Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Balls of Steel

I don't like Derby days. There I've said it. In fact I've said it before. Here's a link back to a piece I wrote 7 years ago. My view hasn't changed since and I doubt it ever will.

But this Derby Day is different. Well, maybe not that much different to the home fixture against Wednesday last season, but different from the norm that we have become accustomed to in my lifetime. We are no longer the underdog and, to be frank, I don't like it. 

It's been rare in my lifetime that United have been favourites going into a Derby match. Even last season, when we were above Wednesday going into the fixture at Hillsborough, we were still dismissed as cannon fodder by the S6 support. "The bubble will burst", they told us. "You are not good enough", they told us. "We are older, bigger, better", not that it helps much on the pitch. They underestimated the Dog & Duck, both in terms of quality of football and the unity of the team. 

Whatever they might say about 4-2 not being a massacre, the home side in a Derby fixture had not conceded 4 goals for the best part of a century. You would need to go back to the Wartime League in 1917 and 1918 when the Blades conceded 4 and 5 at home to Wednesday. 

Suddenly, the claims were about missing players, injuries, ignoring the fact that just one of their team cost as much as our entire eleven. However much they doth protest, it hurt.......a lot. So much so that come the return fixture at Bramall Lane a 0-0 draw was celebrated like a cup final triumph in the away end. They told us how disappointed we should feel, yet for me not losing in a Derby is a victory in itself. We ended the season having taken four points off Wednesday, who wouldn't be delighted with that? And if the boot were on the other foot, I doubt you would find many Wednesdayites who would disagree. 

Fourteen months on from that game at Hillsborough, the stakes are the same but the feeling is so different. A quick look at the Roy's Views website, which picks off the highlights and opinions posted on the opposition's internet forums, show us a very different mood across town. One where the psychological games how much greater. A snapshot of their views are below.

"Anything less than 4 will be like a lottery win. Poor Blades they’re in an awkward position lol”
“All the pressure is on United. Expected to lose by 3 or 4 goals on Friday. “
"If they don’t win by at 5 clear goals they’ll be bitterly disappointed."

"Win – win for us. They should win handsomely. Anything less would be a disappointment for them."

Whilst the facts are 3rd versus 17th, an opposition that have shipped 12 goals in 3 games and a fan base that is demanding the manager's removal and the reinstatement of key players. The facts also show a Blades side that I've taken 4 points from the last 12 and despite plenty of good football and strong possession stats, don't always make it count.

It is a cliche, but it has so often been the case; the form book does go out of the window. Just look at the two matches last season. Wednesday were expected to win at Hillsborough and we were expected to win at Bramall Lane. Neither happened. Going back to 1991-92, we had won two top flight games Wednesday were firm favourites when they visited the Lane and remained so when United visited Hillsborough. It meant nothing in either game.

I then read a tweet from fellow Blade, Darren Smith;

"If we don't win this by at least three it will be one of the most disappointing results in our recent history. Opportunities like this don't come along very often. We are playing decent stuff they are in disarray"

On first read I winced. I didn't like it. I could never be that bolshy about our chances. How can you be disappointed by a win? When challenged in a subsequent tweet, Darren admitted he could have chosen a better word than disappointed and I think that is right, but the more I thought about it, the more I understood the point he was trying to make. 

We are playing a team that will sit deep and try and contain, as they did at the Lane back in January. For them, it will be all about defend and hit us on the break. That night we failed to find that incisive move to deliver a goal. Find that on Friday (and relatively early in the game) and they have to come out. Weaknesses exposed, we could really go for the jugular and a result that puts to bed the day after Christmas thirty nine years ago. 

It could happen, but then again plenty of things could happen. I am just not going there expecting it. I doubt any Blades would make such rash predictions. A one goal win, with the ball rebounding of Billy's backside will do me fine I would even take a point and we move on to a less intense, but probably more testing game away at Rotherham. 

If you want me between 7:30 and 9:45 on Friday night, you will find me hunched in my seat in the middle of the Kop. Muscles wound tighter than a watch spring. Tenser than Joey Essex entered in a Spelling Bee. Twitching like the Pitsmoor Owl whenever a blue light passes his living room window. I can't say I will enjoy it, you would need balls of steel to sit/stand there and enjoy it all. know there is one scenario that would enable me to properly enjoy it, well some of it, at least whatever time is left after the fourth goes in. 18-1 with SkyBet, just saying.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Game by Game - 15

Game 15 – Blackburn Rovers (A), Championship – 0-2

The A666. The road of the devil. The road to hell. The road to Blackburn. Driving through Darwen into Blackburn is a bit like passing over and finding yourself in Hades. We were welcomed into Blackburn by the sight of a young mum in dressing gown pushing a child in her buggy up the street, at 5:45 pm. An interesting sight, yet this wasn't the oddest moment of the night and the welcome was never really warm.

A walk down Bolton Road to McDonalds was a bizarre fusion of sights and sounds. From the gaunt, pasty faced youths guarding the entrance to Ewood Park WMC (and the membership secretary at a small table inside) with a look that just said, "Don't think about it". To the youths outside the newsagents, "I'd sooner get beat up than do prison". There was a Blackburn fan whose main form of communication appeared to be whinnying like a horse.Then to cap it all there was the 10 year old in the McDonalds queue  who, after asking JB if he supported Blackburn and JB replying that he didn't, proceeded to tell him to "f@ck off then". 

