Sheffield United gave themselves a four-point cushion over Wednesday in the race for automatic promotion with a fifth successive win, coming from behind to beat Leyton Orient 3-1 at Bramall Lane.
The Blades began with an unchanged side, Ched Evans taking his place in attack alongside Richard Cresswell and Lee Williamson shaking off a stomach injury. United also had an unchanged bench. Orient, managed by former Blades coach Russell Slade, also had ex-United midfielder Matthew Spring in their engine room.
The Blades began on top, keeping the ball well, with McDonald involved early and trying to find Evans at every opportunity. A chance came when Evans won a throw and Williamson put in an excellent cross but Quinn just failed to connect. Evans then had an effort deflected wide and Maguire had a header just wide from a corner. Keeper Jones then pushed out an Evans shot and the ball was scrambled clear. News that Wednesday were losing further buoyed the home crowd.
It was one-way traffic, with Evans and then Hill having efforts blocked, but against the run of play the visitors took the lead with virtually their first attack. A ball over the top seemed innocuous enough but Maguire missed a clearing header and then Lisbie outmuscled the defender and nodded the ball forward before unleashing a powerful left-foot drive into the roof of the net. It was a great individual goal but the striker really ought not to have been allowed to get in that position.
United tried to respond but Orient were defending in numbers. Cresswell picked up a knock when trying to head the ball and, despite trying to play on, was clearly in some distress, holding his shoulder. He had to be substituted, with Chris Porter coming on.
Porter won an early header, and then a half-chance came for Quinn but his shot was pushed over by Jones. Evans was looking dangerous but nothing was coming off for him and Orient still posed a danger on the break, so much so that United appeared to be panicking as half-time approached.
They managed, however, to settle their nerves just before the break. From Maguire’s diagonal ball, Porter knocked back into the danger area and, when Orient did not clear the ball, Evans passed it into Williamson, who hit a left-footer through a body of players. Jones got a hand to the ball but could only push it into the far corner, and United were level.
The Blades began the second half well, and with news from Colchester that Wednesday were level, they had to get to show some urgency to get in front, and it was the captain who led by example. Evans played a pass inside and Doyle took a touch before hitting a superb long-range drive that flew into the right-hand corner of the net, giving Jones no chance. It was his second goal of the week and a vitally important strike at the Kop end.
Campbell-Ryce came on for Taiwo but United refused to sit back. Orient were struggling and their frustration at not seeing much of the ball boiled over when a bad, late challenge by Dickson on Williamson left the Blades player writhing on the floor. The referee did not wait long before brandishing a red card, of which there could be no complaint.
Orient had a flurry of possession and won a corner after Hill had lost his man and Maguire had to stab behind, but it was United who were having the best chances; Evans, McDonald and Porter putting efforts narrowly wide.
A few other late tackles on Williamson followed, with another hideously high challenge, by Leacock, resulting in another yellow card. Porter and Reed came on in a double change for Orient, and Flynn replaced Quinn down the left-hand side, and soon after, the game was effectively sealed. United’s Porter touched on and Evans got onto the ball after Orient could not clear and nutmegged Forbes before steering the ball into the corner of the goal with his left foot. Evans wheeled away, whipping off his shirt to pick up a daft booking, but it was clearly a release for him after a difficult week away from the game.
Evans got a round of applause as he came off right at the end for O’Halloran, as United looked to see out the final moments. As the game entered stoppage time, the biggest cheer came with the news came from Colchester that Wednesday had dropped two points.