It isn’t quite over yet then. Sheffield United can’t feel entirely confident they’re Premier League bound with Middlesbrough now looming a little larger in the rear-view mirror.
While the Blades retain a seven-point cushion – and a game in hand – over Michael Carrick’s team either side of the automatic promotion line, this result will certainly keep them honest.
After Oli McBurnie had given United the perfect start, Boro fought back to equalise through Chuba Akpom and won a terrific advert for Championship football early in the second-half through Cameron Archer’s double.
The second of his goals was a lovely curled finish into the bottom corner after Hayden Hackney played him through but came with a heavy dose of controversy.
Everyone of a Sheffield United persuasion felt James McAtee had been fouled in midfield but referee Andre Marriner played an advantage because the youngster stayed on his feet.
Oli McBurnie got the hosts off to the perfect start with his goal inside five minutes
Chuba Akpom then got Middlesbrough back on level terms on 25 minutes to go in at the break 1-1
Cameron Archer then scored twice in the second half to win three important points for Boro
With a few seconds, Daniel Jebbison had lost possession, Archer had sealed it and Marriner added insult to injury by sending Blades boss Paul Heckingbottom to the stands for remonstrating.
Not many teams come here and get the better of Sheffield United but Boro were on balance the superior team, though both had plenty of chances.
Given both teams’ desire to reach the Premier League, we’d hoped for entertainment and weren’t short-changed in a pulsating, end-to-end contest.
United were fastest out of the block and led inside five minutes. When the ball went out over the left-hand touchline within slinging range, Jack Robinson was soon requesting a towel from a ballboy to wipe it dry.
His catapult long throw left Boro keeper Zack Steffen in two minds and he was boxed in anyway. With nobody taking charge defensively, McBurnie soared and his well-directed downward header beat Steffen’s despairing dive to make it a round dozen goals for the campaign.
United were rampant and instantly pushed for a second. James McAtee was played clear but Steffen was equal to his shot, one Manchester City loanee thwarting another.
Iliman Ndiaye then found himself sprinting free through the left channel but hesitated just long enough for Steffen to smother his shot.
It looked at that stage like Boro were buckling in for a long evening, their early lack of grip summed up when Tommy Smith was booked for a cynical trip on McAtee after he was forced to retrieve a misguided pass.
Archer scored twice in 26 minutes in the second half to take the game beyond the Blades
Michael Carrick’s side sit in third and have an outside chance at breaking into the automatic promotion spots
Gradually though, the visitors found some poise. They don’t lack for speed and quality going forward and soon Marcus Forss was blasting over from a good position after Riley McGree’s cut-back.
Sheffield United (3-5-2): Foderingham; Ahmedhodzic (Jebbison 67), Egan (c), Robinson; Bogle, Berge, Norwood (Osborn 78), McAtee, Lowe; Ndiaye, McBurnie
Substitutes not used: Davies (GK); Basham, Clark, Fleck, Osborn, Coulibaly
Manager: Paul Heckingbottom
Scorer: McBurnie 5
Booked: Ahmedhodzic, McBurnie, Bogle
Sent off: Heckingbottom 76
Middlesbrough (4-2-3-1): Steffen; Smith, Fry, Lenihan, Giles; Howson (c), Hackney; Forss (Ramsey 82), Akpom, McGree (Mowatt 90+1); Archer (Crooks 82)
Substitutes not used: Roberts (GK); Barlaser, McNair, Bola
Manager: Michael Carrick
Scorers: Akpom 25; Archer 48, 74
Booked: Smith, Howson
Referee: Andre Marriner (West Midlands)
Boro’s frontline of Akpom, Forss and Archer were troubling United more and more. Forss was influential on the right and his pass led to Smith shooting over.
The chances of an equaliser swiftly grew and it duly arrived on 25 minutes, Championship top scorer Akpom rounding off another fine move.
Forss beat Anel Ahmedhodzic on the wing and in so doing drew Robinson out of position. He then smartly slipped a pass between the pair to find Akpom in space.
His body swerve to beat John Egan was slick and the low drive was across Wes Foderingham into the far corner for his 18th of the season.
As the packed away end sang their songs about super Michael Carrick having exactly what they need, their team ended the half in the ascendancy.
They really should have scored again. Foderingham made a sharp save to keep out Akpom’s half-volley after Jonny Howson laid up a ball to the back post.
Another counter from the visitors saw Akpom pick out McGree in space but as Bramall Lane held its breath, his shot was smashed into the side-netting.
Boro started the second period rather well too, taking the lead with a little helping hand – or rather boot.
It looked like their move had broken down before Oliver Norwood performed a slide tackle facing his own goal and inadvertently played the ball straight into Archer’s path.
As Norwood stood helpless with hands on head, Archer was quicker to react than Egan and lashed the ball high into the net.
There were audible groans around the stadium and the hosts needed to muster a response. Ndiaye tried to force the ball home at the near post but Steffen stood strong.
Sheffield United missed out on the chance to cut the gap to Burnley and remain eight adrift
Down the other end, Ahmedhodzic produced a sensational recovery tackle to deny the clean-through Archer as the pendulum continued to swing violently.
The home side could only continue to push players forward after Archer made it 3-1 with Jebbison denied by another Steffen save.
But the fizz went out of United’s performance in the closing minutes, leaving Boro’s fans to greet every pass with ‘oles’.
Burnley are surging clear at the top but the race for the Premier League isn’t over yet.
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