The night soon got better. United started with a bang. Quite literally, as banger exploded in the away end and 2,000 Blades fans simultaneously crapped themselves. Once the eggy smell of firework and rectal expulsion had passed, United were on the front foot from the off. Most of the first half saw the Blades camped in the opposition half. I have never seen such an unambitious home side as Blackburn. Once the excellent Egan and Basham isolated Graham and Dack (and subsequently Brereton), any counter attacks were snuffed out.

I can't imagine watching my team set up like that at home and clearly Rovers fans feel the same way. We have had some low points and rogue owners, but for a team riding high on their return to the Championship, just 12,000 home fans rattling around three sides of the stadium was a poor show. A sign of being careful what you wish for in terms of owners and recognition that the very best of times can soon turn bad. The fact those there were largely silent, apart from the youth sporadically banging his drum (which did more for Blades fans song creativity than  theirs), was equally sobering. "Is this a library?" chanted the Blades fans, more like a morgue.

As has been the case recently United didn't convert superior play and possession into goals, although this can be put down to the Blackburn keeper rather than profligate finishing. Whilst there was still a tendency for players to look for a pass when a shot was seemingly on, it was the saves that Raya made from McGoldrick, Duff and Fleck that kept the score 0-0. Well, those saves and a good headed chance put over by O'Connell. At 66-1 for the first goal and 20-1 anytime, it would have been nice if you had got your head over it Jack 😁.

After a bright five minutes or so at the start of the second half, when United had a great shout for handball in the box, Blackburn eased there way into the game, switching formation to match us and gaining some territory. For ten minutes or so we were on the back foot and failing to retain possession. Wilder and Knill responded by pushing Basham into midfield and morphing into a 4-3-3 which enabled United to regain control and we finally took the lead. 

Duffy, cut inside from the right and passed inside to Fleck, who moved the ball out wide left to McGoldrick. Rovers defenders were tracking across but nowhere near the Blades players and McGoldrick crossed for Sharp to bundle home at the second attempt. From thereon, United reverted back to the usual formation and Blackburn never looked like getting back into the game. There lack of creativity and guile exemplified by utilising sub Mulgrew as a quarterback sweeper, firing long diagonals from behind the centre halves.

The introduction of Coutts brought one of the biggest cheers of the night and from the minute he stepped on the pitch it was like he had never been away. From the off he was full blooded in the tackle and shirked nothing. Always wanting the ball, his touch was superb. A series of intricate one-twos when he was tight on the touchline showed quick feet and mind. He always seems to create more time and space than you think he has and this was no different. "Coutts's touch is arousing me", said JB.

The second goal again came from an advancing Fleck laying the ball off to his left. This time Stevens hit a wonderful curling cross and Billy somehow had more space around him than a Rovers fan, allowing him to head the ball hard into the ground, bouncing up into the roof of the net from close range. If it wasn't game over before, it was now. Scores of Rovers supporters were streaming out of the ground when sub Washington should have buried a third, but he fired too close to the impressive Raya.

Away wins are seldom more emphatic, even if the scoreline doesn't fully reflect the dominance.

Three final thoughts:

Billy Reliable: You can score all the spectacular 30 yard goals you like, but a bundled goal from 5 yards counts for as much, if not more. Especially if it gives your team the win that the flashier goals sometimes do not. That is why there will always be a role for Billy in the Blades team and why he is second top scorer in the division. At half time, you could argue he had been our least effective player. As Luke Prest messaged at the time, "Never that arsed with Billy being quiet, he often is before banging one in". Or in this case two. Unless injured or knackered, he is undroppable right now. And with McGoldrick playing so well, it's a nice problem to have.

Perspective: Following my piece on The Entitled Fans, it is worth reflecting on where we are now: 

  • Joint top, third on goal difference.
  • Coutts is back.
  • We have seen more victories than fans of any other Championship club.
  • Coutts is back.
  • A point better off than at the same stage last season, when everyone said we had a great start.
  • Coutts is back.
  • We have a stronger matchday squad.
  • Coutts is back.
  • We've got Ollie Norwood....
  • Coutts is back.

TalkSport Singles: The journey home was a time of warm reflection on a great away win that dissolved into hysterics, as we turned over the radio to Talksport and heard them trailing their dating site -Talksport Singles. 

Is it a same sex dating site? 

How do they recruit women from such a male oriented listenership? 

Surely, you wouldn’t find any women registering unless they are a Single White Female looking for Single White Van Man? 

And why, unlike everything else on Talksport, is it not sponsored by Screwfix, surely a missed opportunity there?

Just who would advertise themselves there?

"Barry from Willesden, Man United fan, likes shouting at passing cars and owning pitbulls"

"Nigel from Goole, Second Hand Car Salesman. Likes: His women like his cars, cheap reliable and fast"

"Karl, Postman from Kidderminster. Reads The Mail, Delivers the mail"

"Brian from Harlesden. Likes Spurs, Phil Collins and Steak and Chips"

"Tommy from Doncaster. Likes:  Benidorm - for holidays and the telly programme. Dislikes: No... proper hates Germans."

