Blues beware, Blades coming

Midfielder John Lundstram's goal in the 2-1 win against Bournemouth on Sunday was the sixth by Sheffield United substitutes in the Premier League this term, more than any other top-flight team. PHOTO: REUTERS
Midfielder John Lundstram's goal in the 2-1 win against Bournemouth on Sunday was the sixth by Sheffield United substitutes in the Premier League this term, more than any other top-flight team. PHOTO: REUTERS

With confidence high, solid Sheffield set their sights on Chelsea and Champs League spot

LONDON • Sheffield United captain Billy Sharp scored a goal then revealed another: The Blades have their sights set on the Champions League.

Sharp cancelled out Callum Wilson's opener before John Lundstram earned Sheffield a 2-1 victory over Bournemouth on Sunday that took them to fifth place in the Premier League.

Chris Wilder's side, expected by many to be battling relegation on their return to the top flight after 12 years, have 39 points and are just two behind Chelsea, who have a game in hand and occupy the fourth Champions League qualification spot.

"We're just looking above us and trying to catch them now," Sharp said. "We just want to keep grinding out performances."

The Blades had to come from behind to get the three points at Bramall Lane, with Bournemouth, fighting hard at the wrong end of the table, determined from the outset. Wilson put Eddie Howe's team ahead in the 13th minute, firing home after a low drive from Harry Wilson was blocked.

But Sheffield levelled on the stroke of half-time when Bournemouth failed to clear a corner and from the resulting scramble, Sharp blasted in from close range.

A day after Jordan Pickford's blunder nearly cost Everton all three points, Dean Henderson did no harm to his chances in his challenge to be England's No. 1 at Euro 2020.

The goalkeeper, on loan from Manchester United, produced a brilliant save from Ryan Fraser to prevent Bournemouth retaking the lead 20 minutes from time. That save proved crucial when six minutes from time two substitutes combined to decide the outcome, with Lys Mousset finding Lundstram inside the box and the 25-year-old clipped the ball home.

Henderson has European football on his mind in more ways than one. The 22-year-old has yet to win a senior cap and has only had one call-up, but is staking his claim to be in Gareth Southgate's squad.

"Hopefully I can nail down my position in the Euros squad, first and foremost," he told the BBC. "Being ambitious like I am, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that, I've got my eyes on the shirt."

He has nine clean sheets this season - joint-most alongside Burnley's Nick Pope and Liverpool's Alisson - and is in the race for the Premier League's Golden Glove.

Sheffield have conceded just 24 league goals this season - only leaders Liverpool have let in fewer (15).

Their defensive solidity has put the club on course to their best finish in the top-flight since 1975, when they were sixth.

"When we get to 40 points, we're not going to stop at 40 points. People may think we will be happy and think what a great first season in the Premier League," said Henderson. "But we want to go higher, we want to fight for Europe, we want to get in the Europa League. Why not go for Champions League? Who knows?"

At the other end of the table, Bournemouth are just two points above the bottom three, having played a game more than most of their relegation-threatened rivals.

The league takes two weeks off due to the winter break introduced to the Premier League for the first time this season, but Wilder would prefer to keep building on his side's momentum.

"I'm a bit controversial in that I'd want to carry on," he said. "I'd like it if we had a game next week, but we'll come back refreshed for the next part of the season."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2020, with the headline 'Blues beware, Blades coming'. Print Edition | Subscribe