Sh­effield United leave it late again but the Blades top League One

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE: - By John Brind­ley

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.”

PIC­TURES: Ac­tion Images

STAR MAN GABRIEL ZAKUANI Northamp­ton LAST WORD: Kieron Free­man leaves it late to score the win­ning goal and send the Blades top

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