Sheffield United 3 Manchester United 3
As Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn, Jo Swinson and Nicola Sturgeon can testify, Sheffield is a tough place to audition for a job. None of the party leaders appeared to particularly enjoy Friday's live BBC pre-election debate but if they found the South Yorkshire audience tough, Ole Gunnar Solskjær endured an even more excruciating time at Bramall Lane.
Granted the denouement could have been worse and his tactical switch did ultimately turn a 2-0 deficit into a 3-3 draw but this was an afternoon which will have only strengthened Mauricio Pochettino’s candidature for potentially succeeding the Norwegian at Old Trafford.
For a while though Solskjær looked to have turned the tables. Even by Manchester United’s standards the three goals they scored in seven late second-half minutes was extraordinary. Briefly it seemed that a side that spent most of the game unable to string a couple of passes together would walk away with three points but two substitutes ultimately combined to offer Chris Wilder’s previously excellent, now tiring side, a different ending.
Appropriately the last word went to Ollie McBurnie who, having controlled Callum Robinson’s chipped cross on his chest volleyed beyond David de Gea, that point-securing equaliser surviving a handball VAR review.
Alex Ferguson was at Bramall Lane to monitor not just the progress of his old team but that of Wilder, a coach he once took pleasure in mentoring as the Yorkshireman climbed his way up through the divisions.
If Sheffield United’s manager will always be grateful to Ferguson and rather likes Solskjaer, he was evidently determined to make their viewing as uncomfortable as possible and, sure enough, De Gea was swiftly called to arms.
The Spain goalkeeper responded immaculately, making a superb double save. First he repelled John Lundstram’s high-velocity, first-time volley and then, from the fallout, he kept David McGoldrick’s header out. The Ireland striker, though, may have been a little disappointed to aim straight at the goalkeeper after finding himself completely unmarked.
No matter, his side were soon ahead. Sheffield United had clearly identified Phil Jones as a weak left-sided link in Solskjaer's back three and, after Jones – in mitigation arguably fouled – was shrugged aside by Lys Mousset, De Gea diverted Lundstram's shot only to see it rebound conveniently for John Fleck to redirect the ball into the back of the net.
By now it had become abundantly apparent that Andreas Pereira is no Roy Keane and his evident discomfort – not to mention unsuitability– for the enforcer midfield role in the absence of the injured Scott McTominay was playing into Wilder's hands. It did not help that Solskjaer's starting 3-4-3 formation left Pereira and Fred outnumbered in that central department.
With Paul Pogba also sidelined, Lundstram and Oliver Norwood were largely able to dictate central midfield matters. Indeed such was their dominance that it frequently seemed as if Sheffield United had at least one more player on the pitch than their guests.
As half-time approached Simon Moore found himself almost embarrassingly under-employed in the home goal. With the first-choice goalkeeper Dean Henderson unable to play due to the terms of his loan from Old Trafford, Moore was making his first league start for 18 months but Manchester United did their very best to soothe any nerves he might have been harbouring.
It took them half an hour to muster a first shot on target, Anthony Martial dispatching the softest of scuffed efforts but, at that stage, lack of attacking threat probably represented the least of Solskjaer's problems.
For a start, his players struggled to prevent Sheffield United enjoying protracted periods of possession and, even worse, the Blades' intelligent use of it was making it a very unhappy return to South Yorkshire for Harry Maguire. The £80 million England defender began his career at Bramall Lane but failed to show his former public why he commanded that price tag.
Damningly Fleck's goal made it 12 away games since Solskjær's side managed to keep a clean sheet in the league, their worst such sequence since 1985-86. Something had to change and Jones was withdrawn at the interval, with Jesse Lingard stepping off the bench as they reverted to a back four.
If the idea was to restore strength and stability it did not work. When Pereira forfeited possession, Fleck’s fine pass picked out Mousset and, after the Frenchman had dodged Maguire his powerful, accurate long-range shot flew low past De Gea. “There’s only one United”, “Are you Sheffield Wednesday in disguise?” and “Sacked in the morning” sang jubilant home fans.
Maybe they were tempting fate as two teenagers and Marcus Rashford were about to come to Manchester United's rescue. First Brandon Williams advanced from left back to score a wonderful first goal for the club, his half-volley flying beyond Moore from Daniel James's cross.
Next Rashford supplied the cross and Greenwood got between Phil Jagielka and Chris Basham before equalising.
With Bramall Lane silenced, the scene was set for James and Martial to exchange passes with the former then cueing Rashford up to shoot beyond Moore from eight yards. It seemed the ultimate smash n’grab but McBurnie had other plans.