Sheffield United 0 – 1 Birmingham City – 7th August 2021

It was far too many months since the majority of those in attendance last took in the sights and sounds of Bramall Lane, an interim, more sanitised dead-rubber v. Burnley aside.

With packed hostelries, long overdue catchups amongst friends – and those acquaintances you’ve seen up and down the country for years, but whose names you’ve never known – it was a welcome return to near normality. It was the new faces, however, that dominated the pre-match chat as, eager to see a reverse to last season’s form, Sheffield United supporters debated what we’d see under new boss Slaviša Jokanović and his backroom team.

With only a very minimal glimpse at what the new management team would try to implement due to a covid hit pre-season, there was a lot of discussion around the matchday experience (or more accurately the traditions surrounding it!) being the important outcome of the day – the result being secondary – at least until it actually happened 🤣.

With Birmingham City being the visitors – finishing 18th in the Championship last season – there was a tinge of over-confidence in some of the social media noise and that of a group in the toilet pre-match on John Street – “I’m going 3 or 4 nil Blades, any less will be a disappointment”.

A crowd of just over 29,000 created somewhat of an improved atmosphere than the players were used to playing in and despite many putting the Blades downturn in form to at least partially the lack of supporters present, it turned out to be a frustrating return to an open Bramall Lane.

With little chances of note in the opening stages, it was the visitors who were to dampen the mood with a well worked, though poorly defended, opener. City played a ball from the Blades right, and with the majority of red and white numbers surrounding the source of the cross, McGoldrick and Osborn were caught off guard as visiting right back Colin came from deep to nod past Ramsdale.

Almost immediately, the Blades came as close as they did during the 90 mins to restoring parity with Burke running onto a ball in behind from Berge before seeing his first time effort bounce back off the upright with the keeper beaten at his front post.

In front and content with the Blades having possession in areas they were unable to threaten, the visitors did a good job of limiting the options that a deeper lying Norwood had and started slow timing at any dead ball.

There was the odd foray forward when space did open up, Baldock and Mousset looked to make something happen, but a ball across the 6 yard box by the striker couldn’t find a touch.

The new gaffer chose to start the second half with the same personnel who started the game, though less than ten minutes into the restart Jokanović was forced into his first change. The Blades managed to break away with purpose and pace and as Burke galloped down the right and looked to play into the box, Mousset opened up his legs and sprinted and stretched into the area – appearing to pull his hamstring as the visiting keeper collected. This gave Brewster his opportunity to stake a claim and the frontman was involved quickly as Osborn drove forward with the ball before finding him, the ex-Liverpool man beat the first defender as he moved into the box, but a second managed to recover before he shot. McGoldrick cut in from the left and looked to curl a shot from distance, but his effort was wide of the far post.

It was the visitors who would have the ball in the net again shortly after, as Colin once again nodded in at the far post, this time the referee had spotted a clear push on Osborn by Jutkiewicz and it didn’t count. If that was a let off, an even bigger one occurred just after, with Scott Hogan somehow hooking an effort off target from short range.

Down the other end, the Blades had a couple of shouts as first the referee waved away what looked to be a solid shout for a handball in the penalty area as Gardner blocked a fierce Fleck shot with an outstretched arm. Next, Sander Berge went down under a defender’s attention as he drove into the box.

It seemed that every time the Blades looked to travel with the ball, Birmingham City would intervene and take a booking to stop any progress, with Berge a favourite victim. United continued to struggle to create anything clear cut or create any sustained pressure and barring the odd half chance or shot from distance, the visitors had little to worry about.

An interesting first look at his new players in a competitive environment, Jokanović praised – at least publicly – his side for sticking to his plan, one which may take a little while to bed in as the Blades adjust to life back in the Championship.

Sheffield United: Ramsdale, Baldock, Egan, Robinson, Osborn, Norwood, Fleck (Sharp 68), Berge, McGoldrick, Mousset (Brewster 53), Burke (McBurnie 79).
Unused subs: Verrips, Basham, Freeman, Bogle.

Birmingham City: Sarkic, Colin, Pedersen, Roberts, Woods (Castillo 78), Chong (Sunjic 74), Hogan (Leko 68), Jutkiewicz, Bela, Dean, Gardner.
Unused subs: Friend, Aneke, Sanchez, Trueman.

Attendance: 29,043