Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Game by Game - 4

Pre-Season Friendly: Hallam (A), 1-2

A trip to Sandygate on a pleasant Summer evening is never a chore. A fiver in, cheap bar, watching the match with a pint and decent snap from Ann's Tea Bar - tonight it was chilli and rice for £3 - attracted myself , Chris Wilder and 548 others to the oldest football ground in the World.

Last season saw a few first team fringe players join the Blades development squad up at Hallam. On Tuesday night the only one involved was Caolan Lavery and it was perhaps surprising that Jake Eastwood didn't get game time with Simon Moore and Dean Henderson now jostling for first team action.

With Regan Slater, Sam Graham, Harvey Gilmour and Calum Semple all out on loan, perhaps the most familiar (least unknown) player to those who aren't regular academy watchers (myself included) was young Welshman Rhys Norrington Davies who has enjoyed a brief cameo at the Keepmoat the previous Friday. Him aside it was a young development side with many stepping up from the u18s squad of last season. After participating in a four team tournament at Whitby ending at the weekend, United named just three subs, it really felt like bare bones.

With half of the cricket outfield encroaching on to the football pitch, the Sandygate grass had a two tone look. The long hot summer, combined with the infamous Sandygate slope meant that any heavy touch was punished on a hard, bobbly pitch. And in the early stages there were plenty of them from both sides.

From the first few minutes Norrington-Davies stood out above the rest. Most of United's best play came down the left and they were comfortably on top. Forward David Parkhouse looks a big lad and there was a decent touch amongst the hustle and bustle of his link play. His movement and aerial threat created space that strike partner Lavery never fully exploited. Parkhouse hit a nice curling shot  which hit the bar with the keeper Snaith watching on. Then after neat build up his back heel allowed Lavery to hit a curling shot past the keeper.

Norrington-Davies was influential and popping up on the right, you could hear the Hallam captain shouting "He's all left foot, he's all left foot". Sadly he didn't follow up on our wishes to put over a pearler of a right foot cross. However, it was noteworthy that the mouth was directed at their biggest tormentor. The Blades pressure paid off when Hallam saw his shot parried and Oure tapped in from close range. United were comfortable and Hallam looked ragged, making two early substitutions around half a hour in.

Whilst I was in a lengthy bar queue there was a substantial delay just before half time when Hallam's captain Reed went down injured. By all accounts there was no challenge but a ruptured achilles saw him eventually leave the pitch on crutches with United medical staff on hand.

Second half and kicking downhill United lost their way a bit and credit should go to Hallam who were now the better side, despite the upsetting loss of their captain. It'sinteresting how whenever I have been to Hallam, teams seem to benefit kicking up the slope. United's subs made little impact and Silva (a trialist) struggled to get into the game to the extent my friend Al asked if George Weah was his uncle.   Aside from a disappointing Lavery effort fired straight at sub keeper Darwent, it was mainly Hallam pressure.

Their goal came from a corner. A back post header was parried well by Dewhurst but the loose ball was shinned home centre back Griffiths. And it was Dewhurst's goal that was under most threat until the final whistle saw the crowd drift off into the side streets of S10.

Three final thoughts:

On a night like this you would expect Lavery to stand out, but unfortunately he didn't. Harsh to be singled out as the only senior player involved, but it says much about his future at United that he was. Anyone watching wouldn't have been impressed and an observation was made that he might be a player that drops right down the leagues. When he joined you thought there is something there; pace, aggression and a nuisance for defenders. What he lacked was goals and the loan at Rotherham did little to enhance his prospects. It will be interesting to see where he ends up.

There were 4 United players who stood out for me. Jordan Hallam looked composed and comfortable on the ball with a decent range of passing, as did Reece York who captained the side. Parkhouse showed promise but I read that he needs to contribute more goals and I can understand that based on what I saw, although he was unlucky when he hit the woodwork. Finally, Norrington-Davies was the stand out. He looked physically stronger than his team mates, had an excellent first touch on a challenging pitch, if anything his final ball could have been better, but he was always offering himself and getting into good attacking positions.

Finally, in the city of football we need to make sure our local teams are supported. Hallam, Sheffield FC, Handsworth Parramore (stuck out at Worksop) and Stocksbridge all offer affordable football, with a warm welcome. A great alternative when time and money mean a Championship away day isn't feasible. Hallam made the Northern Counties East Division  play offs two years ago and just missed out last year as the fixture backlog hit following the harsh winter. It will be harder to gain promotion from Step 6 this season, with no play offs following a pyramid reorganisation, so any extra support will only help. As it will at Handsworth (a league higher) and at Club and Stocksbridge (a further step up).

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