Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Views from Opposite Ends 2

Sheffield United v Leeds United
Saturday 19th March 2010

A few weeks ago I posted a review of the Sheffield United v Reading match with Royals fan Lanterne Rouge from website the two unfortunates also contributing. It seemed a popular format so, following Saturday's Yorkshire Derby at Bramall Lane, I am delighted (not just because the Blades won) to welcome David, founder and editor of the Leeds fan site The Scratching Shed, to offer two views of a vital game for both sides. I had happily proffered a match preview to The Scratching Shed on Friday, which found me in less than optimistic mood.

Going into the game Leeds sat 5th, in the Play Off positions and 2 points of automatic, whilst the Blades, adrift in the relegation places, looked to be heading towards League One. Something that Leeds fans, as much as any, know is not an easy place to escape from.


The View from The Scratching Shed

Firstly, congratulations to Blades fans on what I'm sure was a rare highlight in an otherwise miserable season. I'm sure some Leeds fans see it as a defeat to our Yorkshire rivals, but you'll find no hard feelings, resentment or excuses here. My feelings towards Sheffield United are the same as they were before the game - largely apathetic - and as someone who has experienced the pain of relegation I hope the victory proves to be a turning point for you in the battle against it.

I've been to Bramall Lane several times now so knew what to expect from the outset. My previous half dozen visits haven't been pleasurable ones and this was to be no exception. I know the majority of Whites fans talked about easy points from a relegation threatened team, but even with your current selection problems I never expected this to be the walkover some fans were suggesting.

As usual, Sheffield looked more up for the game than Leeds did, The battle was won and lost in midfield where we were second best throughout. Had it not been for Kasper Schmeichel, this could have been the embarrassing result I've suspected wasn't far away for some time now. Our defence is exceptionally useless and our midfield tends to get overrun far too easily. Switching to 4-4-2 midway through the second half with Gradel moving forward in support of Becchio and Howson going wide was the signal that our midfield had waved the white flag and decided to down swords and request a peace treaty.

It's difficult to say what Sheffield did right, because Leeds did so much wrong. We were void of any composure from the outset, relied on last ditch tackles or quality saves from Kasper rather than killing the problem before it built up and most importantly, we never had the flair and brilliance up front that usually allows us to take a Brazilian approach to defending (The Brazilian approach to defending is simply to not bother and outscore the opposition).

I guess the difference was composure. Sheffield held the ball better and took time to build up their next assault whilst everything Leeds did was rushed and desperate.

Congratulations on a thoroughly deserved result. I wish you all the best of luck for the remainder of this season.

A United View on the Whites

I was slightly surprised by Leeds, for a team so high in the table they did not play as a cohesive unit. The frantic nature of the match, right from the very start, saw many misplaced passes from both sides. Over time the Blades settled better and managed sustained spells of play in the opposition half.

The comments on the midfield are interesting. I expected this as an area where Leeds would dominate, especially up against a workmanlike midfield trio of Montgomery, Quinn and Doyle. For periods Leeds seemed quicker to the loose ball and tackle, although they submissively gave the ball back again with little exertion required from Blades players. Having said that, I though Quinn gave his best performance of the season and his contribution in the goal build up alongside vibrant midfield play was one in the eye for his critics, of which I have been one.

It was also surprising to see how direct Leeds played at times, often by-passing the midfield to direct balls up to Becchio, who was looking at bringing Snodgrass, Gradel and the advancing Howson into the game. The fact that all three made little impact on the game was both a relief and a surprise and even a change of formation and tactics failed to address the problem. It might have been different if Gradel had buried a close range header at nil nil, it might have settled Leeds play, but he put it wide. Gradel's pace caused us very few problems and he actually made Nyron Nosworthy look like he had a decent game. A rare feat.

The fact that the direct route failed for Leeds  and Becchio was eventually substituted was, to a large extent, due to the composed performance of Blades youngster Matthew Lowton. He dealt manfully with the rumbustious challenges of Becchio and alongside fellow 21 year old Shane Lowry he displayed an understanding and reading of the game that Neil Collins has failed to achieve in any game for United so far. They also coped better than a much more experienced defence at the opposite end, who struggled to stop Sam Vokes holding the ball up in his best game for the Blades to date.

I have seen some impressive goalkeeping displays at Bramall Lane this season and Schmeichel's is probably up there as the best. Watching him spread himself, arms and legs stretched wide to block Bogdanovic was reminiscent of his Dad in his prime. The acrobatic save when tipping over a Ched Evans shot aiming for the top corner was superb. He really stopped it being a much bigger scoreline. 

So where does this leave both teams? United built on the great comeback in the last home game against Forest and the Lane atmosphere, although well short of a full house, was getting back to its best. Noisy encouragement for the Blades and a vocal, hostile reception for the opposition. If we can take this into our remaining 4 home games, we have a chance. Winning our home games will be vital and Adams now has a formation that has worked twice against top 6 opposition and a line up that dominated the match  against Leeds. The difficulty will be away from home, where an alternative will be required and points will still need to be picked up.   

It is the need for an alternative approach and the success Simon Grayson has in identifying it that will define how Leeds' season ends. The "Vindaloo" approach of "We're gonna score one more than you" looks to be running out of steam and the players looked lost and increasingly ragged as the match wore on. Signs of ill discipline were noticeable and a combination of dropping heads and raised studs are not features Leeds fans will want to see if they are to maintain their play off position.

Despite the gap in quality on the pitch on Saturday, the victorious team could start next season two division below their opposition. It could be a one division gap, there could be no gap at all. I suspect that there will be a one division gap, but with Leeds remaining where they are. Too little too late for the Blades, whereas the Whites look like Play-Off candidates and I fear they may come across teams in better end of season form. Play off heartache, something Blades supporters can more than empathise with.


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