Blades 2-1 Preston NE - match report
The Blades kicked off the 2015 league campaign with a hard-earned but deserved win against a fellow promotion contender.
Marc McNulty and Jamal Campbell-Ryce - scorers at QPR in the FA Cup six days earlier - were again on target.
Josh Brownhills netted a late consolation but the Blades held on to record a long overdue home success in Sky Bet League One.
Boss Clough made just one change for the first home game at Bramall Lane in 2015. Following the FA Cup win at QPR, Murphy replaced Reed, who dropped to be amongst the substitutes, where he was joined by Adams and Wallace.
The opening 20 minutes saw both sides not only trying to come to terms with each other but also a strong wind which swirled around S2. Neither goalkeeper nor goalmouth was particularly troubled, although Flynn did well to stop Gallagher getting a yard's advantage and Murphy and Doyle both shot wide from distance.
The mid-section of the half followed a similar pattern, although the Blades threatened Preston's goal more than the other way round. Kennedy would have wanted to do better from Baxter's free-kick before being flattened by Stuckmann and McNulty's shot was weak and wide after Scougall's pass.
As half-time approached the Blades forced Preston onto the back foot and pressured Stuckmann. A good move on 38 minutes saw Doyle and Scougall link up before McNulty's shot was at the visiting goalkeeper and a moment later Baxter fired just wide after exchanging passes with Scougall.
Murphy headed Flynn's deflected shot wide before, on the stroke of the break, two Gallagher shots kept Howard on his toes, the second of which was deflected wide and from the resulting corner Huntington's header was hacked clear by Harris.
The Blades began the second period well with Harris hitting a 30-yard free-kick at Stuckmann before the advantage was gained on 52 minutes. A corner was only half-cleared before Murphy laid off for Doyle to shoot, the subsequent ricochet dropped for McNULTY to loop an effort over the head of the visiting goalkeeper and into the Kop net.
Gallagher arrived late in the box but fired over as Preston looked to hit back, then it was United's turn to create a number of chances. Following another half-cleared corner, Scougall found space in the box but shot wide with Stuckmann onrushing and, on 61 minutes, Murphy's dink over the defence found Doyle in space but he clipped wide, again with the visiting goalkeeper springing from his line.
United were the dominant side and the second did soon follow, on 70 minutes. It was the result of a 40-yard crossfield run from Murphy, who held his pass to the right moment for CAMPBELL-RYCE to drill through Stuckmann's legs.
Preston had a great chance to immediately get back in the game but Buchanan's shot was blocked by Howard's legs and Reid fired the rebound wide.
On 74 minutes Doyle was the first Blade booked after four Preston players had seen yellow and the Blades held firm in the face of an aerial bombardment from the visitors.
Scougall was adjudged to have fouled central defender Huntington following a move involving Baxter and McNulty, whilst Clough made all his changes during a six-minute period, introducing Alcock and the Wallaces.
Preston's last hope came and went with Gallagher's free-kick, which deflected off the wall and there was a chance for a third for United on 86 minutes when Harris robbed Gallagher but fired across goal and wide.
Five minutes of added time were signalled and with their next attack the visitors caused some nervousness. Two minutes in, the Blades conceded a free-kick on the edge of the box and despite Howard getting a hand to BROWNHILL's shot, the ball found the target.
Also in injury-time, with Preston now showing urgency, auxiliary striker Huntington won Reid's cross but the header was at Howard. The visitors were opting for the long ball but United continued to battle for every ball and the final whistle signalled a deserved win.
Blades: Howard, Harris, Flynn, Doyle, Murphy, Scougall (J. Wallace 81), Baxter (K. Wallace 85), McNulty, McEveley, Campbell-Ryce (Alcock 79), Kennedy.
Unused: Higdon, Reed, Turner, Adams.
Preston: Stuckmann, Wiseman, Clarke, Humphrey (Ebanks-Blake 77), Kilkenny, Davies, Beckford (Brownhill 67), Gallagher, Buchanan, Welsh (Reid 67), Huntington.
Unused: Jones, Wright, Woods, Browne.