Saturday, 28 July 2018

Game by Game - 3

A balmy Friday night, lakeside in Doncaster is not on everyone's bucket list, but Jon Bradley was one of nearly 2,000 Blades fans to make the short trip to see the first team's pre-season schedule come to a close.  

Pre-Season Friendly: Doncaster Rovers (A), 0-2

Nothing quite like a local derby, in the loosest of terms, to end preseason in style.  As the Blades travelled to Doncaster, it was the supporters last opportunity to see their beloved Blades before the curtain goes up on the new season.  The pre-match chat was littered with suggestions of signings that people thought were the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle. Everyone from Josh Windass to Ben Woodburn were mentioned but, for me, it could be one from leftfield. We all know Wilder may well pull a proverbial rabbit out of the hat and surprise us all with who comes in before the window slams shut.

United lined up in usual fashion, but with a midfield of Lundstram, Duffy and Holmes it was always going to be an interesting game without our main man Fleck in the middle of the park. He had been the lynchpin and all that was good in our pre-season to date. The back three also saw a slight reshuffle, with Egan and O'Connell joined by Stearman, rather than Basham.  It was evident Wilder was giving everyone the chance to stake a claim for a place against Swansea next Saturday.

United stroked it around with purpose in the first half but, as we have become quite accustomed to seeing in some games in recent memory, we looked very laboured in the final third.  The most noteworthy chance came when O'Connell produced a crunching challenge on the halfway line which gave Duffy the opportunity to play in Clarke, which materialised in very little.  

The most noteworthy mention though has to go to Simon Moore.  Moore produced four outstanding saves in the half, including two in quick succession.  Proving that there is a lot more he can offer the club this season than the pleasant way he spoke about us, following the signing of his new contract on Thursday.

As the second half started Holmes looked full of energy and purpose yet went down too easily for my liking.  But it was the introduction of McGoldrick which proved to be the much-needed spark for United on the hour.  A neat move saw him jinx in the box before pulling his shot wide. This was followed by a perfect chance for him at the far post where he couldn't have hit it truer but, unfortunately for the Blades latest signing, it hit the side netting.

Moments later the Blades had the ball in the net as Norrington-Davies crossed for McGoldrick who slid in to poke the ball home.  At 1-0 Doncaster huffed and puffed, but to little avail.  This allowed McGoldrick and United to break quickly and the scorer turned provider as McGoldrick weighted a perfect pass for Sharp to do what he does best and double the Blades lead.  Lavery went close late on but proved what we all already know, that he just isn't quite good enough for where we are now as a club.

As the heavens opened United finished their preseason campaign undefeated and any Doncaster based Blades had some very tentative bragging rights to take to the pub or into work on Monday.

Three final thoughts:

Dean Henderson had better be ready to fight for the number 1 jersey as Moore certainly showed a desire to push the loanee all the way.

McGoldrick is a different striker to what we have had for a while. He has the ability to link the play and the thought of him and Duffy striking up a relationship gives me a very warm feeling inside.

Despite the ongoing uncertainty behind the scenes, the supporters played their part and at the end of the game made it clear to the new signings that there is nothing equivocal about the love between players and fans in this group.

Photo Copyright: Paul McDonald

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Game by Game - 2

You may have noticed that we haven't had a report on the Mansfield friendly. Our correspondent messaged me during the match to ask how many words I wanted. Sensing his frustration and boredom I told him single figures weren't acceptable. A dour game by all accounts and one that we were second best in for large spells. On the plus side; Wilder recognised this and pulled no punches in post-match interviews. Some teams celebrate 0-0 away draws, our manager doesn't.

The other positive is we didn't go there and lose 2-1, lose all discipline and turn it into a Royal Rumble. Although there is an argument that did show some team spirit and unity from a Wednesday team that had shown little of it for the previous 90 minutes, or much of last season.

