The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Si­mon Smed­ley

THE BLADES’ re­turn to the Cham­pi­onship af­ter six years away ended per­fectly thanks to Billy Sharp’s preda­tory first-half win­ner.

The masses of home fans re­joiced wildly at the fi­nal whis­tle once the Bees were re­pelled fol­low­ing a late rally.

Blades boss Chris Wilder was clearly re­lieved, and he also be­gan his post-match de­brief by salut­ing the noisy home faith­ful, who made a right old racket from the first minute un­til the last.

“That’s a fan­tas­tic first re­sult for us, and the sup­port in­side the sta­dium was fan­tas­tic,” he said. “Don’t for­get the fans here have had it tough th­ese last six years, be­ing down in the third tier. This re­sult is just re­ward for their out­stand­ing sup­port and loy­alty.

“We’ve had some big cup games and pro­mo­tion games th­ese last few sea­sons, but the at­mos­phere to­day was right up there.”

Wilder went on to salute his play­ers af­ter they ground out an eye-catch­ing suc­cess.

“All the lads put in an out­stand­ing ef­fort against a very good Brent­ford side,” he added. “We were a bit loose at times, but we cre­ated some de­cent chances.

“We won’t play many bet­ter tech­ni­cal sides than Brent­ford ei­ther. They’re go­ing to be there in the top half.

“We know ex­actly what chal­lenges await now in this di­vi­sion, but we’ve shown al­ready that we’re ready for them.

“Every­one around the club ought to be lifted by this re­sult.”

Last sea­son’s League One cham­pi­ons just about de­served to be ahead at the break at a packed­out Bra­mall Lane.

They struck af­ter 39 min­utes, with Leon Clarke par­tic­u­larly de­lighted as he mocked the vis­it­ing Bees fans.

Clarke was jeered af­ter fluff­ing an ini­tial at­tempt to cross, but the burly striker swiv­elled su­perbly to even­tu­ally float over a peach of a cross for Billy Sharp to head home clin­i­cally past Dan Bent­ley.

Ear­lier Dan­ish striker Lasse Vibe had gone close for Brent­ford, while Blades left-back Enda Stevens saw a 25-yard de­flected pile-driver re­bound off a post.

Both sides were de­nied by the wood­work dur­ing an equally eye­catch­ing sec­ond pe­riod.

Blades mid­fielder John Fleck fired against a post, with Sharp’s neat fin­ish from the re­bound be­ing ruled out thanks to an assistant ref­eree’s flag. At the other end, as the vis­i­tors pressed late on, Jota saw an ac­cu­rate strike saved by debu­tant Ja­mal Black­man, be­fore sub­sti­tute Nico Yen­naris nod­ded the re­bound against the cross­bar.

The Bees’ best chance of grab­bing an equaliser fell to an­other sub­sti­tute, Neal Mau­pay, who charged clear of the Blades’ back-line be­fore be­ing thwarted by a smart Black­man save.

Bees boss Dean Smith pin­pointed missed chances as the main rea­son for the open­ing-day re­verse.

“I sup­pose I’m dis­ap­pointed, but cer­tainly not dis­heart­ened,” he said. “The re­sult wasn’t what our per­for­mance de­served.

“There wasn’t a lot of goal­mouth ac­tion through­out the game. Billy Sharp has ended up with one chance and he’s scored from it. That’s what he does.

“United made it dif­fi­cult for us, but we’ve been guilty of miss­ing too many chances, par­tic­u­larly in the sec­ond half. We just didn’t take ours , and that’s proved to be the dif­fer­ence.

“I have to be sat­is­fied that we are cre­at­ing. We just need to work harder go­ing for­ward.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

PUMPED: Billy Sharp cel­e­brates his win­ner with his team-mates

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