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.

Monday, 20 August 2018

Game by Game - 8

SkyBet Championship, Norwich (H), 2-1

After the recriminations and frustrations of last season's encounter at the Lane, the visit of Norwich (just like Mel B's dresses) holds a little more spice than it used to.

The Canaries' time wasting last season was unlike anything I have seen from an opposition side in years and whilst Saturday's game didn't quite reach those levels, it wasn't far off at times. The fact that Darren Bond (whose one-way decision making made me question if he was related to John) only added 3 minutes on as the clock reached 90 astounded many in the ground. The fact that it was sufficient time for United to finally make Norwich pay, meant any of those grumbles and frustrations could be forgotten about.

After last week's win at QPR and an improved performance midweek, let down yet again by spurned chances, there was cautious optimism, if a little surprise, at the omission of Stearman in what looked a very positive and attacking Blades line up.

From the off Norwood was busy, wanting the ball, dictating play and his link up with Fleck was reminiscent of the Coutts/Fleck partnership, with each taking responsibility in turn and prompting, driving United forward. Norwood's set pieces were a joy all game. When Egan met his right wing corner (which Norwood had also won) at the far post his powerful header looked to be cleared off the line from the Kop, but the Blades players were claiming goal and a couple of seconds later the referee got the call and signalled goal. The Lane was rocking and "Take your time, take you time Sheffield United, playing football the Norwich way" rang out.

For the next 20 minutes United were on top and you thought they were most likely to score, but they suffered a real sucker punch. Basham failed to deal with Hernandez on the left side of the box, being rolled far too easily, and the winger put it on a plate for Wednesday loanee Jordan Rhodes, who doesn't miss a chance like that.......unless he is in a shirt with Chansiri written on it.  His celebration right in front of the Kop stirred anger and abuse, but that quickly subsided and the ground felt deflated as the game, from a United view, fizzled out to half time. Despite this I felt optimistic, telling friends at half time we will win this 2-1.

The second half saw United start the better side. Several crosses into the box came to nothing, Egan saw a hooked effort well saved by Krul on the post and two great Norwood corners ended with Leonard heading over and a late surging Egan could only direct  his header inches past the post. Norwich had opportunities too, spurning a great chance from a couple of yards out after the ball came back off the bar. Leitner then received the ball after a deflection off a team mate at least 8 yards offside. With no flag and two team mates in support he hared down on Henderson, only for the keeper to stand tall and make a superb stop. 

The three minutes injury time were going down as quickly as Alex Tettey with "cramp" and even I was doubting my half time optimism, when Basham played a Norwood-esque ball into McGoldrick's path on the left side of the box. He hooked his foot around it, dragging it across goal, where Sharp forced it home. Delirium. Wilder was down one touchline, Henderson ran the length of the other to join in celebrations. A deserved win and whilst there is still work to be done, both defensively and on delivering a full ninety minute performance, there was much to feel optimistic about.  

Three final thoughts:

Jordan's assets - Canaries fans could have been excused for looking like their most famous celebrity Alan Partridge at full time. After a salutary wave to the away end, off Rhodes skulked towards the tunnel, without going over to the fans. You can imagine the plaintive cries of "JorDAN, JorDAN! JorDAN! JorDAN........JorDAAAAAN...........JorDAN!..... oh he's not seen us" coming from the away end. After his goal celebration in front of the Kop was rendered meaningless he clearly didn't want to be on that pitch any longer. Having said all that, Rhodes would be an absolute dream to have at the Lane. With the way we play and the types of goals he scores, he would finish off plenty of those crosses that pass through the box without that final touch and would be a great target for Norwood at set pieces. In fact, there is a good chance he would have walked off that pitch with the match ball on Saturday if he had worn a red and white shirt.

"Comes to something" - My Dad mutters the same thing every week. In fact he has uttered the six words for the last twenty odd years. As the Kop rises to its feet in anticipation as the ball is placed for a corner to be taken, he is in no rush to get up. Partly down to his advancing years and difficulty in getting up too quickly, but also due to his long held belief that "We never bloody score from corners". Sod's Law he wasn't there with me on Saturday, but I think it will be rare that he mutters that phrase whilst ever Oliver Norwood is a Blade. 