That's the thing with pre-season, you enter it full of hope and one game seems to spell disaster, three days later and the mood can be quite different. If anything that is exacerbated by social media (and blogs!) that allows fans to vent publicly and with such immediacy to a wider audience. It seems that the end of the world is nigh for football fans with increasing frequency, yet rarely does it come. And so after the concerns following a 0-0 draw at League 2 Mansfield, the fourth best side in Italy paid Bramall Lane a visit……………

Pre-Season Friendly: Inter (H), 1-1

Inter at home the kind of friendly you would expect to form part of some major anniversary celebrations, say your club's 150th, and not just a run-of-the-mill pre-season friendly. 4th in Serie A and featuring a number of international players, they provided an enticing prospect for Blades fans, more so than say  the third best team in a one team league might.

And for a Friendly fixture it wasn't a bad game. Reasonably competitive, although some early moments where you could see players leaving the foot out of tackles were soon forgotten when Fleck  flew into a 50:50 in the middle of the park. A physical challenge you need to time perfectly and as a spectator you flinch at. Lundstram then clattered into Dalbert, no foul given and after a lengthy delay the Brazilian was stretchered off.

The Blades matched Inter well and it was an extremely well worked goal down the left side that saw United take the lead. Stevens and Fleck exchanged passes twice, before Fleck surged towards the edge of the box and dinked a perfect through ball to McGoldrick, who had held his line well with one of the Inter centre halves sitting deep. McGoldrick's finish was calm and assured, lifting it over the advancing Handanovic. A scoreboard reading Blades 1 Inter 0 is a lovely sight, whatever the circumstances.  Fleck then went close with a dipping half volley from 30 yards that just went wide of the post and the feeling was the Blades could kick on from here.

It was then that Inter woke up. Whereas up to then United had squeezed them back as they steadily played out from the back, their passing and movement became much sharper and they scored a goal equal in quality to the Blades' opener. A superbly weighted pass from Lautaro opened up United down their left side and the cross from Candreva left Icardi with a simple tap in. Icardi gave Egan a tough game, one the debutant stood up to well for much of it, but you can see how the Argentine striker bagged 29 Serie A goals last season. He went close again, after Lautaro back-heeled into his path, with Henderson making a fine save.

Whilst Inter were technically good, they also had the cynical side of the game down to a tee; little shirt tugs, trips and a sneaky raking of studs down the Achilles all stopping United breaks and disrupting play. A scrappy start to the second half was further disrupted as the substitutions started, four for the Blades and five for Inter. I was beginning to wonder if the last excitement of the evening was the scrap that started by the refreshment bar under the South Stand at half time. It was hard for those coming on to make an impression, but the final clear cut chance of the game fell to one of them. Sharp's shot from just outside the box was parried away.

With the scoreboard clock  yet to click over to 90 minutes the referee's whistle blew. What with a slightly delayed kick off and only 2 minutes added to the 1st half, despite the lengthy stoppage, I can only assume the Italians had a curfew, or a somewhere else to be. 

So a United team with 6 international caps between the starting XI performed very well against an Inter side that, even without the two Croatian World Cup finalists and Nainggolan, started with 9 internationals and 269 caps between them. Yes, it is only pre-season, yes there were other gears the Inter side could probably have shifted to, but a pleasing performance all the same, but with work still to be done.

Three final thoughts:

Gianni Flecki the midfield maestro. The best player on the pitch and the source of most of what was good about the Blades performance, surging runs, excellent passing and creativity. Wouldn’t have looked out of place in a blue and black striped shirt in their midfield. By heck, I do wonder how long John Fleck can be ignored by Big Eck.

Ricky Holmes impressed off the bench. Having had limited opportunity since joining last January, it was good to see him come on and give the team added impetus when the performance and the game as a whole was starting to flag. Just a few moments suggest that we may have a player to justify the haircut. It will be interesting to see whether he can deliver a top knot(ch) performance from a starting role.

