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?