Second half goals from Marc McNulty and Jamal Campbell-Ryce gave the home side victory in the two sides’ first league game of 2015, despite Josh Brownhill’s injury-time free kick.
McNulty’s deflected looping effort seven minutes into the break gave Thorsten Stuckmann no chance and the home side doubled the lead 17 minutes later.
The ball was given away in midfield and Jamie Murphy raced 40 yards before pushing the ball to the right hand corner of the box to Campbell-Ryce who fired hard and low through Stuckmann’s legs.
Brownhill fired a 20 yard free kick into the top right hand corner, but it proved to only be a consolation as the home side held on for the victory.
Manager Simon Grayson made two changes to the side that played in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy three days earlier, David Buchanan in at left back and John Welsh back into the heart of the midfield in a 4-4-2.
The first half was a scrappy affair, neither side able to dictate or really test the opposing goalkeeper, with the 45 minutes punctuated by the sound of the late change of referee – Geoff Eltringham’s whistle more than goalmouth action.
The yellows did start brightly, backed by a vocal away crowd of well in excess of 1,500 and on three minutes some good build up play by Kevin Davies and Paul Gallagher eventually saw the latter ushered out by young centre half Terry Kennedy on the right hand corner of six yard box.
The rest of the real action in the opening period didn’t come about until the final ten minutes of the half. First up a Jose Baxter free kick from the left was well defended by Tom Clarke for a corner after Chris Humphrey had been adjudged to have fouled Jamie Murphy.
On 38 minutes the first shot on target of the game, Marc McNulty’s shot from Baxter’s through ball straight at Thorsten Stuckmann in front of the Lilywhites fans.
Right on the stroke of half-time Paul Gallagher drove through the heart of the Blades defence and fired a 20 yard drive just wide of the left hand upright.
The home side took the lead seven minutes after the interval. Baxter delivered a free kick from the right; the ball ricocheted around in the box before eventually falling to Marc McNulty ten yards out, whose scuffed shot deflected up and over Thorsten Stuckmann, giving the German keeper no chance.
The Lilywhites had the chance to react quickly and on 57 minutes Gallagher found space from Humphrey’s right wing pull back, but fired his left-footed effort over the cross bar from ten yards out.
Stefan Sougall had a chance to double the lead on the hour mark, as Baxter’s second corner in succession snuck its way through box, but he fired wide from 12 yards out when unmarked and then skipper Michael Doyle missed a gilt-edged chance 12 yards out clean through on goal, dragging his shot wide left with only Stuckmann to beat.
Half-way through the half Brownhill and Reid joined the action for Beckford and Welsh.
But two minutes later the lead was doubled. Josh Brownhill lost the ball on the half-way line and this allowed Jamie Murphy to race 40 yards before pushing the ball right to Jamal Campbell-Ryce who fired hard and low through Stuckmann’s legs.
North End should have responded immediately David Buchanan forcing Mark Howard into an outstanding save, but the ball came back to Kyel Reid 12 yards out who scuffed his shot wide of the left hand post.
Sylvan Ebanks-Blake came on and had an immediate impact, latching onto Kilkenny’s nod down and drilling the ball across goal, Kennedy almost turning into his own net, colliding with the post in the process.
Five minutes of added time was given by the officials and in the first minute Josh Brownhill fired high and hard into the top right hand corner from 20 yards out after Gallagher had been fouled on the edge of the ‘D’.
There was still time for a chance to equalise as makeshift forward Paul Huntington headed Reid’s cross straight at Howard, but the Blades held on for the win.
Sheffield United line-up: Howard, Harris, Flynn, Doyle (c), Murphy, Scougall (J Wallace, 82), Baxter (K Wallace, 85), McNulty, McEveley, Campbell-Ryce (Alcock, 79), Kennedy. Subs not ued: Turner, Higdon, Reed, Adams.
PNE line-up: Stuckmann, Wiseman, Buchanan, Welsh (Brownhill, 67), Clarke (c), Kilkenny, Humphrey (Ebanks-Blake, 77), Kilkenny, K Davies, Beckford (Reid, 67), Gallagher. Subs not used: Jones, Wright, Woods, Browne.
Attendance: 19,902 (1,599 away fans)
Referee: Mr G Etringham