Monday, 1 October 2018

Game by Game - 14

Game 14 – Millwall (A), Championship – 2-3

So we welcome back Alan Pickard to A United View, his Bolton Game by Game report being one of the most read so far. 

An early train to The Smoke, crap beer all day, a good pinch of snuff and a fantastic Blades win are a heady mix. As I flicked between match feeds at home, the fancam view on Facebook was frequently blocked by the back of Alan's head and the match soundtracked by his increasingly hoarse voice telling Millwall that they aren't scary anymore.  So when his stream of consciousness (along with the thoughts of fell Blades in Coach C of the 18:34 out of St Pancras) landed in the AUV inbox on Saturday night I anticipated a bit of an editing job would be in order..... 

It's started well. Train to Donny and iPhone Dave has spotted fellow AUV corespondent Tyrone, who is sat behind us. Selfie secured (without Tyrone knowing, ahem....that's Dave - Ed) and Fosters in hand. (Again AUV cannot condone the drinking of Fosters at all, nevermind when Jaipur now comes in cans - Ed). The day is off. To. A. Flyer.

Milwall away, and thoughts are cast back to the Warnock era. "SERVES YOU RIGHT FOR FUCKING MUSCAT THAT". Seriously though, I've never seen us win here, not sure that will change today. Anyway, back on the train and Player of the Season so far is up for debate. Votes, from the committee go to....

McGoldrick x 5
Norwood x 2
Stevens x 1
Bash x 1
Hendo x 1

So there we are. That seems conclusive, the player that half the support turned to social media to bemoan when he joined is the man. (Although, his scoring record is under threat from our mate Ed). What we all agreed on is that Norwood coming in has improved us ten-fold.

So, onto the match. It started with United on the front foot, trying to force the issue, but with the all too familiar situation of when the Duff Man can't unlock the door, nobody else seems able to step up to the plate. Or at least step up and deliver with any conviction.

The pressure is rewarded with a corner. A short corner is played in and back out again, Oli Norwood, he's fucking reyt good, puts one in the box son. And its a penalty. Phil reckons it was crossed by Stevens (Phil had clearly been on stronger stuff than Fosters - Ed). Anyway, Billy missed. Well, Amos saved really, but didn't fancy his run up. Didn't look confident at all. Sake.

I've walked down the stairs to get a beer, and then hear a cheer. For fuck's sake we've scored. This happened last year too. I've missed it again. Get in Billy you beautiful beautiful man. I would have your babies....

Half time. 

Second half. The first ten minutes of the second half has been voted (by the committee) as:


Anyway, somehow we're 2 - 1 down and I'm not really sure how. I really can't wait to type this next bit.

Once things settled down, we got into a rhythm. Feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme, come on down, it's McGoldrick time.

Intricate passing between our midfield maestros, leads to a push on the Duff man. And it's another penalty. That man McGoldrick has big balls. Steps up. 2-2. G'wan babbi. The steward, who is an Arsenal fan, appreciated my turbo snuff post celebration.

There's only going to be one winner now. A one two on the right hand side is cut across the box by the main man Mark Duffy, straight into the path of that man again. McGoldrick slots home and 1,400 Blades are delirious, maybe nearly as much as Hendo at the other end of the pitch. We've deserved that. Final whistle and chants of Oohhh David McGoldrick ring around Bermondsey. Off home we go. iPhone Dave has purchased half of M&S and were all happy. UTB!

Four final thoughts from Coach C: 

Kirsti - Deserved victory but we made hard work of it and didn't start second half well. (Can always rely on Kirsti to list two negatives out of three points on a 3-2 away win! - Ed)

Paul - McGoldrick is proving a very good purchase. (He cost £19.99 less than this - Ed)

JB - It is really refreshing for United to dig themselves out of a hole. Holes that more often than not last season we were unable to get out of. And we've now done that twice in the last week. 

AP - Were winning games we'd have lost last season. Keep the faith. 

Photo - Copyright David Kirkham

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

The Entitled Fans

The Internet is the centre of so many people’s lives. Anyone, should they wish to, has a public voice and a means by which to be heard (read) – forums, message boards, blogs, podcasts, twitter and Facebook. "What do you think? Tell us!". I know what you are thinking, as a blogger should you really be going down this path? But stick with me....

Old media is playing catch up, the consumers of media now create content. Phone-ins no longer need 90 minutes of callers when they can read out emails and tweets. The emails and tweets become a generator of calls and tweets and emails. Local newspapers can write articles that comprise a couple of lines of often mis-spelt text and a page of tweets. Our thoughts, hope and dreams, hates and loves shared even wider, to be rated or slated.

As society is changing, so is football. An ever expensive business that means clubs increasingly have customers rather than fans. Whether we like it or not there is an increasing number of football fans who are as much consumers and customers as supporters and fans. With ticket prices reaching, what for many people are, unsustainable levels, an increasing number of people attend expecting some semblance of value for money – a notion that very few clubs a season will ever deliver on, or on a consistent basis. Nothing exemplifies this more than the misguided notion that as a customer you are entitled to a refund if the performance is poor and the defeat is heavy.

