Sheffield United claimed a first Premier League win since last month’s departure of manager Chris Wilder to keep wasteful Brighton looking nervously over their shoulders.
The Blades, whose own relegation was confirmed by defeat at Wolves seven days earlier, handed a glimmer of hope to the other sides in the bottom three as David McGoldrick’s winner punished poor Brighton defending.
Adam Webster’s heavy touch triggered a swift break from the hosts and Joel Veltman compounded the error with a poor clearance from Ben Osborn’s cross as a ricochet off Pascal Gross fell perfectly for McGoldrick to swivel and score.
Brighton remain seven points clear of 18th-placed Fulham and 10 above West Bromwich Albion, in 19th, with five games remaining but missed the chance to virtually seal their safety at Bramall Lane.
The Seagulls’ best openings fell to Neal Maupay, who was twice denied by Aaron Ramsdale and hooked over a great chance from close range, while a Jakub Moder strike was ruled out for offside by the video assistant referee.
The victory was the Blades’ first under caretaker manager Paul Heckingbottom, having lost all four of their previous league games, as well as an FA Cup quarter-final at Chelsea, under his stewardship.
While VAR was once again maligned in Saturday’s earlier two Premier League games at Anfield and London Stadium, there were no arguments with its deployment or accuracy at Bramall Lane.
The officials missed that Poland midfielder Moder was coming back from an offside position as he turned home a loose ball from a corner but the movement was picked up in Stockley Park.
It would not have mattered had Brighton converted one of the many other chances they frittered away as they once again failed to turn pressure and domination into goals again.
Maupay was the chief culprit, denied one-on-one by Ramsdale in the first half and shooting over the bar from inside the six-yard box after the break, even if Alireza Jahanbakhsh’s cross was slightly behind him.
Adam Lallana, Danny Welbeck and Yves Bissouma also spurned presentable chances, while Jose Izquierdo, making a first appearance in almost two years after knee problems, was thwarted by Ramsdale late on.
The Seagulls should have enough points to survive but their failures against the sides below them – Brighton have failed to win any of their eight games against the bottom four – leave them with a nervy run-in against teams all in the top half.
The performances of veteran Republic of Ireland striker McGoldrick have been one of few positives for the Blades this season and the 33-year-old continues to demonstrate improvement.
He took 26 games to open his top-flight account last term but has increased his 2019/20 tally of two to seven this season, including Saturday’s predatory strike.
McGoldrick’s perseverance will offer encouragement to £23.5m strike partner Rhian Brewster, who is yet to score for the Blades but played a part in the winner by harrying Gross into an error.
The victory owed chiefly, however, to a resilient rearguard display from the hosts, who recorded only a third league clean sheet of the campaign.
They stood firm in the face of unyielding Brighton pressure in the second half to claim just a fifth Premier League win of the season and a first on a weekend, the other four having all come in midweek.
The Blades deserve credit for not rolling over after confirmation of their own fate and still have plenty of pride to play for, hoping to avoid breaking the record of defeats in a Premier League season which stands at 29, with United on 26.
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