The @S24SU twitter feed will also have to change as Foxy and Linz have to get used to not clicking in drafts and selecting the  "Comes to nothing"  after every "Corner to the Blades" tweet. We have a player who can not only dictate play in the middle of the park, wanting the ball, making himself available and then picking a pass, we have a dead ball specialist. From the corner met by Egan and for the 81 minutes that followed, each corner or free kick was met with a deep breath and a degree of anticipation from the crowd. There was good variation; short, long and out to the edge of the penalty area, and each time you felt something could happen here. Whilst overseas midweek, I caught up with the Hull Cup game via twitter and saw plenty of mention of Norwood and his corners, with his performance on Saturday it genuinely excited me…….long may it continue.

Leon's not lazy - One grumble from Saturday is directed at a section of our support that seem hell bent on making Leon Clarke the latest target for their frustrations. At times in the first half it felt much bigger than just a small section of fans and it seemed like half the Kop sighed "OhhhhhLeon" as he didn't quite react in time to cut out a loose ball. We are a fan base that likes to see effort and a trier and often in the past that has more than made up for any technical limitation a player might have, making certain players heroes over more skilful team mates who perhaps lacked application. Leon works hard for the team, but he also uses judgement about when to close down play, when to challenge for a header, when to stand off play and wait for the break down. A great example was when two Norwich defenders went up to win the same header. Fans around me clearly felt Leon should go up in a 2 v 1 challenge, instead he just pulled into the space left by the defenders, ready to exploit the gaping hole if the second ball was collected.

His work rate certainly upped a notch second half and he never gave Hanley or Krul a moment to dwell on the ball. At 33, Leon is often the striker that lasts 90 minutes and to do that you need to use your experience and know when to chase and when not to. Unfortunately for some, that is seemingly a sign of laziness. He is just missing a goal and if he had turned in the chance first half with a  crisper finish then who knows what it will do to his confidence.  

