Sheffield United leave it late again but the Blades top League One
CHRIS Wilder’s magnificent 2016 came to a triumphant ending thanks to an unlikely source as Sheffield United did the business late on.
The Blades manager received enthusiastic applause from all sides of a packed Bramall Lane when announced as the EFL Manager of the Year before the game.
But it took 89 minutes for the celebrations to be completed when right-back Kieron Freeman smashed in the only goal to down a stubborn Northampton.
Former Cobblers boss Wilder said: “I appreciate and respect the reception I got from the Northampton fans.
“I had a very special time at that football club but Sheffield United is my home and I was fully committed to getting all three points.
“Full credit to Rob Page for the way they played. They set up to hit us on the break.
“It was us who did all the pressing but for long periods it lacked that touch of magic to get the goal.
“It says a lot about our attitude when our right-back was on their penalty spot to score the winner with just a few minutes to go.
“It’s all about risk and reward, and we got our reward.”
After a frenetic Blades start, inspired by the passing of John Fleck and the clever work of Mark Duffy, Northampton managed to take the sting out of the promotion contenders for long spells.
Duffy, with a 20-yard free-kick that was deflected off-target, went closest for United and Leon Clarke had a couple of half chances in the first half.
At the other end Marc Richards saw a shot blocked as Cobblers created some space on the counter attack.
The same pattern continued throughout the second half with Northampton happy to retreat deep inside their own half.
Blades kept possession well but their slow build-up play appeared to be falling into the trap set by Page’s determined men.
Billy Sharp hit a post with a header following a goalmouth scramble in the 68th minute before Northampton nearly claimed all three points with their only shot on target.
Then Freeman popped up to score the dramatic winner.
Northampton manager Page said: “It’s a sickener, a really difficult result for us to take .
“We had switched off for one second and against a quality side that is always likely to prove crucial.
“It’s not that Sheffield United have beaten us, we have let ourselves down after defending excellently throughout the game.
“I was looking for us to kick on following our win on Boxing Day and we did so in terms of our performance if not in the result.
“A lot of my players have put in a very hard shift and we may be looking to make changes before Monday’s game.”
STAR MAN GABRIEL ZAKUANI Northampton LAST WORD: Kieron Freeman leaves it late to score the winning goal and send the Blades top