Sheffield United’s slim survival hopes took another blow as they were out-classed and out-worked by a spirited Southampton side at Bramall Lane on Saturday.
The visitors proved too much for United to handle, despite losing top-scorer Danny Ings to another muscle injury, with the forward being replaced by Che Adams in the 13th minute.
The Saints controlled possession early on in the game, but neither side tested the opposition’s goal for the first twenty minutes.
Cracks soon began to show in the Sheffield United defence, however, amid early Southampton pressure, with Enda Stevens deflecting a ball into the path of Nathan Tella who shot high and wide past United keeper Aaron Ramsdale, who was well off his goalline.
Half an hour into the match, Southampton made their breakthrough. Another long ball over the top of the Sheffield defence was chased down by Tella who was through on goal. Ethan Ampadu’s slide tackle missed the ball completely, taking Tella down to concede a penalty.
With Ings absent, Southampton captain James Ward-Prowse dispatched the spot kick past Ramsdale and gave the away side a lead that they didn’t look back from. Southampton continued to control possession and create opportunities by playing the ball over the top of the home defence.
Sheffield United’s best chances came at the end of the first half. A John Fleck cross from the left-hand side found David McGoldrick who forced Fraser Forster into a low save. Then in added time McGoldrick again had a chance to level the game after being played in by Rhian Brewster, but failed to chip over the keeper.
It only took Southampton four minutes to double their advantage in the second half. Substitute Che Adams fired a thunderous half-volley past Ramsdale after United failed to clear the second ball. With a two-goal lead Southampton lessened their pressure and allowed United to have more of the ball, knowing the home-side were unlikely to create anything dangerous.
Sheffield United’s final good chance came through Jayden Bogle who dragged his shot wide in the 68th minute. Southampton then upped the pressure with chances being spurned by Minamino, Walker-Peters, Armstrong and Adams.
The final five minutes were bleak for Sheffield United. With heads down, pressing was non-existent and players looked defeated. The brief brawl that broke out in injury time was the most fight United had shown all game.
After the game, manager Chris Wilder bemoaned the lack of quality his players showed throughout the game, saying: “There weren’t any real good performances that you need to win games of football at this level.”
When asked what he wants to see from his team for the final ten games Wilder said: “I just want to see that fighting spirit we’ve shown the rest of the season, albeit with more quality, more thought, more care, more belief.” and admitted that in the last 25 minutes of the game the players “looked sorry for themselves.”
Sheffield United’s next game is a trip to 3rd-place Leicester City on March 14.