DESPITE conceding an equaliser with just two minutes left on the clock, Cherries could not argue too much with only coming away with a point to open their Premier League campaign.

Optimism had been understandably rife heading into this campaign. The club fought off interest to keep hold of last season's star men, whilst they also added five, exciting young players to their squad over the summer.

Granted, seven players missed out against Sheffield United due to injury, including the influential David Brooks and one of the new recruits in Arnaut Danjuma, who picked up a foot problem in victory over Lyon last weekend.

But the fact it took almost an hour for Cherries to register their first shot on target certainly tempered the buoyant mood which had buzzed around Vitality Stadium before kick-off.

Despite that, Chris Mepham's strike on 62 minutes looked like it would be enough to see the hosts grind out all three points as the centre-back volleyed in from close range to net his first Cherries goal.

However, Eddie Howe's men drifted from that point, allowing the Blades back into the contest and they were duly punished when substitute Billy Sharp popped up to scramble the ball home and earn the resolute Blades a deserved share of the spoils.

Howe kept his cards close to his chest in the build-up to the match regarding which of his four goalkeepers would get the nod. He opted to hand a debut to 21-year-old stopper Aaron Ramsdale, who arrived from the Blades for around £800,000 in 2017 and impressed during a loan spell at AFC Wimbledon last season.

Philip Billing also made his competitive Cherries bow in central midfield while Harry Wilson was named among the substitutes following his arrival on loan from Liverpool on Tuesday.

Sheffield United, making their first Premier League appearance since being relegated in 2007, almost made the perfect start.

In what turned out to be the clearest opening of the entire first half, David McGoldrick drifted beyond the Cherries defence to face Ramsdale one-on-one, but the goalkeeper got down well to tip the shot away.

Cherries' precision in the final third was lacking as they failed to work Dean Henderson between the sticks with Adam Smith’s cross just evading both Ryan Fraser and Callum Wilson.

At the other end, Ramsdale had to be alert again to get down and push away a Callum Robinson 20-yard strike.

The final chance of the half fell the way of the hosts with Mepham blazing a shot just wide after being teed up by Billing in the box.

As they did at the start of the first half, the Blades looked threatening again at the beginning of the second.

Mepham was called into action to slide and stop Enda Stevens before McGoldrick fired just past the post from the edge of the box.

Cherries finally tested Henderson on 59 minutes through a vicious long-range Billing strike, which the on-loan Manchester United stopper tipped around the post.

And just three minutes later, Henderson had been beaten.

After Diego Rico’s brilliant switch to Fraser, the Scot was fouled and delivered a free-kick deep into the box. Nathan Ake acrobatically knocked it towards Callum Wilson, whose shot on the turn was well saved.

But Mepham was on hand to slam a volley into the ground and past the goalkeeper to net just the second goal of his career – the other also came against Sheffield United, in March 2018 for Brentford.

The Blades immediately introduced club-record signing Oliver McBurnie up front.

But it was another of the visitors’ subs who made the telling impact.

Cherries switched off from an Oliver Norwood free-kick, allowing George Baldock to deliver a low cross in to McBurnie, who scrambled it goalwards.

The effort was blocked, but it fell kindly to Sharp, who had only been introduced six minutes earlier, to fire it through Mepham and into the net to send the away fans wild.

Cherries had one final opportunity to snatch the win, but Fraser curled a free-kick over the bar.

Cherries: Ramsdale; Mepham, Cook, Ake; Smith, Lerma, Billing, Rico; King, Fraser, C. Wilson (Solanke, 90).

Unused subs: Simpson, Daniels, Surman, H. Wilson, Ibe, Boruc (g/k).

Booked: Smith (43), Fraser (67)

Sheff Utd: Henderson; Basham (Sharp, 82), Egan, O’Connell; Baldock, Lundstram (Freeman, 78), Norwood, Fleck, Stevens; Robinson, McGoldrick (McBurnie, 63).

Unused subs: Jagielka, Besic, Osborn, Moore (g/k).

Booked: Fleck (79)

Referee: Kevin Friend

Attendance: 10,714