Sheffield United have advanced to the 3rd round of the Carabao Cup, defeating Blackburn Rovers 2-1 at Bramall Lane.
It was a solid showing from Chris Wilder’s men, who will learn who their next opponents in the cup are during Wednesday’s drawing.
Story of the match
United almost made a nightmare start to the contest, giving away a penalty in the opening ten minutes.
Richard Stearman tripped up Bradley Dack in the area, and the referee had no other choice than to point to the spot. However, the Blades were rescued by Simon Moore, as the keeper guessed correctly to save Adam Armstrong’s attempt.
Stearman would make up for his error at the half-hour mark, giving United the lead from a corner. Oliver Norwood whipped in an excellent ball that floated to the back post, and the defender managed to head home from close range.
The Blades would double their advantage on the stroke of halftime, with Norwood once again involved. He turned from provider to scorer, as his shot from the edge of the area flew into the bottom corner.
The away side would fight their way back into the game, grabbing one back at the 72nd-minute mark. Armstrong, who missed the earlier penalty, hit a cross to the back post, picking out substitute Sam Gallagher for an easy header.
They came close to equalizing with minutes to go, as Joe Rankin-Costello got round Moore, but saw his shot cleared off the line by the United defence.
That would be the last big chance of the contest, as United held on for the win to book their spot in the next round.
Decent depth on show
For most newly promoted sides, having quality squad depth is a major issue. They focus on using the money they have to sign marquee players, leaving little leftover for the rest of the roster.
However, Tuesday showed that United shouldn’t be dealing with that problem much this campaign.
Wilder made ten changes to the side that lost to Leicester City last weekend but still named a strong starting XI. The focus was initially on the debutants, as summer signings Mo Besic and Ben Osborn made their first appearance for United against Blackburn, with both impressing many on the night.
Others managed to make the most of their time on the pitch as well. Ravel Morrison was a particularly bright spot for the Blades, as the Englishman was key in possession and capped his showing by providing the assist on the winning goal.
Phil Jagielka was also superb, as the experienced centre back helped lead the backline throughout.
There’s always the fear that injuries can derail a promising season, but United fans will feel optimistic about the clubs ability to deal with them due to their squad depth.
Eyes on a cup run?
Not all teams treat the Carabao Cup as a big deal, but it seems United will be aiming to make a deep run in England’s second cup competition.
Wilder had mentioned in press conferences going into the game that he’d like to advance in the tournament, and he proved that by naming a strong team for the contest.
Both Billy Sharp and Oliver McBurnie have scored Premier League goals this campaign and were the two strikers thrown up top against Blackburn.
The priority will obviously be on securing survival in the league, but there are a number of benefits to a cup run as well. It gives fans something to be excited about and can serve up a number of marquee matchups, making the club some extra money in the process.
It’s still too early to tell, but the Blades might be ready to make some more Carabao Cup magic this season.
Man of the Match: Oliver Norwood
The midfielder has been electric to start the season, and he kept up his good run of form against Blackburn, grabbing a goal and an assist on the afternoon.
The Northern Irishman was a star in the Championship last campaign, but some had doubted whether he was ready to make the jump up in quality with the Blades now in the Premier League. Norwood has since proven those critics wrong, putting in another quality performance.
If United want to make a genuine run in this competition, they’ll need players like Norwood to step up when the time comes. If Tuesday was any indication, it seems he’ll be ready for the occasion.