Sheffield United crowned their first Premier League game at Bramall Lane for 12 years with a hard-fought victory over Crystal Palace.
Spurred on by a raucous home crowd, who were watching League One football three seasons ago, Chris Wilder’s team added to their point at Bournemouth last weekend with a precious win thanks to John Lundstram’s early second half goal.
The Blades are being tipped by many to get relegated, but they created the better chances and stood firm against a Palace side who earned more points away from home than at Selhurst Park last season.
The hosts should have gone ahead in the first half when David McGoldrick’s close-range shot was saved by Vicente Guaita in the Palace goal.
But Lundstram, who had set up that chance, gave them the lead early in the second half as he smashed in from 10 yards after Luke Freeman’s shot was stopped.
A frustrated Palace were limited to very little as Wilfried Zaha – making his first start of the season after a proposed summer move away fell through – was shackled by an industrious Blades defence.
The victory will be a fillip for Wilder, who out-foxed Palace boss Roy Hodgson with a 3-5-2 formation that continues to excel at both ends of the pitch.
Wilder, a former Sheffield United player, says he won’t compromise his style as he seeks to establish his side in the top flight but the early signs are that he might not need to.
Wilder’s team poses new problems for Palace
The last time Bramall Lane hosted Premier League football, it was for a defeat by Wigan in the pouring rain, which consigned the Blades to the Championship on the last day of the 2006-07 season.
That eventually led to a six-year stay in League One – but bathed in warm sunshine, Wilder’s team were boosted by their noisy supporters, who repeatedly sang about their journey to the Premier League under the former Blades ballboy, who they claim as “one of our own”.
Despite an early shot for Christian Benteke, which was saved by Dean Henderson, the hosts were on top for most of the first half but were let down by poor finishing as John Fleck and McGoldrick wasted chances.
United also claimed a penalty as Enda Stevens had his effort blocked by Joel Ward, but the referee David Coote waved appeals away.
Their profligacy ended when Luke Freeman, who replaced the injured Fleck in the first half, burst down the left and had his shot saved.
But the powerful Lundstram was on to send Bramall Lane into raptures.
Oli McBurnie also headed over as Wilder’s team pushed for a second, but marshalled by the excellent Oliver Norwood in midfield, they did not let control of the game slip and after holding on towards the end, sent their fans home with belief it could be a memorable season.
Palace can’t find a plan B
Palace were the sixth-best team in the Premier League away from home last season, based on counter-attacking style which suited some of their more skilful player such as Zaha and Andros Townsend.
But they were unable to impose themselves in this encounter and appeared not to have to the answers to United’s guile and energy.
Zaha was their most dangerous outlet, but when he was well marshalled by the Blades defence, they did not appear to have another strategy.
At times, the hosts’ tackling drew the ire of Zaha, who was also taunted by the Bramall Lane crowd for what they considered theatrical diving. Three Sheffield United players were booked.
Yet only a deflected shot from Townsend threatened the United goal in the second half, and Hodgson was left a passive figure as his side pressed in vain for an equaliser.
Man of the match – Oliver Norwood (Sheff Utd)
Wilder and Pep – the stats
- Since the start of the 2016-17 season, Chris Wilder has won 77 league matches as Sheffield United boss – only Pep Guardiola, with 88 victories, has won more in that time among managers in England’s top four divisions.
- The Blades registered their first top-flight win over Crystal Palace since April 1973. That ended a run of six top-flight games without a win against the Eagles.
- For a third time in the past four seasons, Palace have failed to win either of their opening two Premier League games while also failing to score (2016-17, 2017-18 and 2019-20).
- Palace have won only one of their past 11 Premier League matches in August, failing to score in eight of those games.
- United became the first team since Norwich City in April 2012 to name a fully British and Irish starting XI in consecutive Premier League games.
- Wilder is the first manager to name a fully British/Irish starting XI in his first two Premier League matches since Gary Megson did so in 1995 with Norwich City.
- Phil Jagielka made his first Premier League appearance for Sheffield United since 13 May 2007 – 4,480 days ago. Only Wayne Rooney for Everton has had a bigger gap in appearances for a team in Premier League history (4,837 days between May 2004 and August 2017).
Sheffield United host Leicester City on Saturday (15:00 BST) while Crystal Palace are at Manchester United at the same time.