Stoke City 2-2 Sheffield United: Entertaining draw brings a close to 2018/19 season 

Stoke City 2-2 Sheffield United: Entertaining draw brings a close to 2018/19 season 

Four goals shared as both sides bow out with a hard-earned point

Jack Groom

Stoke City and Sheffield United played out an entertaining 2-2 draw at the Bet365 Stadium as the curtain fell on the 2018/19 season.

The Potters were twice pegged back by the away side, with Sam Vokes and Ryan Shawcross twice putting their side in the lead, only for Kieran Dowell and Enda Stevens to level arrears in the second half.

The point means the Blades, having already confirmed promotion to the Premier League last weekend, finish in second place behind leaders Norwich City, whilst City end their first season back in the second tier since 2007/08 in 16th place.

Story of the match

It was the home side who started much the better team, frustrating United and not allowing them to get on top whilst also creating a number of good changes for themselves.

Midfielder Peter Etebo was looking a real threat with his driving runs, and two such occasions saw a turned-down penalty appeal after a block on the Nigerian and also a shot across goal after a neat one-two with Vokes.

Soon after however the Potters deservedly found themselves ahead, and it came through a sublime stroke from Vokes.

A long ball forward was tamely headed by the retreating Sheffield backline, and it fell to the striker 22 yards out.

Having taken a touch on his chest, the Welshman then hit a crisp volley across Dean Henderson in the United goal and into the far corner, giving the on-loan goalkeeper no chance.

The already-prompted Blades were kept at bay by Stoke, with the Yorkshiremen having only two near-identical half chances, however, both Billy Sharp and David McGoldrick could only hit harmlessly wife from 20 yards after running onto near flick-ons respectively.

They did, however, think they had equalised in the 39th minute, yet Lady Luck was not on their side.

Enda Stevens drove to the byline and chipped a ball across the face of goal. The cross was meekly headed away straight to Sharp six-yards out. The 23-goal top scorer blasted a volley at goal, and with the net seemingly set to burst City skipper Shawcross somehow - with his arm, according to nearby United players - blocked the attempt onto the post and away to safety.

City then went straight down the other end and almost doubled their advantage, yet Tom Ince was desperately unlucky to see his right-footed shot across Henderson come back off the inside of the post, across the line and away to safety.

United made two changes at the break, with Oliver Norwood and Mark Duffy being replaced by John Lundstram and Kieran Dowell. The swap had an immediate effect.

Just two minutes into the second half Dowell calmly swept home from ten yards after City had failed to clear their lines.

This lifeline brought the away team back to life, and they immediately became much more like the side they have shown all season that has got them promoted.

They could not capitalise on a number of presentable openings and chances, and this profligacy would soon cost them.

A 68th-minute Ince corner was whipped to the back post, where Shawcross, having evaded his marker, volleyed home from six yards to put his team back in the lead.

The game was not over, though.

In the 78th minute, an incisive break, led by Sharp, saw the ball laid off to Stevens on the edge of the penalty area. After taking a touch, the Irishman drilled home into the far corner to claw his side back level, and send the hoards of away fans behind the goal - who had been partying and singing since before kick-off - into further raptures.

Both sides pushed for a winner late on but to no avail. The loudest cheer of the day was, however, reserved for the late introduction of Charlie Adam off the bench. With it being announced that the Scot was not to have his contract renewed, and thus end a seven-year spell in Staffordshire, the experienced midfielder was given a standing ovation - having already been rapturously serenaded for his first warm-up down the touchline -  after his entrance as a 87th-minute substitute.

Takeaways of the match

Stoke take on Blades at their own game.

Sheffield United have become renowned for their playing style which incorporates overlapping central defenders, wing-backs playing like wingers and being rapid in offensive transition. Many a time this campaign teams have been blown away by this free-flowing, interchangeable system.

Yet here it was their opponents who were having success with this method. Bruno Martins Indi, operating on the left side of a central defensive trio, was frequently looking to get up and support wing-back McLean, whilst Ince, Etebo, Vokes and Joe Allen were all making clever runs as soon as their side had won the ball back.

Additionally, McLean and fellow wing-back Moritz Bauer were giving genuine width high up the pitch, creating more space for central players to flourish.  

Blades have off day - by their standards

Such are the levels that Chris Wilder's men have set themselves, this game will be seen as a below-par performance. They did not have the same ruthlessness seen in previous weeks, however having already secured promotion after long, brutal season, they can be forgiven for not quite reaching the heights they usually hit. Nothing will change the fact they had a season of a lifetime.

Player of the match - Peter Etebo

Energetic Etebo seemingly covered every blade of grass in this display, offering defensive cover and solidarity as well as a real drive from deep.  Unlucky not to bag a goal with a couple of dangerous attempts.