JOHN Egan’s 80th minute thunderbolt rescued a point for the Blades, just when it looked like the home team were going to edge ahead of them in the scramble for a Europa League place.
The United centre back’s first Premier League goal was one to remember.
He was left unmarked at the far post after substitute Billy Sharp flicked on a George Baldock cross, but the angle was far from inviting.
But Egan could not have struck his volley better, and it screamed past Nick Pope into the far corner.
Egan has now scored in each of the top four tiers in English football, with today’s strike coming 2,308 days after the first – in March 2014 for Southend in League Two.
That chalked off a first half strike from another central defender, James Tarkoswki and kept United two points clear of Burnley as the race for Europe enters its final stages.
Burnley were actually playing Europa League football in July 2018, and even if they are not experiencing more of it later this year, this will still be another highly satisfactory campaign for Sean Dyche’s men.
They were outplayed for long periods by Chris Wilder’s side, but Tarkowski’s goal against the run of play pretty much guaranteed they would get at least a point here.
That is because the Clarets simply hate giving up a first half lead. They have lost only one of their last 33 Premier League matches when they led at the break, and they went on to win 27 of those games.
So maybe a point is not such a bad thing for the Blades, despite their overall supremacy.
It was hard to believe the first goal took 43 minutes to arrive, as both teams went at it from the start as if they only had a quarter of an hour to secure European football.
United could have been ahead after two minutes. David McGoldrick put strike partner Oliver McBurnie through with a great flick, but his shot cannoned off Nick Pope’s outstretched leg.
McBurnie should have done better and he seemed to be trying too hard to make amends as he muscled Pope aside to reach a ling throw – Sander Berge smashed the loose ball home, but he must have known it would be chalked off.
Matej Vydra then wasted a great chance, firing wide after good work from Rogriguez and Erik Pieters, while Shane Long made an excellent block from McBurnie’s shot as the harem-scarem stuff continued.
United boss Wider looked suitably disgusted as his team had an early penalty appeal denied by VAR after Egan’s shot struck Pieter’s arm.
There was no intent from the Burnley player, but deciding what constitutes a penalty these days seems to have become a complete lottery.
Egan sent a header inches over the bar and McBunrie’s volley finished on the roof of the net as the Blades continued to dominate – only to leave themselves open to the sucker punch.
Dwight McNeil’s free kick was a long way out, but Rodriguez climbed highest to flick the ball on and Tarkowski slid the ball home from six yards out.
Wilder made a raft of attacking substitutions to try to salvage something, and Sharpe almost squeezed the ball home at the near post after a terrific run from Jack O’Connell.
But even though United continued to monopolise possession, they almost found themselves two down. Henderson did well to beat away a thunderous volley from Rodriguez, but was powerless as McNeil rolled the rebound wide.
That miss came back to haunt the Burnley winger as Egan showed him how to finish. It was just a pity there were no fans there to see his belter of a goal.
Sean Dyche played down Burnley’s chances of clinching European football for the second time in three years after revealing key midfielder Jack Cork will miss the rest of the run-in.
Cork will probably need an ankle operation ate being injured in the win at Crystal Palace. And skipper Ben Mee is also likely to be absent for a few more games after missing out against the Blades with a thigh strain.
Clarets boss Dyche said: “The aim was to stay in the Premier League, and we have done that with our second best ever points total at this stage, 46 so far.
“The players are working their maximum with very few bodies. You can see how stretched we are. The message is to work our best and see where that takes us.
“We don’t have the group we wanted. We missed Corky and Ben today – and will continue to miss them. Ben’s thigh strain is a bad one, so that won’t be a quick turnaround, and Corky will miss our remaining games, and may need an operation.”
United boss Chris Wilder agreed with Dyche’s overall assessment, but did not offer Egan the praise you might have expected.
He said: “That should have been his tenth goal of the season, not his first. I am quite critical, because he has been brilliant for us, but goals from centre halves add to the collection.
“John gets into some great positions but he will be the first to admit July 5 shouldn’t have seen his first goal of the season.”
“But the spirit was there, and that’s four points off Burnley this season. That is a good effort and so is four this week. We will take that.”