Tom Marshall's match report...What a game we have in store for us today at the Banks’s Stadium as two of league ones promotion favourites go head to head.
In the past three seasons this fixture has produced a 1-1 draw on four occasions but will the score be deadlocked today?
Supporters from South Yorkshire have turned up in high numbers who is to know whether they will be having a happy journey back up the M1.
We are only 90 minutes away from the answer.
It is Bramall Lane's boy Billy Sharp to kick off the play on a chilly afternoon in the Black Country and it took only three minutes until the Manchester City loanee George Evans made an impact on the game with a shot from range which stung the fingertips of the Blades home-grown keeper George Long as he managed to tip it round the post to safety.
Three minutes later Paul Coutts drifted in a chipped through ball towards the back post which Freeman managed to dangle a leg at, however ex-Fulham man Neil Etheridge got his body well behind it and kept hold of the ball as well as his clean sheet.
If the opening 12 minutes are anything to go by this is going to be, as expected one of the battles of the season, with both teams playing attractive football and maintaining organisation at the back.
Perhaps this is the explanation why Sheffield United are considered league ones sleeping giants. However Dean Smith’s in form Walsall side will be anxious to pick up points to regain the top spot in the third tier after a three week break.
Fifteen minutes into the game and Tom Bradshaw tried to replicate his goal against Doncaster earlier in the season with a cheeky lob attempt however Long watched it over his head and insisted it was going wide by not running back only to see the attempt fall just short of the post this gave a message to the Blades defence not to give the Welsh international too much time on the ball because his track record indicates he will punish you.
Jason Demetriou came in with an anchor-man’s strong challenge which retained possession for Saddlers despite nearly breaking Campbell-Rice in two!
This led to a thunderous effort towards bottom corner from Kieron Morris that keeper Long got a firm hand to but parried it back into the danger zone.
Tom Bradshaw’s poacher's instincts then saw him surge forward and prod the ball underneath the scrambling Goalkeeper but Collins managed to clear it to the edge of the box which allowed Sawyers to belt one just wide of the post: but it’s still 0-0 in this end to end affair and you can hear the frustrations amongst Saddlers supporters that they haven’t yet seen the net bulge.
Lalkovic was set free to run at pace down the left hand side by a trademark Sawyers through ball however right back Kieran Freeman produced a tackle that a scrum half at Twickenham would have been proud of as he lunged at the feet of Milan, however he stayed on his feet and the shot was dealt with at the near post.
Later saw George Evans centre of the action once again as he wormed his way forward by turning in and out three times before unleashing a powerful attempt which was batted back into the box which Lalkovic smashed over the stand.
It’s been an all Walsall first half and it only seemed a matter of time before their efforts were rewarded with a goal and this nearly came into action after a deep corner was played in and Downing leapt like a gazelle to head it onto the woodwork and after this Sheffield United’s Adams kept up Nigel Adkins’ six nations approach to the game by dragging another player to the ground.
Sheffield United haven’t had the ball in there attacking half since the opening minutes of play as they seem to be trapped playing men behind the ball to deal with the pressing approach from Walsall.
After a great spell of short passing allowed Lalkovic to hit one from range the ex-Chelsea man saw his ferocious strike cannon off the bar and that was as close as they came to finding a goal all half.
Half time 0-0
Forty nine minutes in and there’s a goal - and who else but Walsall’s Welsh wonder boy Tom Bradshaw!!!!
The talisman manages to break his duck after not scoring from open play in eight outings but it was a superb drilled ball from Sawyers who has been producing assists throughout his career but Bradshaw gradually drifted away from his man and slid in at back post to convert for the Saddlers and put the men in red on top for the first time this afternoon.
The fifty eighth minute saw United’s Adams chip the keeper and give him chance to run on to the rolling ball but a coming together between him and Jim O’Connor saw Adams throw himself to the ground preventing him from prodding the ball towards the empty net.
The 1,200 travelling Blades fans were up in arms over the decision not to give a penalty but the referee waved play on immediately and Nigel Adkins decided to bring on the experienced striker Connor Salmon in an attempt to salvage something from the game.
The ball was then brought forward by the Blades after the ‘park the bus’ approach led to a counter attack which allowed midfielder Jose Baxter to hit one and it skidded across the surface and into the bottom corner sending the travelling supporters jubilant behind the goal and Baxter draws the boys from the steel city level in an attempt to boost his reputation after recent events.
Only fifteen minutes left on the clock and it is sure going to be fiery finale to a topsy-turvy game and both managers look desperate to kick off there promotion push with three points to add to their tally Dean Smith wants to kick on to get back into the leagues driving seat.
Meanwhile Adkins will be trying to replicate his success at Southampton and Scunthorpe and get them promoted at his first chance of asking.
Ten minutes left on the clock and Walsall’s last throw of the dice is bringing on Jordan Cook in an attempt to a maximum reward away from this game.
Seven minutes left and it seems Young Rico Henry is a magnet to bad challenges today however this was then followed up Tom Bradshaw getting clattered on the edge of the box but it’s a real chance with a free kick from around twenty three yards.
Anthony Forde was the man behind the ball trying to repeat his heroics away at Preston last season which saw his free kick lead his team to Wembley. However the attempt went up and over the wall but just the wrong side of the post.
With only minutes to spare a dangerous lofted pass was hoofed over the Walsall back four and this left Shay Adams through 1v1 but Neil Etheridge proved his international quality by pulling off one of the saves of the season at the death ensuring that Walsall weren’t going to walk away with nothing to show form it and the five added minutes couldn’t separate the sides and the stats spoke for themselves as this fixture drummed up the 5th 1-1 draw in consecutive seasons.
The attendance was 5,780 and Dean Smith later added that his side deserved the win as they won the midfield battles but he was happy to see Tom Bradshaw back on the scoresheet again.