Newcastle cut down 10-man Sheffield United as Joelinton ends his drought

Allan Saint-Maximin ruined his rented back garden by staging dribbling contests against his dog during lockdown and Chris Wilder can only hope the French winger has not also destroyed Sheffield United’s European ambitions. Admittedly Newcastle’s rise to the 38-point mark was also partly facilitated by John Egan’s 50th-minute sending off but further goals from the excellent Matt Ritchie and Joelinton sealed a performance big on efficiency and understated polish. If that served to magnify Bruce’s fears that his team might be a little “under-cooked” it perhaps also reflected the home players apparent sense of initial disbelief at being surrounded by stands filled with tens of thousands of eerily empty seats. Without the customary 52,000 fans around to raise adrenaline levels, the atmosphere was suitably flat but after Sheffield United failed to make the most of some promising looking set pieces, Saint-Maximin’s unique blend of improvisation and acceleration began ruffling Wilder’s side. Bruce’s back four received a warning of their own when Billy Sharp’s gymnastic, over- the-shoulder volley flew only fractionally off-target following George Baldock’s fabulous cross but, generally, the Newcastle’s manager’s decision to cast off the creative shackles imposed by Rafael Benítez’s old, safety -first, 3-4-3 formation seemed vindicated. Granted, the home defence were not quite as solid as the forbidding metal barriers barring most entrances to St James’ Park in these dystopian times but in the main they looked just as well organised as Wilder’susually efficient back three. Sheffield United’s manager was probably more concerned about his side’s shortage of attacking verve with only Oliver Norwood’s dead balls and odd glimpses of highly accomplished originality from John Fleck really raising the tone. The normally reliable Enda Stevens lost concentration and misread Matt Ritchie’s cross, ended up kicking thin air and the ball was allowed to travel as far as the winger whose low shot eluded Henderson. After collecting Isaac Hayden’s pass, the winger ran at the retreating Baldock and, with the rest of Wilder’s defence confused by Danny Rose’s decoy overlap, Ritchie beat Henderson courtesy of a swerving 20-yard, left-foot shot.