Having arrived in my seat in the South Stand just before 7:15 I was disappointed to find the inauguration of The Tony Currie Stand had already happened in front of a quarter full stadium. Why they didn't wait until nearer kick off to do this, when the ground was fuller I am not sure. Instead we were "entertained" by some lass who didn't win The Voice belting out Nessun Dorma, whilst Gary Sinclair was so deferential to our visitors it felt like it was a pre-requisite of the match fee. I hope they do something for TC and the fans at the Swansea game with a bigger crowd and TV cameras present. 

Friday, 20 July 2018

Game by Game - 1

A United View is back for the new season, but rather than being mostly the efforts of one man, it is going to be the work of a Blades collective. If you want to get involved in any of the new features as they develop, get in touch.

The first feature is Game by Game which aims to provide a short (no more than 600 words) match report from each game this season and then leave you with three final thoughts from a Blades perspective. 

First up, Paul McDonald went to Valley Parade (in old money), no idea what it's called currently, to watch the Blades start their UK based build up to the new season against Bradford City.    

Pre-Season Friendly: Bradford City (A), 2-3.

After being starved of live football for a full 48 hours after the end of a World Cup that might have just surpassed my previous favourite, Italia 90, it was back in the car for the relatively short trip to Bradford to see my first pre-season game of 2018/19.

With twitter doing what twitter does when United take someone who doesn’t happen to capture the imagination, the main focus was mainly on former Ipswich man David McGoldrick who did more than enough to silence the doubters with an assured performance that could easily have been marked with a goal with just a little bit more luck.

It was McGoldrick who had the first chance of the evening, cutting inside and then forcing a stop from O’Donnell from a tight angle. United didn’t have to wait long to take the lead, however, and it was a goal that will surely take some beating during the course of the regular season.

When Bradford striker Charlie Wyke gave the ball away needlessly near half way to Mark Duffy, there appeared to be little danger. However just 5 touches later the ball was in the back of the net after a sublime one touch move involving Duffy, Clarke and Evans led to John Fleck finishing superbly first time from the edge of the box. Wyke played no further part, seemingly substituted due to embarrassment before the game restarted.

United’s (unbelievably still uncapped) Scottish midfielder was looking sharp throughout the half, and one wonderful touch and pass that found Baldock was worth the admission fee alone, unfortunately the wing back was adjudged offside despite finding the back of the net. This led to my mate Al getting paranoid that there were scouts in the crowd who would be more than willing to take him off our hands, “Stop being so good FFS”, among the many anguished comments he made.

The Blades were in full control and doubled their lead just after the half hour mark. McGoldrick was again involved, playing a fine through ball to Lafferty who’s pull back beyond the goalkeeper found Leon Clarke who stroked home via a slight touch off a Bradford defender.

The hosts had the better of the opening exchanges, and it didn’t take long for them to find a way back into the game. Jack Payne, recently signed on loan from Huddersfield Town, cut inside and beat Henderson low to the keeper’s right from just outside the penalty area. Almost immediately, the two goal advantage was almost restored as McGoldrick found himself in a great position 12 yards out but could only find the base of the post, although from my angle I did wonder if the keeper got the slightest of touches to prevent a debut goal.

The game settled into a typical pre-season affair with a raft of changes on both sides and United looked to have paid the price for their over-elaborate play in seeking a third when Jordan Gibson found himself in acres of space and fired in a close-range equaliser past trialist Luke Steele.

Just like the last time we were at Valley Parade, another Blades goal quickly followed one from the home side. While last time it was Bash who sent the away fans into raptures during that thrilling 3-3 draw, this time Billy Sharp tucked home with the aid of a slight deflection to much less fanfare from the 500 or so Blades who had made the trip to West Yorkshire.

Three final thoughts:

United’s passing and movement was again excellent and typical of what we have now come to expect of what is a very good, very entertaining side.

If I have one slight criticism, again it was the tendency to over play in and around the opposition penalty area, particularly in the second half, something that I thought we did too much of in the second half of last season.

I do, however, have no doubt that we will improve in this area and if the strikers being targeted are of the same quality of defender that has just been brought into the club to add to the undoubted talent we possess in the likes of O’Connell and Fleck, then we could be in for another memorable season.

Paul McDonald - Twitter - @thecase1907