By theguardian |

Sheffield United sweep Tottenham aside to revive hopes of Europe

José Mourinho and Tottenham will stew over the intervention of VAR at Bramall Lane and with sound reason, but they have far more to worry about than the killjoys at Stockley Park on the evidence of this convincing defeat by Sheffield United.

Spurs, composure lost after Harry Kane was denied an equaliser by another controversial VAR call, were cut apart by Chris Wilder’s over-lapping wing-backs as the hosts leap-frogged the visitors in the pursuit of European qualification. All three Sheffield United goals came from the flanks and on all three occasions the Spurs’ defence was found wanting badly.

There was also a lack of heart and commitment in the visiting ranks, certainly in comparison to the relentless endeavour embodied by Oli McBurnie in the United ranks. Wilder’s side had previously toiled since the restart with a lack of creativity largely responsible. One goal in four winless matches, coming in Sunday’s FA Cup defeat by Arsenal, had jeopardised United’s hopes of crowning a fine return to the top flight with a European finish but this was more like their pre-lockdown form.

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There was urgency and aggression to the hosts’ attacking play from the first whistle, leading to George Baldock testing Hugo Lloris from distance with only 52 seconds gone. A disciplined defensive shape and fierce work ethic also underpinned the improvement. Yet United were indebted to a helping hand from VAR for their half-time lead.

The contest had been almost devoid of incident before the first drinks break. Eric Dier sent a glancing header across goal from Heung-Min Son’s corner and Steven Bergwijn messed up a promising counterattack instigated by Moussa Sissoko, who was surprised by Bergwijn’s return pass when the midfielder had the opportunity to shoot. Kane had one too, but Sissoko opted against releasing his unmarked captain inside the area.

Post-drinks, however, the first half sprung into life with goals and no shortage of controversy. United took the lead with a well-worked and well-executed team goal that switched play from left to right through Enda Stevens. Baldock released the over-lapping Chris Basham and set himself for a shot on goal when the defender cut the ball back invitingly from the bye-line. Sander Berge collected inside the penalty area instead, to Baldock’s obvious annoyance, but spared himself a rollicking from his team-mate by spinning and finding the far corner of Lloris’ goal with a precise drive. It was the club record signing’s first goal in English football since his £22m arrival from Genk in January.

Berge’s celebrations had only just ceased when Spurs levelled through Kane. Or so they, and the Sheffield United players who sank to their knees, thought. The visiting captain beat Dean Henderson with a convincing finish after picking up a loose ball off Lucas Moura and cutting inside Basham. The ball had inadvertently cannoned off Moura when, having been fouled while running at the United defence, John Egan’s clearance struck the forward as he hit the ground. While falling, however, Moura’s arm touched the ball and VAR’s draconian rules meant the goal was disallowed.

Referee Chris Kavanagh was surrounded by furious Spurs players when the incident was replayed on the giant TV screen. Mourinho let his feelings known to the fourth official, Peter Bankes, who warned the Spurs manager he would be sent to the stands when another decision against his team sparked a second outburst.

Oliver Norwood, United’s central midfielder, caught Son in the face with an elbow moments after receiving the first booking of the game. Norwood was looking at the man, not the ball, before making contact and was extremely fortunate that Kavanagh deemed the foul worthy only of a free-kick and not also a second yellow card.

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Spurs’ evening would not improve. The visitors lacked the ingenuity to disrupt United’s defensive shape and the concentration to prevent Wilder’s team extending their lead comfortably. The Blades’ second stemmed from the tireless efforts of McBurnie, whose hold-up play and distribution were a productive source all game. McBurnie worked the ball out to Stevens and he combined superbly with Ben Osborn, who capped his Premier League debut with a fine reverse touch to the left wing-back. Stevens, his run unchecked, had time and space to pick out Lys Mousset in the centre and the substitute striker, left completely unmarked by the sleeping Dier and Ben Davies, tapped home.

McBurnie earned his just rewards with the third. Spurs were again undone by a marauding wing-back, this time Baldock on the right. He released Berge inside the area with a cheeky flick and the midfielder centred low for McBurnie to turn the ball past Lloris from close range. Defensively, the visitors were found wanting once more, McBurnie stealing in ahead of Davinson Sánchez after being left by Erik Lamela.

Kane’s 90th minute tap-in from Son’s cross meant the England captain has now scored against all 29 Premier League teams he has faced. He will not dwell on the consolation for long.

Topics

Premier League

Sheffield United Tottenham Hotspur match reports

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