A poor first-half display left Town’s Under-23 team with too much to do as Sheffield United won the latest Professional Development League game of the season at PPG Canalside on a cold Monday afternoon.
Frankie Bunn’s side fell three goals behind after a lacklustre start and that deficit was too great to overcome, despite a much-improved second-half performance.
Bunn, who was without Luca Colville (ankle) and Denilson Carvalho (hip), selected a very young side for the fixture, whilst United’s team featured overage players Ben Heneghan (ex-Motherwell) and Caolan Lavery (ex-Sheffield Wednesday) as well as Nathan Thomas (ex-Hartlepool and Plymouth).
Lavery had a big role in the game’s first goal, which came inside 70 seconds. The striker outmuscled centre back Rarmani Edmonds-Green on the Town right before firing a shot towards the far post and although Tadhg Ryan palmed the effort away, Oliver Greaves was left free in the box to tap home the rebound.
Town’s first shot came in the ninth minute through Lewis O’Brien – a shot from range that goalkeeper Jake Eastwood dealt with comfortably – before the best home move of the first-half in the 17th minute. Regan Booty found Olly Dyson from a United corner and he drove into the opposition half before feeding the ball left for Jack Boyle. The attacking midfielder’s cross found Dom Tear’s head at the back post, but a defender cleared the effort.
However, the Blades were in control and extended their lead through a 28th minute set-piece, conceded through Lewis O’Brien’s push on Thomas. The free-kick into the penalty area was poorly defended, allowing Tyler Smith to control and fire low past Ryan.
Thomas should have helped to make it three for the Blades eight minutes later, but he opted to shoot from 20 yards with Lavery completely free in the area and Ryan saved.
Town centre back Danny Kane’s enterprising run ended with a shot wide from range before United did get a third, with Smith netting his second – tapping home as a low cross from the left fell his way. Again, Bunn will have been disappointed that the attacker was completely unmarked.
Town’s lifeline came four minutes before the interval. Skipper Regan Booty delivered an excellent free-kick into the away side’s penalty area from wide on the right and defender Rhys Norrington-Davies got his angles wrong, heading past his own ‘keeper at the near post.
After the interval Town improved markedly, with much more tempo and vigour in their play. Bunn’s men applied territorial pressure and created the first chance 10 minutes in as Boyle stung the palms of the ‘keeper with a shot from just outside the area. At the other end United still carried a threat, with 6’ 5” centre back Heneghan escaping Kane’s attention to test Ryan at this near post.
Town’s big chance to get back in the game fell to winger Dom Tear in the 63rd minute. Dyson deserved much of the credit after driving at the defence from halfway and sliding a fantastic pass into Tear’s stride as he entered the area, but his shot was too close to the ‘keeper as he entered the penalty area.
Instead, United made sure of the three points barely two minutes later. A Town short corner broke down and Nathan Thomas was allowed to run from halfway to the edge of the box before curling a shot comprehensively into the bottom corner. Town’s defending was naïve, with two players turning down the opportunity to stop the run in its tracks early.
To their credit, Town kept pushing. Dyson missed the target from range before Town netted a second, with Booty – who was at the heart of the second half improvement – picking out Tear’s run into the area brilliantly before the winger clipped the ball past Eastwood.
Town’s team (4-2-3-1):
Tadhg Ryan; Sam Gibson (Dylan Cogill, 86’), Rarmani Edmonds-Green, Danny Kane, Jordan Thomas; Regan Booty (c), Isaac Marriott (Matty Daly, 66’); Lewis O’Brien, Jack Boyle (George Danaher, 58’), Dom Tear; Olly Dyson
Luke Mewitt, Scott High