 A sense of fan entitlement is rising in football and whilst many campaigns are worthy of wider support – Twenty’s Plenty and challenging the disregard to supporters with TV match scheduling as examples – there is a much whinier, whinging group who seek complaint at every opportunity. More prevalent amongst “supporters” of the Big 6, or those who perceive their club should be, these ungrateful, spoilt children have a sense of entitlement and severe lack of perspective that does them a bigger disservice than they are willing to acknowledge. These Veruca Salts or Violet Botts want to "scweam and scweam until they’re sick".

Sadly, you can see this starting to perpetuate United's fanbase. We all want success, we all yearn for cup runs, cup finals, promotions and titles, to bring the good times and big games back to the Lane, but this is more than that. Worse than that.  Fans sitting back waiting to be entertained - like the emperors in the Coliseum. 

There has been comment on social media and on the phone-ins recently about the atmosphere at the Lane. The fact is we have gone quiet. People sat waiting for it to happen, with impatient expectation. And when the goal doesn't come, or a mistake is made, you hear the muttering and the groans. The second, third, fourth mistakes greeted with ever louder groans. I wasn't at the Birmingham game, but those who were there commented it was like a morgue at times. The Preston game on Saturday wasn't helped by half the crowd being caught up in Freshers gridlock at kick off, but did we ever really get going once the ground filled? The usual groups at the back of the Kop made their effort, but it never really reverberated around the ground.

Even when we were all over a team for 60 minutes it felt quiet. We expect a lot of effort on the pitch and they (the players) got nothing back when they delivered. The quality of football and style of play we are trying to deliver deserves it.

Attendances are down on last season. Matchday pricing and the midweek red button will both have an impact I am sure, as will the fact that away followings are down as well. Despite these factors we still have strong numbers, so the volume should still be good.

This entitlement and passive support - until there is an issue - then breeds on social media. There is a tendency in some tweets I have seen to focus on the fact we have been on a "run" of one point from a home and away game. Since when is two games a run of games? Particularly when it includes one okay performance that we should have got at least point from - but didn't and another where initial dominance of possession wasn't translated into goal opportunities, we faded and found ourselves holding on for a point. The latter one of those games where everyone has a stinker - rare, but they do happen. But for some people this was panic stations, this was the start of "the rot". The reality is it was four wins in six and sixth in the table.

All sense of perspective is lost. The need to comment in the immediacy of the final whistle, or in this case midway through a second half with United 2-0 up, leaves little time for rationalisation. Comments that were previously kept within the privacy of friends and family are now out on public display.

There appears to be a reluctance to pause and think before hitting ‘send’ or ‘tweet’, a pause that might have more value than the words that have been typed. If this was the reaction when we went 2-0 up, I can only assume the patchy 3G coverage in the Lane thankfully deprived us of the thoughts at 2-2.

This is not a call for Ultra groups, choreographed displays, or singing sections. It isn't necessarily about singing songs. This is just a call for some perspective, for fans to get behind the team and encourage them. Bramall Lane rocking is a place few clubs would want to visit, how many times have opposition managers commented on it? We are in a much stronger position than many would have expected even after winning the League One title 16 months ago. Yes, we didn't kick on last season as we might have hoped, after a great start, but we are putting together a similar platform this season.

The table below shows the position at the same stage last season, there are many similarities with this in that we are fourth and two points off the lead, but this season is more open and the gaps are smaller. Just two points separate us in fourth and Blackburn in twelfth. The margins are small and everything points to a competitive league with a team that finds consistency pulling away from the rest.

I recently saw the graph below on twitter from a Wednesday fan, (stick with me!) Peter Loehmann. It showed that over the last 14 years the proportion of teams in the Top 6 of the Championship each week that are still there at season end. Whilst that wasn't the case for us last season and we were in the other 50%, then there must be a chance this season.

Let's not take this for granted. Let's not assume that the players can produce these kinds of performances every week. They're going to need us to get behind them and they need us to lift them when energy is flagging. Teams come to Bramall lane to contain us. Be patient, keep perspective, we can make a difference. You never know we may convert some of those results we didn't get last season into better ones this and who knows where that might take us?

Monday, 24 September 2018

Game by Game - 13

Game 13 – Preston North End (H), Championship – 3-2

So we missed a couple of games in Game by Game - whilst our correspondents were at both Bristol City on Saturday and the Lane on Tuesday, time and other priorities have limited their writing opportunities. 

And so on the back of two results that can be described as disappointing for different reasons, the Blades went into a game that, based on the season to date form of both sides, looked imminently winnable. History tells us that is never the case when we face Preston, either home or away. This was a team that showed more hunger and fight when the two teams met at the end of last season in a must win game and their matchday squad was largely unchanged with 14 players named who were included back in April. Perhaps the biggest losses were the injured Maguire and Bodin, limiting their attacking options.

Chris Wilder made five changes midweek, perhaps too many and the disruption caused maybe contributed to so many of the team having a stinker on the same night. He then made four more changes on Saturday, but few would argue with re-instating the two wing backs and restoring Sharp and McGoldrick to frontline duties. The starting XI picks itself at present, assuming all are fit and able.

