Sheffield United took all three points at Bramall Lane despite a late spirited fight back from Preston North End.
David McGoldrick proved to be the hero for United, his 87th minute strike proved to be the winner in the five-goal thriller which saw three goals scored between the 80th and 87th minute at Bramall Lane.
Goals from Billy Sharp and Chris Basham had put the Blades in command, before two goals in as many minutes saw Preston level, only for McGoldrick to win it for the hosts in front of the Kop.
Boss Wilder once again rang the changes for the clash, in many ways returning to his strongest XI against North End, with Sharp, Freeman, Stevens, and McGoldrick all returning to the starting line-up.
United enjoyed the better of the first 10 minutes, enjoying most of the ball and territory, but despite advancing into promising wide positions, chances were few and far between. Preston briefly threatened with a couple of long-range efforts, but Henderson wasn’t troubled.
On the 25-minute mark, United looked to have fashioned an opening, with Fleck playing in Basham on the left following a corner, but McGoldrick’s goal bound header was cleared by Huntington. McGoldrick continued to look Sheffield Uniteds biggest threat getting in to dangerous positions in and around the box, heading wide from Freeman’s cross also.
But 11-minutes later, United were in front and McGoldrick was involved again. He got a run on Davies from Freeman’s ball and after Maxwell had saved the ball was tucked into the empty net by Billy Sharp who fired in to the roof of the net. This was the strikers 208th goal since the turn of the century, equalling Wayne Rooney’s record.
With the interval approaching, the Blades and again free-agent from Ipswich and summer signing McGoldrick looked to add a second, but his header was narrowly off target from Stevens inviting ball. At the other end, a number of Blades bodies were put on the line to deny Fisher from Huntington’s lay-off as Preston finished the half well.
The first action of the second-half saw Chris Wilders side double their lead. McGoldrick, again, won a free-kick down the right channel, then a much improved from midweek Norwood produce a pinpoint cross that saw Chris Basham tower above the rest and glance a header home past the despairing dive of Maxwell.
In the Blades attack, it could have been three. Duffy broke at pace and played in McGoldrick, who unfortunately dragged his shot wide from a promising position. The visitors looked for a response from a corner, but Henderson was equal to Clarke’s header before the Blades hacked the ball clear.
Sharp received a warm hand as he was replaced by Johnson with 16-minutes remaining. But it was Preston who gave themselves a lifeline in the 80th minute. Moult broke free and played in Fisher and from his low centre, Robinson prodded home. And the visitors levelled in their next attack, with Johnson firing home with the aid of a deflection from Hughes’s left-wing cross.
The game swing back in United’s favour though with just three-minutes left on the clock, Johnson and Stevens combined on the left, before the latter squared for McGoldrick to get a goal his efforts deserved.
Six minutes of added time were signalled and Stearman replaced McGoldrick before the end. United safely saw them out with the game ending with Henderson showing a safe pair of hands before punching the air with delight.
Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder:
“I’m delighted and proud with the way we set up. It was never dull, but the players showed tremendous character to get themselves back up off the canvas. I’m delighted we got our noses in front and the swagger about us was good to see.”
Preston manager Alex Neil:
“That’s been the story of the season so far. When we look like the side who’s going to win and we’ve got a foothold back into the game, we get hurt with a sucker-punch. But it’s about more than that. It’s about game management, experience and recognising we can still throw caution to the wind along with the hard work. We scored two goals so there is definitely a threat there, but as a team we’ve got to stop conceding as many goals as we are.”
Blades: Henderson, Stevens, Fleck, O’Connell, Basham, Sharp (Johnson 74), Egan, Norwood, McGoldrick (Stearman 90), Freeman, Duffy (Clarke 85).
Unused: Lundstram, Woodburn, Moore, Washington.
Preston: Maxwell, Fisher, Clarke, Davies, Robinson, Browne, Gallagher (Johnson 62), Hughes, Ledson (Harrop 90), Huntington, Barkhuizen (Moult 71).
Unused: Rudd, Earl, Burke, Barker.
Picture Credit: Sheffield United