dúbravka’s brilliance that ensured they held their lead until the break.
And with 20 minutes left, and the Blades still pressing for an equaliser, stand-in skipper Shelvey’s second of the week – after his leveller against Manchester City on Saturday – made the points safe with a VAR check confirming his strike, which came as the result of some excellent opportunism from the midfielder.
The result moves Steve Bruce’s side up to 11th in the Premier League table, just two points adrift of sixth place.
Though Saint-Maximin’s goal was the difference at the break, the Magpies were heavily indebted to goalkeeper Dúbravka for his outstanding display in the first 45 minutes. The Blades moved swiftly through the gears early on, and Enda Stevens’ deflected cross would have given them a fifth-minute lead were it not for the visitors’ number one, who turned it over at the last second.
Midfielder Ollie Norwood controlled much of the hosts’ rhythm, while his set pieces were an almost constant cause for Newcastle concern. One delivery, a low corner, found its way through a packed box to Billy Sharp, but Dúbravka just about got there first and blocked it from close range.
Sharp’s strike partner Oli McBurnie curled an effort over as Chris Wilder’s men continued to push, but somewhat against the run of play it was Bruce’s side who went ahead. Isaac Hayden’s shot was blocked but the Magpies recycled the ball, with Manquillo sending over a fine cross from the right and Saint-Maximin stooping to nod his first goal for the club beyond Dean Henderson.
But back came the Blades. Another wonderful stop kept out McBurnie’s header – which looked bound for the bottom corner – while Sharp slid another opening wide and Norwood teed up John Egan, whose header was also well held by United’s Slovakian stopper. Dúbravka would most likely have been helpless, though, had Sharp connected with Jack O’Connell’s teasing centre, which just evaded him in the six-yard box.
Dúbravka – who beat away a Norowod free kick at the end of the first period – continued to frustrate Sheffield United after the restart, jumping up after a clash with Sharp to turn McBurnie’s header over the bar.
Shelvey, disciplined and measured again in the middle of the park, repelled John Fleck’s shot before Sharp tried again with a diving header, with the assistant referee – who had his flag up – combining with Dúbravka’s save to keep the score at 1-0.
But with 20 minutes left, and with the hosts having just thrown on Lys Mousset as they sought a leveller, the Magpies made it two – with the help of VAR. Andy Carroll, on his first start since his return to the club in the summer, won an aerial challenge and flicked Paul Dummett long ball in behind the Blades’ defence. The assistant’s flag went up, with Carroll presumed to be offside, but referee Stuart Attwell allowed play to continue, despite Wilder’s side seeming to have stopped.
But Shelvey saw an opportunity as confusion reigned. He ran onto the loose ball and calmly slotted past Henderson, who had been appealing for offside moments later. Attwell consulted VAR, with replays showing Carroll was onside when he won the header, and allowed the goal to stand, sparking celebrations in the away end.
It was a bizarre way to go 2-0 up, but it all but secured the points for Newcastle. Shelvey’s goal disrupted the Blades’ flow and, though substitute David McGoldrick had a half-chance on the volley soon after, Bruce’s charges protected their lead well to seal a terrific victory on the road.