In front of a relatively sparse looking crowd, the ground slowly filling up as the traffic chaos around the city impacted so many journeys to the Lane, United started on the front foot. Plenty of possession but initially lacking that impetus in the final third, with O'Connell crossing over everyone's heads and Stevens and Freeman both wasting great crossing opportunities bursting to the sidelines. McGoldrick had a goal-bound header, cleared away by a Preston forehead, but for those who had witnessed the Birmingham game there were similar features. Preston were sat deep and rarely threatened.

We needed to find a way through and needed that bit of inventiveness that had been lacking for a couple of games. Each attack seemed to end with a groan from the crowd and sat on the Kop there was a sense of agitation rather than anticipation building. This cannot help the players. When on top like this the crowd needs to get behind the team and be the 12th man forcing the ball home, not sat waiting and then grumbling when it doesn't happen.

The goal, when it came arose from end to end football and one perfectly delivered pass. After a spell of prolonged United possession Basham tried turning in a tight spot on the right edge of the opposition penalty area. Robbing the ball from Basham, Preston broke at pace and United were on the back foot. But a superbly timed challenge, I think from Egan, saw the ball fall into the path of Freeman who advanced and hit a deliciously weighted through ball into the path of McGoldrick down the right channel. McGoldrick's cross shot could only be parried by Maxwell and, after what felt like an age, Sharp reached the ball to tap into the empty net. No more than United deserved.  

Shortly after McGoldrick stretched for a Stevens cross, but could only head wide. Just before the half time whistle, Preston had a rare break stretching the Blades back line and O’Connell and Egan made excellent blocks at crucial moments. Rarely had we been under pressure, but when we had been we felt a little panicky.

Bizarrely Preston didn't start the second half with any greater ambition and it felt like one way traffic with all the play coming towards the Kop. United won a free kick on the right-hand side and Norwood drove a hard, curling ball that only needed a diversion from the head of Basham to send it into the top corner. I thought no one could top the accuracy and quality of my childhood performance at Paperboy on the Spectrum, but Norwood's delivery is the best I have seen for a long time.

United were coasting and had a great chance to kill the game off, McGoldrick dragging it wide from the right side of goal with only the keeper to beat. This seemed to trigger Preston into action and the introduction of the tricky Daniel Johnson, just after the hour mark, and Barker ten minutes later really added some thrust to their attack, but for a lot of effort and possession the final ball was lacking. United were solid enough but without ever looking wholly comfortable, mainly due to not retaining possession for any decent period. Wilder changed formation, Marvin Johnson for Sharp and we switched to a 4-1-4-1 that also allowed us to go to 4-3-3 when attacking with Johnson and Duffy either side of McGoldrick, but nothing was sticking when the Blades were in possession. It felt like wave after wave of Preston pressure and when the goal came, you could sense the ground as one seemed to mutter, "Well that's been coming".

It was a completely preventable goal; as Barker advanced O'Connell stayed on his heels, Stevens went to close him down leaving Barker to slip in Fisher overlapping on the right. He laid the perfect ball across to Robinson who had dropped a couple of yards off Egan, who ended up slipping to a heap on the floor as the ball was knocked home. Preston now had belief and their second came down the opposite side. Freeman sucked inside leaving Hughes alone on the left and his cross was met by the lunging Johnson, whose shot was probably heading wide until it cannoned off O'Connell and wrong-footed Henderson. With 8 minutes to go, there was a sense a draw might be a good result right now as United had offered little for 20 minutes and Preston's dander was up.

Then out of nothing United had a third. Johnson, who up to that point had struggled to get into the game, linked up wonderfully with Stevens. The full back surging to the by-line, leaving a couple of defenders flat footed, before a perfect pull back that McGoldrick was never going to spurn. From dejection to joy in minutes and a goal celebration that further secures Dean Henderson’s place in the hearts of Blades fans. It reminded me of Simon Tracey’s celebrations against Wednesday.

There followed a ridiculous 6 minutes of stoppage time that became even longer with Stearman coming on to shore things up at the back. Given Maxwell had wasted time from minute one, it was odd that Scott Duncan loaded the stoppage time to the second half, but thankfully the Blades saw it out.

Three final thoughts:

PNEgative - There was an interesting tweet from Blades' fan and AUV contributor Phil Ridley post match.

It was a bizarre tactic from Alex Neill. For large parts of the first half they were under the cosh and had eleven men behind the ball, but having said that they rarely broke with any real threat or numbers, despite the impressive Callum Robinson working hard.

McGoldrick's missed one on one chance to make it 3-0 seemed to spur them into life and the period that followed was largely one way traffic. We seemed to panic under pressure, there was no outlet and as quick as the ball was cleared, Preston were back on the front foot. We were rocking. When the first goal came you felt that they could get another and even the most hopeful Blade must have feared a PNE winner after the equaliser, we were reeling. Daniel Johnson, a player who impressed in his Oldham days when we played them in League One, added some real impetus to their play and although Wilder's subs made sense to try and stabilise defensively and offer an alternative outlet wide in the pace of Marvin Johnson, we seemed to retreat further.

