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Dublin: 5°C Saturday 27 February 2021

Long nets for Saints but injury concern for Ireland's Stevens as he's withdrawn after wondergoal

The Ireland defender didn’t return for the second half after scoring a stunning goal.

Southampton's Shane Long (second left) scores his side's first goal of the game.
Southampton's Shane Long (second left) scores his side's first goal of the game.
Image: Mark Kerton

A STUNNING STRIKE from Republic of Ireland international Enda Stevens wasn’t enough for Sheffield United as the Blades had to settle for a 1-1 draw against Brighton as their hopes of European football next season were dealt a blow at Bramall Lane.

Stevens failed to return for the second-half after picking up a suspected knock, which could be cause for concern for Mick McCarthy ahead of Ireland’s Euro 2020 play-off semi-final against Slovakia next month.

Chris Wilder’s team were on their way to matching Chelsea’s win against Tottenham earlier in the day when Stevens blasted them in front with a sweetly struck goal. However, Neal Maupay, a summer transfer target for the Blades during the summer, quickly equalised.

It finished level despite a dominant second half showing from the hosts, with Brighton goalkeeper Mathew Ryan making a superb point blank save at the end to deny Oliver McBurnie.

The draw keeps the Blades in sixth place although they moved level on points with fifth-placed Spurs, both of whom are now four points adrift of Chelsea in the final Champions League spot.

However, fifth place might be enough to qualify if Manchester City’s two-year European ban for breaching Financial Fair Play is upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Brighton remain without a Premier League win in seven matches.

Billy Sharp dragged an early volley wide as the Blades, with John Fleck and Stevens combining well down the left, started brightly, and fellow Ireland defender John Egan commanding in defence.

Brighton weathered the early storm but just as it looked like they had settled and found a rhythm, they fell behind.

Fleck took a short corner and Oliver Norwood curled a teasing cross into the penalty area, where it was flicked clear by Dan Burn. But only as far as Stevens at the far post and he took a touch to steady himself before drilling a left-foot shot into the top corner.

However the lead lasted just four minutes as Aaron Mooy pumped a long ball into the box from a free-kick, Adam Webster won the header and knocked the ball back into the danger area where Maupay stooped to head home.

Brighton, with Shane Duffy at the heart of the defence, were being penned back in their own half for lengthy periods of the second half as the hosts applied pressure.

And when Brighton’s defence were caught out late on, Ryan produced a fine save to keep out McBurnie’s close-range effort, before George Baldock and Fleck were somehow denied in the ensuing goalmouth scramble.

United’s David McGoldrick and Brighton’s Aaron Connolly both played the final 15 mintues after being sprung from the bench as both sides chased a winner.

Meanwhile, Shane Long was on target as Southampton secured a 2-0 win over Aston Villa at St Mary’s which piled pressure on the visitors at the bottom of the table, with Ralph Hasenhüttl handing a debut to Ireland underage international Will Smallbone a day after his 20th birthday.

Long’s eighth-minute strike and Stuart Armstrong’s stoppage-time break-away, after Pepe Reina had gone up for a corner, eased a Saints side who not so long ago looked relegation-bound themselves to the relative safety of 34 points.

Southampton kicked off with the worst home record in the Premier League but it did not show as they tore into a Villa side with woeful form on the road, who remain just a point above the drop zone.

They were inches from taking the lead when young defender Smallbone collected Moussa Djenepo’s pass on the edge of the box.

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Smallbone’s shot took a deflection off Tyrone Mings to wrong-foot Villa keeper Reina, who was relieved to see it clip the outside of his post.

But moments later the hosts took the lead, Moussa Djenepo cutting the ball back for Long to bundle in at the near post to net his seventh goal in his last seven appearances against Villa.

Villa had the ball in the net shortly before half-time, although Mbwana Samatta had been flagged offside before he converted Jack Grealish’s pass.

Reina saved a fierce volley from Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg before taking one for the team when he was booked for shoving Long outside the area following a poor attempt at a header.

As for Villa, the closest they came to forcing an equaliser was substitute Trezeguet’s effort which fizzed across goal and wide.

Their misery was compounded in stoppage time when Armstrong rolled the ball into an empty net from 35 yards after Reina had long since given up the chase.

Meanwhile Bournemouth had two goals disallowed by VAR as Burnley won 3-0 at Turf Moor to keep their hopes of a European spot alive, with Jeff Hendrick playing the full gmae and Robbie Brady coming on in injury time.

The Cherries saw Josh King’s first-half effort chalked off for handball against Philip Billing before Matej Vydra scored his second goal in as many games following the break to give the hosts the advantage.

Harry Wilson’s equaliser after a counter-attack was then ruled out by VAR and a penalty to Burnley was awarded instead for Charlie Daniels’ handball.

Jay Rodriguez converted the spot-kick while Dwight McNeil added a sublime third before full-time.

The win moved Burnley to eighth while Bournemouth remain two points above the drop zone.

Crystal Palace picked up their first win of 2020 as Patrick Van Aanholt’s exquisite free kick on the stroke of half time secured a 1-0 win over Newcastle.

The margin of success could have been greater had Martin Dubravka not been in top form for the Magpies, but the Eagles were able to end a run of three consecutive defeats with a dominant display at Selhurst Park, with James McCarthy playing the full 90 minutes for Roy Hodgson’s side and chipping in with an important first-half clearance to prevent a Newcastle goal.

It was their first win since Boxing Day and lifted them ahead of Newcastle, who lost in London for the second weekend in a row.

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