Frank Onyeka ends Brentford’s drought to nudge Blades closer to trapdoor

<span><a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Sheffield United;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Sheffield United</a>'s Oliver Arblaster scores an own goal to put Brentford 1-0 up.<br></span><span>Photograph: Rob Newell/CameraSport/Getty Images</span>

Something had to give. Between them, Brentford and Sheffield United had played out a collective 16 winless matches. For Brentford the drought did not extend to 10 games, and they ended the day seven points clear of relegation with five to play. For the Blades, Oliver Arblaster’s unfortunate deflection of Mikkel Damsgaard’s cross before Frank Onyeka’s injury-time strike made it eight without a victory. The relegation trapdoor, and with it the prospect of starting a Championship season on minus two points, opens ever-wider.

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Where Sheffield United’s fate has looked sealed from early season, Brentford being among the strugglers has jarred when compared with their previous Premier League campaigns. A lack of victories has dragged them dangerously downwards. Quality performances against Manchester United, Brighton and Aston Villa yielded three draws. They have lacked the firepower to kill off opposition.

Ivan Toney was on the bench but played no part after illness and the aggravation of a hip problem. Little has gone to plan for someone whose return was supposed to hoist Brentford clear of danger, his sole goal in nigh on two months coming in an England shirt.

“It feels so good,” said Thomas Frank of his side’s victory. “I’ve just been saying to the lads, ‘please don’t do that to me or yourself again.’” At full-time, he and the club owner, Matthew Benham, shared a warm embrace. “A good performance but not through the roof, we’ve been struggling.”

Despite Chris Wilder being unable to rescue Sheffield United, the away fans continue to hail him as “one of our own”. Benching skilful types in Cameron Archer, James McAtee and Vini Souza, with Ollie McBurnie partnering Ben Brereton Díaz in the forward line, was an indicator of a muscular strategy.

While Vitaly Janelt, Damsgaard and Mathias Jensen each whistled long-range efforts at Ivo Grbic’s goal United’s defence held Brentford at arm’s length for the first half. Except when Anel Ahmedhodzic lost the ball deep in his own half and Maupay could only jab the ball wide, a chance a fit Toney would be expected to gobble up. So, too, a headed chance that fell to Yoane Wissa. “Offensively, we didn’t hit it,” said Frank.

Beyond a neat turn from McBurnie that led Janelt to pull back the striker, Sheffield United offered even less. Half-time came as blessed relief for spectators, though was cause for celebration for Wilder. “For a team like us, to get to 0-0 at half-time is an achievement,” he said. “And I don’t think it was backs to the wall.”

An improved contest followed, though despite the importance of victory, the Brentford club shop will be selling few memorial DVDs. With a dash of fortune and farce, the deadlock was broken. From a quick counter, space opening up at long last, Damsgaard’s attempted cross deflected off Arblaster and in. “We turned the ball over cheaply,” Wilder said.

“We have felt a bit unlucky throughout the season so it was very good to see it go our way,” said Mathias Jørgensen, the Brentford defender coming through a physical battle with flying colours.

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Could Brentford rediscover a winning feeling? They did not attempt to hang on grimly. Damsgaard, this time with a better connection, struck a sweet volley from Bryan Mbeumo’s cross for what would have been his first Brentford goal, only for VAR to rule McBurnie had been fouled in the preceding melee.

The groans greeting that were echoed when eight minutes were added on, only for the late substitute Kevin Schade, out since September, to deliver a lovely dink to send Onyeka away to crash home a goal. It spelled salvation and relief for Brentford but imminent, inescapable doom for Sheffield United.