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Saturday, 4th August 2018 Kick-off 15:00
This Must Be One of the Least Inspiring Cup Ties in Years - Notes for Sheffield United
Friday, 5th Jan 2018 11:09 by HarryFromBath
HarryFromBath assesses the mood in the opposition camp ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup third round game at Portman Road by delving into their forums.
“As the years turns, it feels like we’re at a crossroads with some decent foundations. It’s blindingly obvious we need new players to revitalise the squad and offer options when Plan A isn’t working”, “Watching us now is quite frustrating. We have everything in place but just lack that bit of quality.”
“The magic is returning.” After a very strong start to a campaign which saw them topping the table in mid-November, the Blades have picked up one win in nine games, at home to Sunderland on Boxing Day. Fans have seen positive signs in recent away draws at Villa and on New Year’s Day at Derby.
“We have come a hell of a long way on a shoestring”, “It’s time to accept that we are a decent Championship side with a lack of depth, which makes us prone to dodgy results”, “We badly need reinforcements in January, but I don’t believe we will spend what is needed to keep us in touch.”
“This division has nothing to fear”, “It has been a great first half to the season and Chris Wilder has performed miracles, but unless we can sign quality this month it will need a miracle to be promoted. At the end of the day I’m happy with a lower mid-table finish, so anything higher will be a bonus.”
“Chris Wilder and his management team have built one of the best and most balanced squads we have had in a long time”, “He never considered this to be a season of consolidation, which was the expectation of many fans”, “This team will be together for the next few years improving under him.”
The 50-year-old replaced Nigel Adkins in May 2016 and steered the club to the League One title last season, with the side finishing up on 100 points and unbeaten in their last 17 league games. Blades have absolute faith in his judgement and enjoy watching his energetic brand of attacking football.
“Wilder is a brilliant manager. He never sits back and always powers forward”, “Just sit back and enjoy the fact that we are in the play-off race in our first season back in the Championship. We have a tiny budget and are beating teams like Wolves, Leeds, Derby and the Pigs [Sheffield Wednesday].
“Wilder plays proper football the right way. He has no time for banging it up the field”, “Every player he has signed on a very tight budget has really strengthened the squad”, “He picks players suited for specific games and opponents as a big part of his tactical planning”, “It’s amazing what he has done.”
“Wilder expects players to cover every blade of grass, close down all over the pitch and win every ball, but we have looked lead-legged in body and mind lately”, “We overload when our wide centre-backs bomb on, it’s the root of our fluidity and play”, “We just need that extra little bit of quality.”
“Wilder’s philosophy doesn’t seem to encompass keeping it tight away from home.” The Blades play their football on the front foot, pressing opponents when out of possession and building moves with high-tempo pass and move football. Fans feel that this has taken its toll on a small playing squad.
“After our first team, we have nothing left for back-up”, “Results have been poor since we lost key players such as Paul Coutts from the spine of the team”, “We haven’t played well against the more physical teams. When teams are more adventurous, we perform better with space to exploit.”
The starting XI (above) against the Rams on Monday was set out in the 3-5-2 shape which Wilder has preferred in recent games. It has to be stressed that many Blades see this Cup game as a chance to rest most if not all their first-team regulars with a local derby against the Owls looming on Friday.
“Our defending at Derby was the most solid it has looked for a while.” Blades are broadly happy with the defensive balance of the side. All three centre-halves are comfortable on the ball and will bring it out from the back. Cameron Carter-Vickers has been error-prone on the right when he has featured.
“Our midfield lacks the physicality it had.” United lost Paul Coutts to a broken leg in an away win at Burton in November. David Brooks, a reported Liverpool transfer target, has also been out with glandular fever. Many have put the side’s recent poor run of form down to their absence.
“Our cutting edge has gone and we have nothing off the bench without the availability of Coutts or Brooks”, “Bolton stopped our midfield by closely man-marking Mark Duffy and John Fleck to great effect.” Duffy and Fleck have provided most of the team’s inventive midfield play in recent games.
