TOWN’S Carling Cup hopes crumbled as Sheffield United struck twice in as many minutes late on, but there was certainly no disgrace in this defeat.
In terms of performance, if not result, this was the perfect response to Saturday’s 3-1 home setback at the hands of MK Dons.
And if Stan Ternent’s side can reproduce the tempo of last night’s display, and find a sharper edge in front of goal, they can be optimistic about visiting Millwall on Saturday and Cheltenham seven days later.
Forced to ring the changes because of the unavailability of Andy Butler, Andy Booth, Ian Craney and on-loan Derby striker Liam Dickinson, Ternent handed first starts of the season to Nathan Clarke and Keigan Parker – and saw Michael Flynn score his first Town goal.
Playing in his preferred central midfield role rather than out on the left, Flynn let fly in the 34th minute, his shot from Gary Roberts’ short free-kick beating keeper Ian Bennett with the aid of a deflection.
Town were hoping to emulate Crewe, Hartlepool, Leeds, Northampton, Rotherham and Swansea in beating higher-level opposition to make round three, and the lead was fully deserved.
They started strongly, and after Sun Jihai committed the first of a string of fouls, this time on Danny Cadamarteri, Roberts’ third-minute free-kick was held by Bennett.
Parker brought a good save from Bennett with a header from Roberts’ fifth-minute cross, then, on 19, Clarke headed wide when well placed to meet fellow centre-back Chris Lucketti’s cross.
Flynn volleyed wide eight minutes before scoring his goal, after which United finally came to life.
Up to then, David Carney’s 27th-minute shot on the turn which flew wide had been their only effort of note.
But now Town old boy Jon Stead tested Matt Glennon with a deflected shot, then set up Carney, who was foiled by Flynn’s fine block tackle.
Blades boss Kevin Blackwell replaced Stead with Danny Webber at half-time, but it was Town who took the second period by the scruff of the neck.
And they should really have gone at least two up, with the visitors surviving a series of scares.
Good work by Parker set up Roberts for an angled shot from the left which Bennett pushed away in the 49th minute.
Then, in the 57th, the busy Roberts picked out Flynn in a great position, only for the former Blackpool man to head wide.
Roberts was again the provider in the 67th minute, when Clarke’s header was off target, then, in the 73rd, Bennett held Parker’s long-range effort, the same player firing over after good work by Cadamarteri a minute later.
Town were playing some slick stuff, with United’s only real effort a 76th-minute drive by Matthew Kilgallon which went over, and when Robbie Williams robbed freshly-introduced substitute Billy Sharp with a well-timed penalty-area tackle soon after, Blackwell’s side were starting to look frustrated.
But they were rescued in the 82nd minute when Sun Jihai picked out Danny Webber who in turn found Darius Henderson on the right.
The £2m summer signing from Watford advanced into the penalty area and while Glennon got a hand to the shot, he couldn’t prevent the ball flying into his right-hand corner.
United scarcely merited the leveller, never mind their winner, which arrived in the 84th minute.
This time Kilgallon’s persistence took him through a couple of challenges, and his pass to substitute Kyle Naughton bore fruit when the homegrown 19-year-old’s shot went in, again with the aid of a deflection.
Keeper Glennon went up as Town forced a couple of late corners, but Sheffield stood firm to book their place in Saturday’s draw.