Would Preston have stood a better chance starting like this? That is hard to say, as the shift in gear when we were on top seemed to catch us out. Doing it from the off and maintaining it is a different issue. We may well have exploited the space created instead of playing the football equivalent of Arkanoid against a yellow wall for an hour. Clearly Neill has concerns about them defensively and their zero away goals before Saturday suggest that the tactics aren’t allowing their attacking talent to flourish, but neither is it working defensively. Give me The Wilder Way anytime.

A soft underbelly? - The one concern coming out of Saturday is that we are still susceptible to sloppy play defensively and when we don't get the goals to kill teams off we have a tendency to panic and concede possession too easily. The goals conceded were not great goals from an attacking perspective, more the result of continually knocking on the door until a hinge comes loose. In this case in both full back positions, although you could argue O'Connell being decisive and going to meet Barker, would have left Enda less exposed. We were nearly undone by Birmingham in similar fashion midweek and I am sure it is something the management team will look to address.

First choice striker - Probably lacking the goals his performances deserve David McGoldrick has to be topping the strikers’ pecking order right now. Tireless work rate, good link play and eventually got the goal on Saturday. A little more consistency in his finishing and staying injury free could see him up the top end of the Championship Top Scorers list.

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Game by Game - 10

With the A United View Editor sunning himself overseas, 26,030 fans basked in the sunshine at BDTBL and a majority of those in attendance basked in the glory and unbridled joy of what many have described as the best 45 minutes of football they have seen from a Blades team. Amongst them was Tyrone Hoyland, who we welcome to AUV with his take on yesterday's game.

Game 10 - Aston Villa (H), Championship - 4-1

After three successive victories against Steve ‘The Fraud’ McLaren’s QPR, perennial shithouses Norwich City, and hoofball’s finest - Bolton Wanderers, I expected a much tougher test against last season’s Play-Off runners-up, and current under-achievers Aston Villa. 

A small sense of revenge was in the air too. Last season’s 94th minute winner by Robert Snodgrass ensured United tasted defeat in a home game they really ought to have won. Having thankfully returned back to his parent club this season, there’d hopefully be no repeat of that drama today. 

United made one change to the starting eleven that had given Bolton a proper footballing lesson last week and the return of Paul Coutts, albeit named on the bench, was a welcome sight. Villa lined up without Bolasie, Abdomah and loan deadline day signing Tammy Abraham, but despite those three absences Steve Bruce named a team loaded with talent. 

Kick-off came and for the second time in a week, United were ahead within the first five minutes. An outstanding ball from Oli Norwood met by the head of Jack O’Connell. For a bloke used to heading bricks left and right, it was a fine finish.

Norwood could, and should have made it 2-0 five minutes later, hitting the inside of the post after some lovely inter-play between him, Fleck and Duffy. Incredibly, it was 2-0 within half an hour. In a game dominated by the Blades, the bounce-killer himself Duffy hit a sweet shot from 25 yards into the bottom corner of the goal. What a start.

The referee, not to be outdone, soon decided he needed to be the centre of attention for a while, dishing out a few bizarre decisions both ways, including waving away the assistant’s flag for a foul on McGoldrick that could have ended up being a red card for Villa.

I’m struggling to remember the last time we went into half time 3-0 up (Bradford City at home in the title winning season - Ed), but we soon were. That man Norwood again involved, but this time on the scoresheet himself. I’m still not quite sure what happened. Another perfect delivery from United’s number 16 somehow nestled in at the near post. Jubilation. Dean Henderson almost in the Kop with us. Chants of “Easy! Easy! Easy!” ringing out from three corners of the ground. Unreal.

The remaining minutes of the half took a bit of a backseat as the Villa fans in the away end decided to make themselves the centre of attention this time; by knocking seven shades of shit out of each other. It seemed everyone wanted to take the attention away from just how good we’d been. In truth, it had been a first-half masterclass from United. 

An early second-half goal for Villa would’ve made things slightly interesting, but it was game over just minutes after the restart. Fantastic work again for United’s fourth, with star man Norwood winning the ball back brilliantly in the Villa half, giving it to Freeman who slid the ball into Sharp. A smart turn and finish in the area ensured the Blades hero’s fourth goal of the season.

United were largely in control for the rest of the match, and we could have, and probably should’ve had a couple more in truth. A consolation goal after an hour for El Ghazi took the gloss off the scoreline a bit, and the relentless baiting by United fans of pantomime villain Jack Grealish was fun to watch, but how Villa fans put up with his antics every week is beyond me. Such a talented player wasting his time falling over and generally making himself look a bit of a tit.

4-1. Full time, happy faces and beers all round.

United. Outstanding. The first half blitz of goals was enough. Sweeping aside a fancied Villa team as easy as we did today surely bodes well for the remainder of our season. So much for quietly going about our business. 

A final word on Aston Villa. Too early to tell if there’s a touch of second-season syndrome about them yet, but they looked a shadow of the team I saw twice last season. Steve ‘Spendalot’ Bruce should be worried. 

MOTM: Norwood, obviously. The next time the wife goes bargain hunting she’s taking Chris Wilder with her.

Three final thoughts:

Where on my body should I get the tattoo of Oliver Norwood?

How big should the statue of Wilder at the Lane be?

Is Jack Grealish on medication for the Vertigo he currently suffers with? 

