United bounced back from their League Cup semi-final defeat to clinch three very valuable points in the title hunt against rivals Peterborough on Sunday. With promotion always the priority, United gained some revenge for the cup exit against the same opposition from the week earlier.
United welcomed back experienced striker Tania Marsden and newly-announced Player's Player of the Season Jodie Hartley for the long trip south for this one on the warmest matchday of the year so far.
The first half was similar to the corresponding half a week earlier. Very tight, few clear chances with both teams cancelling each other. Marsden had United's only two shots from open play, stretching to poke an early shot just wide and later dragging a second one also wide.
Peterborough were limited by the hardworking United team and despite the wind advantage managed only a couple of comfortably dealt with efforts as the half entered the final ten minutes. Then the game came to life. United winger Sophie Bell was awarded a penalty when the Peterborough defender challenging her handled the ball. United were maybe a little fortunate on this occasion and Bell took the spot kick herself and put the Blades ahead.
United's lead didn't last long, however, and Peterborough's equaliser was something of a freak goal. Defender Nat Froggatt, as usual, got her head on the ball in the box but this time the ball spooned up and, aided with the breeze, it floated high over her own goalkeeper dropping perfectly in the net for 1-1! All square at the break.
United seemed to step up the work rate for the second half. Sometimes aided by the cooling breeze and sometimes hindered especially on a few through balls. Both teams were battling hard as Boro really needed to win to keep any title chances alive and this was matched by United.
Veteran midfielder Rachel Ruddach was leading by example but suffered an eye/head injury in one clash. She continued for another 10 minutes before being replaced by Alex Hickerman, herself making a comeback after a long injury.
As the half wore on it was United who looked most likely to grab a winner given the few real chances. All the excitement was saved for the final 10 minutes or so. Marsden's workrate as United's main striker was rewarded when she pressured the ball off a defender and broke forward, squaring to Jen Pearson who took her shot early before being challenged but placed it perfectly across the face of goal into the far corner to put United 2-1 ahead.
Boro survived a goalmouth scramble soon after and nearly conceded again when Bell made the pass of the match to find substitute Cara Hopkinson racing into the box only to guide the ball just wide.
Boro were still battling and caused United a couple of tense moments as the game went into injury time.
United were able to get back possession and wind the clock down in the corner, though, Marsden found enough space to blast a final shot off a post. But 2-1 was enough and overall United deserved the win.
With five games left to play United need nine more points to keep ahead of remaining challenger, Bedworth, who would have to overcome a goal difference deficit of 29 should they win their remaining four games and United lose two of theirs.
Manager Dan O'Hearne summed the game up: "Thankfully we got our just rewards against a fellow promotion contender. When they equalised with a fortuitous goal I thought here we go again but we managed to dig in and grind out the all important victory which we fully deserved."
Blades: Johnson, Hartley, Cawthorn, Froggatt, Brown, Bell, Ruddach (Hickerman), Spurr, Celi (Hopkinson), Marsden, Pearson (Smith).