Monday, 13 August 2018

Game by Game - 7

SkyBet Championship, QPR (A), 1-2
We welcome Jon Bradley back to A United View, for his take on an away day in West London, having taken a slightly different route there than most Blades And a slightly drier one.
A London away day so early in the season was an unexpected bonus when the fixtures were released. 
Trains were booked, pubs were identified and the inevitable 'my train is earlier than your train' jibes between the drinkers amongst us were exchanged.  Not for me though as I was up at 5:00am to drive from St. Ives, following a family holiday, to Bristol where I would get the train in to meet up with my mates in the capital.  The train journey was smooth as were the 180 miles from Cornwall to Bristol, the bump in the road arrived when I decided to order some beer on the train.
“What beers do you have?” I eagerly asked the kind lady pushing the trolley.  This was greeted with a sharp draw of breath and a quite abrupt “what would you like? I don’t like to encourage it usually, at this time of the day." It was 10:10am, yes a little early, however, I had every faith my friends from Sheffield had been sipping the amber nectar at much more of a witching hour!  “Any lager” was my response, “I will fetch them you soon.”  40 minutes later and my day had really kicked into second gear when 2 cans of Kronenberg turned up.  Viva la France.
Once in Paddington, I made my way on the tube to Hammersmith and took up position with friends in Wetherspoons.  The app took a hammering as I made my way through some beers with mates before descending on Loftus Road.  A grand old stadium Loftus Road is and when United took to the field, after an unnecessary argument about someone being sat in my seat, I was genuinely pumped up.
The Blades started with a degree of energy which had been absent in the previous two outings.  Returns of three old favourites and Stearman made us instantly look like a Wilder side.  Freeman and Duffy particularly showing things which have been absent prior to this game.  Despite all the effort, United found themselves behind after some last-ditch defending. A prolonged spell of QPR dominance and the ball fell on the edge of the box to Eze who smashed it home past Henderson.
Groans and infighting filled the upper tier near where we were sat.  One gentleman in particular must have had a run in with Leon Clarke because the way he was going on anyone would have thought that poor Leon invaded Poland in 1939!  Nevertheless, United made the breakthrough when three of the returning players combined.  Duffy to Freeman to Sharp to 1-1.  Easy.
Despite the equaliser, I went down at halftime pretty angry at my fellow supporters.  You pay your money you can shout what you want, but I couldn't help but feel that the atmosphere in the stand was pretty toxic.  Considering what has happened in the last few years in and around the club it really shouldn't be.  As I exchanged pleasantries with Blades mates it became apparent they shared this view.  I mean there are two drivers here.
Firstly, the digital age allows us all to access information, statistics or footage to inform and base opinions on.  I mean I am sat here writing an article, as a fan, for a mate, for other fans to read.  Why?  Its a bit of fun and someone will enjoy it, I hope.  This era though also allows for nonsense throwaway comments to be tweeted or used as fact by fans.  My favourite last week was someone kicking off that we hadn't got a Man City striker on loan who had gone to Preston, I can't even remember the loanees' name.
Secondly, which is almost worse, is the "I am a bigger Blade than you" bollocks which goes on when things aren't going so well.  Which in its own twisted way is full of arrogance and entitlement which isn't necessary nor productive.  If you've been to every game for 20 years and seen the reserves away at Exeter on a Tuesday, stood on your own, in December, in the rain, then good for you. But it doesn't mean that you know more than @bladex4lyf4eva.
We are supporters and we all see the game differently.  We should, however, all be able to look at the game differently without throwing vitriolic negativity at our players, who for 24 months have made us as proud as any set fo supporter in the land.  Anyway, I had a cider, it was shite.
The second half started as both teams pressed to seek an advantage.  It was a nervy affair with a few good Henderson saves being the highlight from a Blades point of view.  Then, in the 65th minute, the substitute McGoldrick was flattened by two of the hosts and a penalty was awarded.  McGoldrick took it upon himself to rifle the ball home.
United introduced Leonard late on for McGoldrick who had a dead leg.  They managed to control the game to its conclusion by any means necessary.  Leonard went close late on, but the game finished 2-1.  Wilder led the players to the away end for an exchange of pleasantries.  Dean Henderson looked like a boy on Christmas morning as he joined in the singing with the away following.
Wilder pushed Sharp towards the away end for some personal recognition, something echoed in his post-match interview.  As we all made our way home, delighted that United had some points on the board, it's fair to say the gaffer was equally pleased.  Particularly me, who knew that I could have a beer on the way home without judgement and that sometimes just being a fan is pretty fun.
Three final thoughts:
Dean Henderson - the kid oozes quality and if he continues to behave like that when we win he will become a fan favourite in no time.
Cautious optimism - United beat a poor QPR team but a little confidence can go a long way with this bunch of players.
He's not the messiah... - Duffy did help United towards the victory, however, whether or not we need can pin our hope on him doing it in the remaining 42 games remains to be seen.  Along with Freeman and Sharp though on this occasion, they did make the difference.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Game by Game - 6

SkyBet Championship: Middlebrough (A), 3-0

A United View welcomes Phil Ridley to its writing ranks with his take on last night's game from the Riverside, whilst I offer three final thoughts from the comfort of my sofa and the red button coverage.

After leaving the rest of the family back in the holiday house we had rented in the Yorkshire Dales for the week, we finally got to Middlesbrough at about 6, only to be directed by a local Bobby to the ‘away boozer’. It turned out, after a 20 minute walk, we had been directed back to the mid-80’s. We stayed for one anyway before heading to the ground. The awful pub experience turned out to be an appropriate metaphor for the night ahead, with a painful first half performance on a par with many you might have seen under the reign of Billy McEwan. 

The team selection, even after Saturday, I actually had no problem with. I thought a slightly more cautious approach might suit against a talented Boro side. How wrong could I be. The first 25 minutes were anything but cautious. The warning signs were there when, despite United kicking off, Henderson proved his worth within a minute. Within 10 we were two down. Boro’s first corner was a simple one played to an unmarked Shotton at the near post to flick on to the unmarked Braithwaite to stab home. The second corner was played towards the back post and a similarly unmarked (and scorer of multiple goals from corners last season) Aden Flint. Shocking defending for both.

It wasn’t just at the back we looked shaky, the much maligned midfield three of Fleck, Evans and Lundstram were offering little, as were Stevens and Baldock. McGoldrick was trying in vain to make things happen but it’s tough up top when you’re on your own....