Sunday, 26 August 2018

Game By Game - 9

A United View welcomes fellow #runnerblade , director of Pickard Tours and all round bon vivant Alan Pickard to offer up his views on a trip to the Bolton Polytechnic Stadium. Surprisingly less hazy than I expected!

Game 9 - Bolton (A), Championship - 0-3

Bolton away. Bank Holiday Weekend. Super. That'll be fun then. I'm sure you all thought the same. Aside from the fact it's a ground that has slightly less character than Legoland, it's not even in Bolton. Imagine, building a new ground and forgetting where you're from? Anyway......I digress.

The trip started well. I forgot my beers. Sake. On the coach at 9 though with emergency Carling (AUV cannot condone drinking Carling, even in an emergency - Ed) purchased, spirits were high. As always when you travel with mates, talk turns to previous away days and mishaps. But I'd not brought my gloves today so enough of that. 

Let's head to a pub.
It opens at eleven doesn't it Paul?
Oh, turns out it doesn't.
Paul can't read.
Half eleven.
Maths was never his strong point. Luckily another a hundred yards up the road was open so let's have one there instead. Decent. Let's get merry.

Everyone back on the coach at 2 and we're off. Good job the driver knows which car park to go to. And we've not toured all the car parks before arriving at the away end! Been here so many times and it's soulless. One thought - let's have these today Blades. 

Team news filters through. Oooh! That midfield is getting uploaded to Pornhub.....and Coutts ain't back yet.

The game kicks off and United are instantly on the front foot. Get in!!! Or not. Off the bar from Fleck. We were on top here and had to make it count. Another corner cam in looking threatening but it came to nothing. Next attack saw a good little bit of play, the ball fell to Duffy and in it goes to the corner of the onion bag. The tone is set. "We're gonna hammer these". first thought was lets keep a clean sheet. 

More good play followed. Flowing movement across the park, Norwood and Fleck making the Wanderers look like non-league players at times. Duffy popping up in more places than Peter Sutcliffe. The difference in quality is vast and United are hammering the point home. Bolton have a 5 minute spell. Ameeeobbeee looks like the only half decent player for Bolton but, to be fair, he needs a mate.

Blades attack. Ball into Freeman 15 yard out, right of goal. A 10 yard ball into Leon's feet who has the vision of Zidane to leave it and let it roll in the corner of the net. Suprise and delirium take over the away end. WE'RE ON THE MARCH WITH WILDERS ARRR-MY.

Half time. Two nowt. Well on top. Tidy in possession and playing with the kind of thrust that creates WhatsApp groups.
Downstairs for a pint and I missed about 8 minutes of the second half due to Ed not being able to navigate a queue properly. Anyway, I've been informed by my footy mum Bridgette that McGoldrick smashed one top bins only for the keeper to rise like Conor Sammon's more agile brother and tip it over.

Much more flowing football followed. We were very good today and it's such a shame that the following wasn't more, but those in attendance made good noise.

After a slight lull we did our best Barcelona impression. Wonderful build up from the back. The ball broke on the left to Stevens who's delightful delivery caused pandemonium in the box, Bolton nowhere to be seen, Fleck sweeps home. Be seeing you. Is this a fire drill? 

Beyond that, we were in even more control. We could and should have been 4 or 5 up really. Much singing followed and I've got to be honest here, I'm glad it wasn't. Let's not draw attention to how good we can be as early as we did last season. Three nowt. Full time. Off home we go delighted with the performance and result.

Stopping off on the way home we bump into Gary Madine in the services. He seemed happy to see us.

Up the Blades. 

Three final thoughts:

Egan. 4 million. Bargain.

Norwood. 2 million. Steal.

Billy Sharp is as good now as he was in his mid twenties. Captain Marvel.

Friday, 24 August 2018

He's One Of Our Own - The story behind the book

Blades fans have been lucky in recent years, with several books being published with either a strong Blades flavour, or focusing on a former Blades player. Autobiographies of Alan Hodgkinson, Keith Edwards, Tony Kenworthy and  Bob Booker look firmly to the past (and in most cases to a fondly remembered time). The latest Blades related book has a much more current focus, but the time it covers will still be looked on with great happiness for many years to come.
Danny Hall, journalist at The Star, has written He's One Of Our Own : The Story of Chris Wilder's Blades Revolution and he too time out to tell A United View about it.
On the book's website you say;  "I’ve always had an ambition to write a book, ever since I picked up a copy of The Star as a kid and realised that being paid to write about sport was an actual thing."

Is it the case that the Wilder story presented a nice opportunity to achieve that ambition? Have you had any other opportunities previously?
I pitched one book before this one, but they weren't picked up because they had broad appeal. This one was a little different, but it wasn't a case of being desperate to write a book. It's always been something in the back of my mind, because I enjoy the longer-form of journalism that there isn't always time and space for, but it wasn't like I was throwing out pitches left, right and centre. So I thought a book, over 60-90,000 words, would give me the chance to get my teeth into something. I pitched it to the publisher who called me immediately and said he wanted it, so the journey began there really.

