Sheffield United came from behind to win 2-1 against fellow strugglers West Brom and keep alive their hopes of pulling off the greatest of escapes in the Premier League.
The bottom two clashed at a wet Bramall Lane on Tuesday night in a game that Blades boss Chris Wilder admitted was a must-win for his team, while Baggies boss Sam Allardyce said it was a “must-not-lose”.
It was Wilder who finished the evening the happier man after goals from Jayden Bogle and captain Billy Sharp overturned the half-time lead given to the visitors by Matty Phillips’ strike.
It was only the Blades’ third Premier League win of the season. Wilder’s men remain bottom of the table but are only a point behind West Brom now, and 10 points from safety.
The victory also relieved United of the ignominy of getting a lower points total than the 11 Derby managed in their relegation campaign of 2007-08.
Oliver Norwood wasted a free-kick in a good position on the edge of the penalty area early on, opting for power and putting the ball high into the stands rather than making sure he worked the goalkeeper in the testing wet conditions.
Immediately at the other end, former Blade Callum Robinson flashed a shot across goal and narrowly wide.
Wilder’s side were soon beginning to dictate play, dominating possession, but as so often has been the problem this season they lacked ideas and creativity in the final third.
An organised and solid Baggies backline restricted them to long-range efforts, with Sam Johnstone doing well to hold on to a low drive by David McGoldrick before palming away another shot from outside the box from Ethan Ampadu.
Sharp could only loop a header wide under strong pressure from Kyle Bartley when the Blades did manage to get close to the visitors’ goal.
Phillips put West Brom ahead after 41 minutes. Robinson was the architect, cutting inside down the left of the penalty area and bringing a save from Aaron Ramsdale, who then reacted quickly to make another fine stop to deny Mbaye Diagne from point-blank range.
But the goalkeeper could only push the ball to the waiting Phillips who scored from two yards. It was the winger’s first Premier League goal since April 2018.
Wilder knew he had to go for it in the second half and swapped midfielder Norwood for fit-again striker Oli McBurnie, back after a month-long absence with a shoulder injury.
And within 10 minutes of the restart, the Blades were level. Sharp’s cross caused confusion inside the penalty area and Chris Basham did well to protect the ball and lay it off to Bogle, who drilled home a shot from 12 yards out to beat Johnstone at his near post.
The Blades’ tails were up and they laid siege to their opponent’s goal. McBurnie saw an effort bravely blocked before John Fleck stung the palms of Johnstone.
However, it needed a superb save from Ramsdale at the other end following a rare West Brom attack to keep the hosts level. Phillips’ cross was met by Robinson’s perfectly-timed run and he looked certain to score sliding in inside the six-yard box, only for the ball to hit Ramsdale.
A classic Billy Sharp goal. 🐐— Sheffield United (@SheffieldUnited) February 2, 2021
The skipper has us in front. 💪pic.twitter.com/Wza2UUF1Ts
It proved pivotal as Sharp put the Blades in front soon afterwards. Basham’s cross from the right was kept alive in the penalty area by a strong challenge from John Egan and the ball fell to the captain who drilled a shot beneath the goalkeeper from 10 yards out.
Wilder’s team saw out the remainder of the match largely untroubled for what could still prove to be a priceless victory.