“Teams double up on our wing-backs and wide centre-backs. It stops them putting crosses in and seems to nullify any sharp passing moves”, “We seem to have slipped into a habit of walking it into the box or floating crosses in”, “We can’t cross for anything and swing awful deliveries into the box.”
Wilder has tried a number of different players at right wing-back, most recently George Baldock. The left wing-back slot has been filled by Enda Stevens, who played for Pompey against Town in the FA Cup in 2016. Many expect him to be rested on Saturday with fatigue affecting his poor recent form.
“We just lack that killer ball in the final third to put teams to the sword”, “We just miss that cutting edge in the final third”, “We seem to be under instruction to run the ball into the box or across the top, rather than knock it in. We frequently lose possession in the process.”
“We look so strong with Clayton Donaldson and Leon Clarke up front. Anything smashed across low or chipped up to the back post will always result in a chance.” Most want their strongest front pair to be rested ahead of Friday’s Owls game, with Caolan Lavery and Billy Sharp starting at Portman Road.
Running on Fumes
“Desperate for some strength in depth, aren’t we?”, “It’s great that we are seventh heading into 2018, but if our board don’t back Wilder this month we won’t finish there. We are running on fumes”, “There won’t be any marquee signings because we won’t pay the stupid wages.”
“The January window is notoriously overpriced and full of unwanted poor performers and cast-offs. It’s unthinkable that our current squad won’t finish ahead of our ambitions. I don’t want us to upset the squad’s balance”, “We won’t be offering over-the-odds unless it is for top lower-league players.”
Derby 1 – 1 Sheffield United
“Well done Blades, maybe we were unlucky not to get three points”, “A fantastic performance, we should have won and were the best team by a mile”, “We got in and around the Derby defence a few times but the ball across just wouldn’t fall for us until Leon Clarke’s brilliant headed equaliser.”
Derby took the lead in this New Year’s Day game at Pride Park with a Matej Vydra penalty on 24 minutes after “a stupid defensive mistake by George Baldock”, but this signalled a Blades’ fightback and they equalised with Leon Clarke score his 15th goal of the season with a header on 57 minutes.
“Quality by the Don”, “It was excellent work by Clayton Donaldson on the right after a short corner, a wonderful ball in to Clarke unmarked to head home. It was fully deserved”, “We had plenty of the game and a few corners, but we were reluctant to shoot and didn’t threaten as much as we should.”
Sheffield United 0 – 1 Bolton
“Shocking today, it was a naïve performance. We lost our individual battles and were too slow in the build-up”, “As well as we are doing this season, there is no defending that result”, “Shocks happen sometimes, we hope things get better again soon”, “We were the better side but we didn’t turn up.”
“We never looked like we had another gear or anything different to try.” Gary Madine fired home from close range to give the relegation-threatened visitors an unlikely win last Saturday. Despite having most chances, it was a below-par display from the hosts which many put down to tired legs.
“Bolton have done a number on us.” Carter-Vickers started in the right wing-back role (above), but was criticised for his part in the lead up to Bolton’s goal and substituted on 31 minutes. Billy Sharp partnered Clarke up front and many feel his struggles to find the net have been due to poor service.
Goalkeepers and Centre-Backs
“Jamal Blackman scared the daylights out of lily-livered strikers.” The 24-year-old Chelsea loanee “is a big keeper with a presence. He commands his box well and his calm demeanour makes me feel comfortable”, “At 6ft 6in he has a natural advantage when dominating his box and claiming crosses.”
“Blackman strolls off his lane and calmly plucks the ball out of the air. He always seems so calm and laid back”, “His kicking is sub-par but he has obviously identified this as a weakness and is working on it”, “He rules his six-yard box, but he get down to low shots quickly and is not great at kicking.”
