Senior Sports Editor
IT’S been 17 years since Peter Ndlovu left English football but the Flying Elephant appeared to have a bizarre connection to the drama, at Old Trafford on Wednesday night, which captured the imagination of the world.
The former Warriors captain spent 13 years in the top two leagues of the game in England between 1991 and 2004.
He also had the honour of becoming the first African football star to feature in the rebranded English Premiership in August 1992.
Ndlovu blazed a trail, in an adventure which eventually saw a flood of African stars, including the likes of George Weah, Jay Jay Okocha, Samuel Etoó, Lucas Radebe, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, taking their talents to the English game.
Three players, with African connections, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Axel Tuanzebe of Manchester United, who are of Congolese decent, and Ethan Ampadu, of Sheffield United, whose father traces his roots in Ghana, featured in the drama at Old Trafford.
The Blades, with only one win in the first half of this crazy English Premiership campaign, produced the shock result of the season by defeating the Red Devils 2-1 on Wednesday night.
Goals by Kean Bryan and Oliver Burke, either side of the interval, powered them to a sensational victory.
Incredibly, almost 20 years since Ndlovu left English football, the former Warriors skipper found himself, somehow, connected to the events at Old Trafford on Wednesday night.
One of his last teammates, during his swansong season in English football, Phil Jagielka, rolled back the hands of time to produce a man-of-the-match show for the defiant Blades.
The ageless Englishman was the star of the battle, producing a defensive masterclass, to inspire his team to an improbable victory.
The statistics, supplied by OptaJoe, provides interesting reading:
At 38 years and 163 days, Jagielka became the oldest outfield player to start an English Premiership match at Old Trafford, against the Red Devils, in 20 years, since Richard Gough featured for Everton, at the age of 38 years 304 days, in February 2001.
The defender, playing only his second game of the season, with the first having come against Manchester United at Bramall Lane, became the oldest outfield player to feature in a winning Premiership side since Ryan Giggs’ days in the Red Devils’ colours.
Jagielka, together with his central defensive partners, Ampadu and Chris Basham, combined to make 18 clearances for the Blades in a superb rearguard show.
Bryan and Burke scored their first Premiership goals, the first time two players have celebrated their first goals against the Red Devils, in the same match, since Esteban Cambiasso and Jamie Vardy scored for Leicester City in September 2014.
Incredibly, ahead of last night’s game between Liverpool and Tottenham, Burke had featured in more wins (two games) and scored more goals (1) than Liverpool in the English Premiership since December 30th, a sharp contrast for the striker, who had endured the longest winless run, from the start of any Premier League player’s career (25 games).
Sheffield United became the first Yorkshire side to win a Premiership game at Old Trafford, and only the third to find a way to do that, in all competitions, in the era of the Premier League, after York City (League Cup, 1995) and Leeds United (FA Cup, 2010).
Jagielka, who also captained Everton during his lengthy career, was named man-of-the-match and, after his powerful performance, which made a mockery of his age, he told BBC Sport:
“I’ll have to have an ice bath now but I don’t care!” Yesterday, he woke up to some rave reviews from the British media.
“What Manchester United lacked in urgency, hunger and aggression, Phil Jagielka brought by the bucket-load to Sheffield United’s defence,’’ noted The Daily Telegraph.
“He will have been disappointed to be beaten in the air by Maguire from Telles’s corner for Manchester United’s goal but he embodied the spirit, concentration and determination showed by the visitors.
“This was only his second outing since coming on as a substitute against Solskjaer’s team at Bramall Lane last month, when he was given the runaround by Marcus Rashford.’’ It’s now 21 years since Jagielka started his career with Sheffield United in 2000, just a year before Ndlovu arrived from Birmingham City, with the Englishman first being used in central midfield.
They were part of the Blades side which reached the semi-finals of both the FA Cup, where they lost 0-1 to Arsenal, and the League Cup, which they lost 2-3 on aggregate to Liverpool, during the 2002/2003 season.
The duo played a huge part, in helping Sheffield United beat Yorkshire rivals, Leeds United, in a stormy League Cup third round tie at Bramall Lane on November 11, 2002.
Leeds appeared set to secure a place in the next round as, with the game in time added on, they still led 1-0 through an own goal by Steve Yates.
But, in a chaotic ending to the bruising contest, Jagielka restored parity with a stunning goal from distance in the first minute of added time.
Then, with the very last kick of the game, Ndlovu popped up to drill the ball home, after his shot had rebounded into the area, to trigger pandemonium inside Bramall Lane.
While Ndlovu left Sheffield United, at the end of the 2004 season, ending his romance with English football, Jagielka stayed at the Blades and, on December 30, 2006, he was forced to keep goals for his team.
With the Blades leading 1-0, goalkeeper Paddy Kenny suffered a thigh injury and Jagielka was thrust into goal for the remaining 34 minutes, with his late superb save from Robin van Persie, helping his side to victory over Arsenal.
This meant manager Niel Warnock was able to field his Blades side, without a substitute goalkeeper, as he was convinced Jagielka would always be relied upon should something happen to his starting ‘keeper.
The Blades win on Wednesday night was their first, at Old Trafford, since 1973, ironically, the year Ndlovu was also born.
Given the former Warriors skipper is a Liverpool fan, his old former teammate, Jagielka, could not have chosen better opponents to produce his man-of-the-match performance.