Sunday, 5 August 2018

Game by Game - 5

SkyBet Championship: Swansea (H), 1-2

So, where to begin.....yesterday I wrote this tweet post match.

As a fellow Blade pointed out in response, it's easy to over react in the immediate aftermath of the game and look foolish later. However, I think that misses a point. Frustrations are high (shared by the manager in his post match interview) and better to let off a bit of steam online than take it out in many other ways.

A critical view doesn't mean that the tweeter has shouted themselves hoarse in encouragement all match. If singling out players is a bad thing then criticise the manager who named several players whose catalogue of mistakes, in his eyes, led to the Swansea goals. One bad result on the opening day doesn't define our season and in the long run it may not be a bad thing. If we had held on to the one goal advantage it would have masked a number of deficiencies that I have no doubt will be addressed. 

The first half was stale fare from two sides finding their feet . Neither goalkeeper was threatened; Henderson comfortably collecting two long range efforts, whilst Nordfelt watched on as United's threat diminished in the final third, as we saw so often in the latter part of last season. Whilst it was frustrating to see United dilly dally out wide before putting over a poor cross, we were hardly flooding the box with options either.

For all the sharpness and crisp interplay from Celina and Carroll in the Swans' midfield and the bustle of McBurnie up front, the United back line for the large part looked comfortable. At the other end McGoldrick was working hard and trying to create openings, industrious and neat. However, at half time it was difficult to see where a goal was going to come from. A change was needed; United lacked creativity and ideas in the final third and there was just too big a gap between three midfielders sitting deep and McGoldrick and Clarke.

The second half started a bit more open. End to end with play flowing back and forth, but then there was a 5 minute spell where United were struggling to clear their lines. Lots of last ditch blocks and tackles and with no outlet ball it just kept coming back. Eventually United regained some controlled possession and had three great chances to score, finally taking the third opportunity.

McGoldrick surged forward in a central position and with space opening in front of him hit it with the side of his right foot. But from such a central position he needed to open his body up further and the ball curled away and past the keeper's right post. He really needed to put his laces through it.

One player who did when composure was required was Lundstram. Minutes after McGoldrick's chance he was played in on the right side of the box and lashed a wild shot rising high into the Kop. The goal when it can followed neat interplay down United's left involving Baldock. One guy around me said "What's Baldock doing there?" as he laid off to Fleck and arced his run into the box where Lundstram's pull back was met with a calm side foot finish perfectly slotted between keeper' s fingertips and post. You expected United to kick on now, but they didn't.

Montero had been brought on down the Swansea left for full back Olsson and his pace was causing United problems. More so given we seemed to sit back after scoring. Swansea dominated for the most part from thereon in. We were getting opened up far too easily and the quicker pace and intensity of Swansea was too much, often leading to poor decision making and leaden footedness. Besides their goals, Mackay slammed the bar and Henderson (who saved well in the build up to the equaliser) superbly tipped over a McBurnie header.

Woodburn, Sharp and Duffy came on but with little effect. Sharp perhaps having most impact but we lacked the ideas to deliver an equaliser, the nearest being a one handed stop by Nordfelt to keep out a cross deflected off Roberts thigh.

On balance Swansea probably deserved it, despite our superior possession and greater number of shots. Statistics are fine but they don't tell the full story of a disappointing start to the campaign. On the plus side we have plenty of games to show we are better than that.

Three final thoughts:

I'm not sure how the shortlist is drawn up for the official Man of the Match, but the fact it had Evans, Baldock and O'Connell on it showed they had limited choice yesterday. Baldock (the vote winner) struggled when Montero came on, not helped by Basham to his left, but goal aside he was poor. At one point trying to shield the ball out off play he was caught out leading to another goalscoring opportunity. O'Connell had quite possibly the worst game I've seen him have in a Blades shirt. He looked off the pace and sleepy. Evans was busy, but as the player to break it up and generally pass sideways he has little impact on the game. Henderson pulled off a couple of good saves, but his kicking and distribution were wayward meaning we surrendered possession too easily. For me McGoldrick was the best of a bad bunch.

Nearly 24 hours later I stand by my tweet and it was a fear I expressed when the team news came through in the pub beforehand. The three selected in midfield just doesn't work for me. One suggestion in the pub post match was that if this combination was used then Evans and Fleck should be deeper (the former winning the ball, breaking up play and giving it to the latter), with Lundstram more advanced (as he is a more progressive player). I'm not sure, but today they were all too deep, Fleck saw little of the ball and when he did was in wide areas where he is less effective. That's one win in seven games when this midfield combination has been used. If it's to be continued we need to find the right formula and fast.

For a team that played Premier League last season Swansea were disappointing and eminently were beatable. I guess they are a team in transition with a new manager and many of their better players having left, imminently departing or refusing to play. Bersant Celina (impressive for Ipswich against the Blades last season) and Tom Carroll were excellent in midfield and Ollie McBurnie gave our back three a tough and rough game, as he did to us for Barnsley at Oakwell towards the end of last season. Yet for all this and the impact of pace in Montero, thet felt like a functional team with mistakes in them. Okay, they were away from home, but there was little of the "possession based, attacking football" Potter referred to in his programme interview. Maybe we can blame the first game and early season errors for  the many slipshod moments that gave Blades fans belief that three points was achievable and f they put them right I can see them being Top 6 challengers at the end of the season.

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