Boro’s third came in equally frustrating fashion. A cross from deep by Shotton that should really have been closed down and then dealt with by one of the four defenders it went passed on its way to Stuart Downing. The finish was fortuitous, seeming to just hit the former England man before bouncing up and over Henderson, however it could and should have been dealt with.  3-0 down after as bad a 25 minutes I’ve seen since Chris Wilder took our club by the scruff of the neck and gave it a shake. Not even that approach could salvage anything from this. That said, the ironic cheers for Henderson when he caught an aimless ball by a number of Blades behind me was pathetic.

It was at this point the manager changed us to a 4-4-2 and we started looking a little less like conceding every time they attacked. Basham in the middle of the park was flying into tackles and trying to drive forwards, giving Fleck a little more freedom. Half time came and the players left to boos from many of the travelling Blades.

Second half brought Woodburn into the game for Lundstram and United looked the better side from the off, although for Boro the game was already won so who could blame them if they had taken their foot off the pedal. Within a couple of minutes though, Clarke (who I had forgotten was playing) missed a simple chance. A header at the back post that was meat and drink for the player we had pre- Christmas. Whilst we were far from spectacular, we continued to be the side looking more likely to  score next. Woodburn looked busy, Fleck more like himself and Evans was getting into advanced positions more regularly.

Duffy coming on for McGoldrick after an hour gave us even more impetus, creating a much needed link between the midfield and attack. The final half hour was a case of what might have been. First Clarke and then Evans, by falling over the ball, both fluffed one on ones that seemed easier to score. Randolph saved well from Stevens and Egan had a chance to open his United account. All in all this just added to the frustration. As I tweeted last night and then echoed by Wilder in his interview, we didn’t do the basics well in enough in either box.

Clearly there are issues at the minute, struggles in the transfer market, not taking chances, conceding soft goals and ‘wags’ sticking their oar in unnecessarily. One thing I’m sure of though, if anyone can sort it, it’s Chris Wilder. Onwards to QPR and what I expect to be a much changed starting eleven.

Three final thoughts (from the comfort of the sofa):

Perspective is in short supply at the moment. When you have watched United teams under Harry Haslam, (the aforementioned) Billy McEwan, Adrian Heath and Micky Adams you know there has been much worse. However, what alarmed me the most was the lethargy (of body and mind) in that first half. Several players looked like they had won a raffle for a shirt and wandered on to the pitch, dazed and confused. The game was just passing them by. 

We have generally been spoilt in Chris Wilder's reign and that means when something goes so badly wrong as that first half, on the back of a rocket for the players after Saturday, people are genuinely concerned. But as people who were there commented, to stand there and chant "We're fucking shit" over and over shows a lack of recognition of how far we have come in a short space of time. It isn't "banter", it just makes it harder for the players. It is unhelpful and potentially damaging. To tweet and suggest that Wilder has given up, or that the club should refund fans for last night's game are frankly ridiculous. The latter  demonstrating a level of entitlement all too prevalent that doesn't fully comprehend what football support is all about.

Spirit has rarely been questioned under Chris Wilder and he has been careful in his acquisitions and man management to not disrupt the unity and togetherness engendered in that first season. However, it was noticeable on Saturday how heads dropped when Swansea equalised and last night there was lots of  finger pointing and debate from players with slumped shoulders, as the game went away from the Blades. I saw someone on the S24SU forum comment on the lack of team spirit being evident in Portugal, I wasn't there and to be fair I haven't seen it mentioned by anyone else, but it was notable  last night that we lacked a bit of unity. Clarke as captain doesn't make sense, when last season we signed Stearman (ex-Wolves captain) and now have Egan (former Brentford captain). Where is the man to lift the players on the pitch to dictate, to organise and cajole? We have enough experience for one of them to step up and take up the mantel, rather than point fingers and cast blame.

Talking of casting blame, the poorly masked tweets of Mrs Duffy (post Swansea) and Mrs Sharp (last night), do their other halves few favours. We might agree that both players should have a more prominent role in the team, but indirecting at the manager and his staff via social media demonstrates immaturity and thoughtlessness that at best irritates and at its worst generates ill will. 

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.