Sheffield United 4-1 Preston: Anel Ahmedhodzic, John Fleck, Iliman Ndiaye and Oli McBurnie net for Blades as Lilywhites’ play-off hopes are ended at Bramall Lane
- Sheffield United lifted second-place trophy after gaining promotion in midweek
- Anel Ahmedhodzic opened scoring before Liam Delap equalised for Preston
- But the hosts fired in three goals to end Lilywhites’ Championship play-off hopes
Anel Ahmedhodzic is poised to become a father imminently but, as his overdue wife waits to give birth to their first child, the defender continues to take centre stage for Sheffield United.
The Bosnia international, who has enjoyed an outstanding campaign for Paul Heckingbottom’s men, was on target in Wednesday’s 2-0 home win over West Brom which clinched their place in the Premier League.
He was at it again against Preston, heading home a first-half opener for his seventh goal of the season as another promotion party got underway at a raucous Bramall Lane.
North End equalised in the 63rd minute when substitute Liam Delap tapped home to raise brief hopes of the win they needed to keep their play-off hopes alive.
United, though, simply moved through the gears and quickly struck twice more through John Fleck and Iliman Ndiaye before Oli McBurnie plundered a late fourth.
Sheffield United lifted second-place trophy after gaining promotion to the Premier League
Anel Ahmedhodzic continued his superb season for the Blades with the opening goal
Liam Delp put the visitors on level terms but it turned out to be just a consolation
Uncertainty is everywhere off the field at United right now as an ownership saga continuing to drag on, yet they continue to prove a cut above so many of their Championship rivals.
The stadium announcer implored supporters before kick-off to give their team a thunderous reception as they emerged from the tunnel.
“Please give it up for Hecky’s Premier League-bound red and white wizards!” he said excitedly.
The home faithful roared its approval and supporters rose to their feet as a chant of ‘Stand up, if you’re Premier League’ rang out.
The relaxed party atmosphere seemed to transmit itself to Heckingbottom’s players as they initially struggled to get past second gear.
That almost changed in the 21st minute when their highly-rated Senegal striker Ndiaye showed impressive pace to break from just inside his own half.
He intelligently slipped in James McAtee inside the penalty area, but the Manchester City loanee’s well-struck left-foot shot was superbly saved by Preston goalkeeper Freddie Woodman.
As the half hour mark approached, Blades defender Jack Robinson narrowly failed to connect with Jayden Bogle’s deep left-wing cross at the far post.
But the breakthrough finally arrived nine minutes before the interval when Tommy Doyle delivered an outswinging corner from the right flank and Ahmedhodzic was afforded the time and space to plant a firm header into the net via a post.
Preston, backed by a big away following, showed a greater goal threat after the break and on-loan Everton rookie Tom Cannon drew a smart save from Wes Foderingham in the 48th minute.
They equalised 15 minutes later when Brad Potts crossed low from the right flank and Delap tapped home, sparking wild celebrations behind the goal.
Yet Heckingbottom rang the changes and two of his substitutes combined with deadly effect to restore United’s advantage.
Sheffield United scored two quick-fire goals in the second-half to regain the lead again
The defeat at Bramall Lane ensures Preston will play in the Championship again next season
Daniel Jebbison, who replaced Billy Sharp on the hour, drove at the heart of the Preston defence inside the left channel and produced a delightful touch which put fellow substitute John Fleck clear.
The midfielder hit a powerful left-foot shot which took a huge deflection off a Preston defender and looped past Woodman.
The Blades were determined to celebrate their promotion in style and there was still time for a late fourth as Chris Basham’s right-wing cross was ruthlessly dispatched by McBurnie’s right-footed volley.
When news filtered through that Plymouth and Ipswich had won – thus condemning United’s bitter Steel City rivals Sheffield Wednesday to the League One play-offs – it merely added to the home fans’ joy.
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