Sheffield United moved one step closer to the play-offs after coming from behind to beat QPR 3-1 on Friday evening in Mark Warburton’s final home game as R’s boss.
The club announced on Thursday that Warburton would be leaving at the end of the season and it was fitting that Charlie Austin, whose arrival in January 2021 was a seminal moment in Warburton’s tenure, scored the opener with what looks set to be his last goal in W12.
Defeat could’ve seen the Blades head into the final weekend of the season outside the top six but second-half goals from Iliman Ndiaye, Jack Robinson and substitute Conor Hourihane ensured they move five points clear of seventh-placed Middlesbrough – and was nothing less than they deserved despite some nervy late moments.
An uncharacteristically wayward final ball from Morgan Gibbs-White cost the Blades their first chance of the game while Enda Stevens also saw a powerful effort blocked inside the six-yard box by Sam Field in the opening 15 minutes.
The R’s have mostly played an entertaining and attacking brand of football under Warburton but there was little for the home crowd to get excited about in the opening half-hour.
That all changed in the 31st minute as Austin connected with Adomah’s floated cross to nod the ball across a motionless Wes Foderingham and into the corner with what was the hosts’ first real chance of the match.
It was the 32-year-old’s first goal in 14 games and one accommodated by some loose defending from the Blades, particularly Stevens.
United’s two chances to level before the break fell to their front two but Gibbs-White’s tame effort was calmly stopped by 20-year-old Murphy Mahoney while Ndiaye hammered his strike over the bar.
In the end, Heckingbottom will have been happy to hear the halftime whistle as the R’s pressed for a second in the final minutes before the break – with some Ilias Chair magic exposing some cracks in the Blades backline.
Arguably the biggest half of United’s season to date began to the soundtrack of 2,216 travelling fans singing the ‘Greasy Chip Butty Song’ and their support was repaid inside the opening 10 minutes.
United were stopped by an Adomah goalline clearance, Mahoney’s flying save, and then the post before Ndiaye eventually smashed in an equaliser from four yards out in the 54th minute – cue pandemonium and pyros in the away end.
Lyndon Dykes’ introduction as we entered the final half-hour saw Austin given a standing ovation for the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium – in what looks set to be his farewell to the home crowd.
But the arrival of the Scotsman did little to stop the flood of Blades attacks with Berge spurning a good chance to take the lead in the 67th minute when he sent his volley wide of the target after peeling off into space in the centre of the box.
It took something special for United to finally take the lead. A well-worked free-kick routine saw Basham head back across the box and Robinson arrived at the perfect time to slam his header into the back of the net – a massive goal in the Championship play-off race.
They continued to pepper the R’s goalmouth and look particularly threatening from set-pieces but required the woodwork to keep their lead intact as Jimmy Dunne’s header cannoned back off the crossbar six minutes from time.
Discomfort turned to relief for the Blades in the fourth minute of stoppage time as Hourihane killed the game with a stunning volley, which may well have been his first touch after being introduced minutes before.
Three goals on the night and a massive three points for United, who tighten their grip on third ahead of the game against league leaders Fulham next weekend.
Full Time: QPR 1-2 Sheffield United