Sheffield United gave their slim survival hopes a boost by beating Luton 3-1 in a VAR-influenced game at Kenilworth Road.
The Blades were clinical in the first half and scored twice in six minutes through Cameron Archer and James McAtee’s penalty after VAR contentiously helped give a spot kick for a Reece Burke handball.
Luton got a penalty themselves in similar circumstances after half-time as Vinicius Souza was penalised for a more clear-cut handball, leaving Carlton Morris to pull one back.
But Souza made amends with a clinical finish on the break to seal the result with 20 minutes left, with victory – the Blades’ first away win of the season – taking Chris Wilder’s Blades seven points behind Luton, who sit one place above the relegation zone.
Luton: Kaminski (6); Burke (5), Osho (6), Bell (7); Ogbene (6), Barkley (6), Lokonga (7), Doughty (5); Clark (5), Morris (7), Adebayo (6)
Subs used: Chong (7), Townsend (6), Woodrow (n/a), Berry (n/a)
Sheffield United: Foderingham (7); Holgate (6), Ahmedhodzic (7), Robinson (8); Bogle (7), Souza (8), Osborn (7), McAtee (8), Norrington-Davies (n/a); Hamer (7), Archer (7)
Subs used: Lowe (7), Davies (6), Norwood (n/a), Brewster (n/a)
Player of the match: Vinicius Souza (Sheffield United)
Asked about finally sealing a first away Premier League win this season, Wilder said: “It’s been a long time coming, it shouldn’t be in February.
“The club have come close on quite a few occasions before me, and in our time. The Aston Villa game [away from home] comes to mind.”
How Blades slashed Luton’s survival hopes
Sheffield United started a successful afternoon by nearly taking the lead after just 28 seconds as Gustavo Hamer fed McAtee in the box, only for the midfielder to just curl wide of goal when he should have done better.
Team news headlines
- Luton made just one change from the side that drew 4-4 at Newcastle. Teden Mengi had an ankle injury so Reece Burke replaced him in the starting XI.
- Sheffield United were without Ben Brereton Diaz, but Gustavo Hamer returned to replace him. Ben Osborn, Cameron Archer and Jack Robinson replaced Auston Trusty, Andre Brooks and Will Osula.
Luton then stepped up their authority on the game, in a first half that saw them have over 70 per cent of the ball. Defenders Gabriel Osho and Burke put shots just wide of goal – before the Blades struck at the other end.
First, Archer was presented with a great chance as Souza flicked on the ball to him in the box – but somehow the Blades No 10 fired wide at the near post with the goal gaping.
Seconds later, however, he made it count. Archer burst past Osho down the left flank to enter the box, Amari’i Bell was unable to get across to him and the striker finished well at the near post.
Instead of the Blades sitting on their lead until the break – they went for a second. Souza headed on a corner into Kaminski’s clutches and as Luton went up the other end, referee Chris Kavanagh paused the play for a VAR check.
The official gave the spot kick after visiting the monitor, with McAtee dispatching the penalty – leaving Luton fans fuming for the rest of the first half due to the decision.
The home fans’ fury calmed down a little when Luton got a penalty themselves as Elijah Adebayo headed onto Souza’s arm, with Kavanagh called to the monitor once again for the formality.
Morris sent Wes Foderingham the wrong way from 12 yards to give Kenilworth Road a kickstart in terms of noise.
But the visitors managed to keep Luton at bay despite the pressure building. Their strong defensive play was rewarded at the other end when Ben Osborn fed Souza to the right of the box as Luton failed to clear. The midfielder powered home a finish into the far corner to send the visiting fans into raptures.
Luton tried to find a way back into the game as Adebayo saw a close-range chance well blocked by Foderingham, while substitute Tahith Chong curled one wide as the game petered to its end.
It was too late for Luton. The question is whether Sheffield United’s survival hopes are too, despite this win.
Wilder praises ‘steely’ Sheff Utd attitude
Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder:
“It’s been a difficult week. It’s going to be there for a while that [5-0 loss to Aston Villa] result and performance. Hopefully we can use that last Saturday night, there’s no hiding place, you have to own it, I have to own it, the players have to own it. It’s the Premier League, around the world it gets around.
“What do you do? You have to work a little bit harder. You need to do two weeks’ work, you deliver training sessions like they’ve done right the way through. You feel it as a manager, there was a steely attitude to go a little way to put wrong last week’s performance.
“Last week was not certainly how we’ve set this club up since 2016, in my time and in Paul’s time. It’s not what the club is built on, it’s not what we cherish and need to show to bridge the gap.
“They [Luton] have got it spot on here, they’ve had a bit more time at it to build, it’s difficult to build in the Premier League with new players. They’ve got that connection. When you have that, it’s good and you can work from that.”
Edwards: Neither of the two were penalties
Luton manager Rob Edwards:
“A tough day for us. We made a couple of errors that were really, really costly in the end, weren’t they? It doesn’t matter how much of the ball you have, it’s what you do with it and we were punished in the end.
“Goals change everyone’s emotions in the game. We tried and we huffed and puffed, but in the key moments today, we came up short.
“We had loads of possession in the final third, we weren’t quick enough or precise enough. When we did get behind them, it was a wayward cross, or not picking someone out or not working the goalkeeper enough. No complaints, well done to them.
“Neither ones were penalties in my opinion. I don’t know what a penalty is anymore when it comes to handball. Neither player is looking at the ball and had their hands up.
“I don’t think [being favourites had an impact on the game]. I like to think not. I want to get to the point we are favourites more often. I don’t think the performance showed a team that was not comfortable with that.
“We did dominate massive spells of the game, and I will take the penalties out so it’s a 2-0 loss. We made two mistakes and at this level you can’t do that. I don’t think that had a bearing on the game today, we just didn’t have enough quality on the day. We haven’t had that tag for a long time, barring a few FA Cup games.
“It was an opportunity [to move away from the drop zone] but there’s still a long way to go. I can’t think abut other teams and what they’re doing. If we don’t do our job, it doesn’t matter what anyone else does.”
Analysis: Sheff Utd show steel – but is it too late?
Sky Sports‘ Sam Blitz at Kenilworth Road:
What a difference seven days make. From being thrashed 5-0 at home by Aston Villa, to a near-perfect away performance, especially defensively, at Luton.
Not many gave Sheffield United a chance at Kenilworth Road. The Blades have the worst defensive record in the league and Luton were in form. After all, Rob Edwards’ side went on to have 20 shots.
But while the Blades were sloppy last week, they were “steely” this week, according to manager Chris Wilder. There was a resolution not to concede.
Jayden Bogle, Ahmed Ahmedhodzic and Mason Holgate had 27 clearances between them, 19 of them were with their heads.
But at the heart of the Blades’ win was Vinicius Souza, who Wilder nearly threw into the away end in the full-time celebrations. The midfielder joined his defenders in being solid at the back – as well as clinical with his result-sealing goal.
Sheffield United are still up against it when it comes to the relegation fight but they have Brighton, Wolves, Fulham and Bournemouth within their next six games. They need to get a move on, but gaining consistency after this result will be key to their survival revival.
Both Luton and Sheffield United are back on Sky Sports next Sunday.
The Hatters host Manchester United on February 18 on Super Sunday; kick-off 4.30pm. Beforehand, Sheffield United will host Brighton, also live on Sky Sports; kick-off 2pm.
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