With newspapers focusing online, increasing numbers of alternative online news outlets and traditional print media supposedly under threat, is it tough pitching an idea to publishers, or was this story an easy sell?
As touched on previously, a fairly easy sell. Newspapers are focusing increasingly online and on social media, but I still believe there is room for a long read.
As a Blades fan and journalist what are your favourite memories pre-Wilder? 
Pre-Wilder, there wasn't a great deal! One of my earliest memories was watching Vas Borbokis v Sunderland... I loved him from that moment, and got his name on my replica away shirt. It had to curve around the No.2 because the shirt was so small, and cost more for the printing than the top! Obviously the highlight was the Warnock promotion season and then the Premier League campaign, which ended in the most Sheffield United way possible. The FA Cup semi-final against Hull at Wembley was also brilliant, if not for the sensation of finally scoring a goal there but for the spontaneous round of applause that filtered around Wembley after Hull's fifth goal went in.
What are the challenges of writing a book alongside the day job?
It's tough. A lot of people have assumed that writing the book is a bit of a busman's holiday, as it fits quite tightly with the day job, but it couldn't be further from the truth! And coming home at night after a day of writing, to write another 4-5,000 words, or taking a week off to write was difficult. I reckon over the five-month period of the book from idea to completion, I had a week off from it - and that was spent on holiday, reading over the proofs! 
I think many fans might assume that for a man whose job is writing that writing and publishing a book is dead easy, but how long did it take from the first formulation of an idea to getting a physical copy of the book in your hand? 
The physical copy was delivered today, August 22, and the idea was formed in the week leading up to the Leicester FA Cup tie in February.

I imagine the players and management were more than happy to contribute to the book, how hard was it to edit down their input?
They were, and it was fairly straightforward. I wanted to get a flavour of the Wilder years from the perspective of the players, but also their careers - so Jake Wright's time in the Conference, Mark Duffy almost giving up football, Paul Coutts' difficult times under Adkins... they all spoke really well, fortunately for me, and I think the end product works quite well.
Were there any stories that you couldn't commit to print?
There were - invariably, in this job, there are! 

Fans contributions add colour and putting the Wilder era into context against the Adkins regime that preceded it must have made for some challenging edits with emotions still running strong over his reign?
There were, but I was careful to not censor them too much. It was an emotive time - football's an emotive game - and the biggest challenge was editing down a superb piece from one fan, Dan Atkin, who wrote brilliantly about the effect that season had on him - a few thousand words too long! So wittling that down, and still keeping the flavour, was a challenge, but one I enjoyed. What came across was that the players had similar frustrations to the fans, albeit probably not as strongly. It was a season we'd probably all rather forget, but one that I felt was so important to the Wilder story that it had to be included in full, to understand the task that faced Wilder when he took over.
With contributions from many sources how hard was it to turn it into a cohesive story?
Not particularly - although anyone who reads it may not agree! The book follows a linear format loosely, although some chapters do jump forwards and backwards slightly. 
From talking to the players, what do you think is different about this group and the way they were managed that led to United finally escaping League 1 and establishing themselves in the Championship? Are there aspects of their personalities, attitudes etc. that are different from previous squads?
The main difference that I picked up on was 'real world' experience - many of the players who form Wilder's side have experienced rejection or disappointment, which I touch on in the book. As I say Wright played in the Conference and Mark Duffy gave up football entirely for a period... Coutts worked on an oil rig in Scotland, Chris Basham worked in McDonald's. It's also a cliche, but the team spirit up at Shirecliffe is really good. You can see that the players are teammates and friends too, which perhaps hasn't been true in the past.
The biggest reason, though, is undoubtedly Wilder. He has a unique ability of being close to the players one minute, making them feel a million dollars, and the next totally distancing himself and working them to within an inch of their lives. I lost count the amount of times I have sat at Shirecliffe listening to Wilder speak and thought, 'I'd love to work under him'. And that, in any job, can't be underestimated.

As a journalist you have had a level of access to the club and events that fans can only dream of. What are your top 3 moments of the Wilder reign so far for you personally?
September 24, 2017. To turn the game around like that, in those circumstances, with Hillsborough bouncing was unbelievable. Afterwards, we spoke to Mark Duffy in a small room just off the Hillsborough tunnel and I don't think he could believe it himself. It was the day he wrote his name in United folklore forever, and he had no idea what he'd just done.

The open top bus. We were invited on, taking turns to go on the top deck as the bus worked its way around Sheffield town centre. Inside the Town Hall, the walls reverberated to the sounds of the Jack O'Connell song and to see so many Blades gathered from the balcony was incredible.

Not a top moment per se, but Millwall away in Wilder's first season. Afterwards a Sky journalist asked him if he feared for his job, and he wasn't too happy. Getting the beers on the bus on the way back was credited with the turnaround, but no-one could ever imagine what would follow in the coming months.

Everybody wants things in small, easy to read form now. Twitter also provides a great platform for promoting writing in all its forms. If you could sum up the book in 140 characters what would you say?
Tough one! The story of how one man picked up a club on the floor, told by those involved. This is how Chris Wilder made Sheffield United united again.

Any further plans for books, United based or otherwise?
Not just yet! It was an enjoyable experience, but not one I'd rush into repeating. I owe my fiance more than a bit of my time first, I think!

Thanks to Danny for his time in answering the questions. I look forward to getting my hands on a copy of the book (you can get your copy here ) and we will post a review of it on here in due course.