Sheffield United continue remarkable Champions League push with comeback win over Bournemouth
John Lundstram comes off the bench to score winning goal as the team tipped for relegation moves two points off the top four
When Sheffield United began their first Premier League campaign since 2007 with a draw at Bournemouth, the probability is most thought they would not get to the magical 38 points. Instead, they have passed that landmark in early February, with three months to go, in fifth place and two points off fourth.
“Now you’re going to believe us, the Blades are staying up,” their fans chorused after the final whistle. They could be on a different journey. Tipped for a swift return to the Championship, they might instead gatecrash the Champions League.
It feels ridiculous and yet plausible. Victory over Bournemouth, like the season as a whole, served as a personal triumph for Chris Wilder, who brought Lys Mousset and John Lundstram off the bench and saw them combine for the winner.
It was, too, an eloquent response to being dropped from Lundstram. “There are no comfortable footballers in our changing room,” Wilder said. “They have all got something to prove. Lundstram is a fantastic example. He couldn’t have done anything more in his last two substitute appearances.”
One of the campaign’s breakout stars only began five league games last season. He became pivotal in a higher league, was demoted when the £22 million (Dh104m) Sander Berge became the club’s record signing but came on for the Norwegian, whose home debut was marred by his role in Bournemouth’s goal, to complete a comeback.
“There is always going to be a bit of frustration when you are not playing,” said the midfielder. “But all you can do is try and take your chance.” He did just that. Lundstram’s running power enables him to get in the box and he latched on to Mousset’s pass to condemn Bournemouth to a fifth defeat in seven.
They did, however, look set for a third successive win as United were poor at the start, sloppy in possession and lacking their customary chemistry. For the last three-quarters of the game, however, they were much better, getting their centre-backs forward, creating overlaps and posing problems.
“The belief the boys have is amazing,” said Wilder. It marked a turnaround. “Disappointing start from us,” he added. “They deservedly went in front.”
Bournemouth’s Wilsons had each missed chances to put them ahead before they did lead. Callum Wilson’s slump in form was such that he went three months without recording a shot on target. A second goal in three games came in clinical, emphatic fashion after Harry Wilson’s shot had been blocked by John Egan.
“The reaction of Sander was great; he didn’t go under,” Wilder said and United found a route back into the game, initially via set-pieces. Jack O’Connell headed over after one corner while Aaron Ramsdale saved well from Oli McBurnie.
But pressure told after Bournemouth failed to clear another John Fleck corner. As Ramsdale punched unconvincingly, Berge was involved, Egan had a shot blocked on the line and Billy Sharp stabbed in the leveller. The captain has scored 227 lower-league goals. His only previous Premier League strike came against Bournemouth and, but for a fine save from Ramsdale, there could have been a third.
While Dean Henderson was required to make a better stop from Ryan Fraser’s half volley, and the Scot put an underwhelming campaign behind him to exert an influence, Bournemouth required fine defending to preserve parity for as long as they did. Nathan Ake, Simon Francis and Adam Smith all made fine blocks, but manager Eddie Howe lamented the manner of the concessions.
“The two goals we conceded were hugely disappointing,” he said. “They were out of keeping with our performance. It is hugely frustrating.” And, with eight of the top nine still to play, potentially very costly.
Updated: February 9, 2020 08:54 PM