“Simon Moore is a better keeper at kicking and getting down to low shots, and he communicates well with his backline.” The 27-year-old ex-Cardiff man “stays rooted to his line and handles poorly, especially in the air”, “I like that he’s vocal but I’m not that keen when he stays on his line a lot.”
“It’s like watching an episode of Miranda when Jake Wright plays, full of comical falling over and banging into things.” The 31-year-old ex-Oxford defender “brings calm leadership, but he is a very limited footballer”, “We look a good organised outfit when he is in the middle of the back three.”
“Wright is like the glue that holds the backline together with his leadership and ability to organise things. For all his limitations we look more of a composed unit”, “He sits off players he knows are faster than him and takes them too close to the goal, which adds to the long shots we concede.”
“Chris Basham might not be the best defender we have but he’s the only one with pace, aggression and the ability to out in a last-ditch tackle.” The 29-year-old ex-Blackpool man “gets skinned down the right playing as a wing-back but he looks like a completely different player in the back three”.
Chris Basham and Jake Wright
“Basham is a committed, dedicated and admirable pro whose desire cannot be questioned”, “He has obvious limitations as a footballer but plays with his heart on his sleeve and absolute passion”, “He adds tempo and aggression in midfield but he should only play at wing-back in an emergency.”
“Jack O’Connell gets forward and causes defences all sorts of problems, when he overlaps Stevens unmarked on the left.” The 23-year-old former Brentford man “has been sloppy on and off the ball. His defending is not at last year’s level, and he also fails to score from so many set-piece headers.”
“It’s nice to see Stearman in every game. His distribution looks good and he has the ability to bring it out from defence. He can switch it between flanks pretty well.” The 30-year-old ex-Fulham, Wolves and one-time Town loan player “is a quality defender who plays some great balls out of defence”.
Stearman hugged by McCarthy
“Stearman is excellent on the ball and in the air”, “He’s not a vocal commander of the backline. He makes the odd mistake here and there but Wilder is happy for what he can offer the team when in possession”, “He is a rock and imperious at the back, and he brings the ball out like a midfielder.”
“Play Samir Carruthers at Ipswich. He needs more games to get up to speed.” The 24-year-old ex-Milton Keynes midfielder has been used as a substitute in most recent games. “He’s all enthusiasm but as soon as he’s on the pitch he looks lost. He runs with the ball with no plan and just loses it.”
“Carruthers can’t even make basic decision and he switches off. He offers nothing”, “He runs with the ball in space like he owns the place, but falls over the moment an opponent looks like touching him”, “He’s a lightweight with no grasp of basic tasks such as marking, tackling or concentrating.”
“John Lundstram’s defensive game was brilliant at Derby. He did a nice turn and run at one point and it’s that type of thing he needs to do more.” The 23-year-old July addition from Oxford “has had a few decent displays but isn’t at the experience and quality needed. He still makes a limited impact.”
“Lundstram is great for the occasional Hollywood pass but tries the world-class pass with the simple one on”, “His predictable crab-like sideways runs can kill the breakaways we get”, “He has improved lately since playing regularly. He still makes silly mistakes but is growing into Championship football.”
“We improved as the game went on at Derby largely due to John Fleck dragging us forward.” The 26-year-old ex-Coventry player “is a pivotal player who breaks up play and keeps our midfield’s shape and balance”, “A proper soldier with a full-blooded and committed style of play in Wilder’s army.”
“Fleck is at the centre of everything good we have done in the last 18 months”, “He keeps us ticking with perfect touches, little lay-off passes, clever movement into space and hard tackling”, “He’s a joy to watch even when he’s not fully on his game”, “He’s one of the first names on our team sheet.”
“Mark Duffy is our main creator. God help us if he gets injured.” The 32-year-old former Birmingham right winger “can still skip past players”, “He has a great football brain and makes the right decisions. He holds the ball up and takes a second or two to choose the correct pass or link our play cleverly.”
Mark Duffy v Jack Grealish (Aston Villa)
“If Duffy gets injured we can kiss our play-off dream goodbye. He has tired in recent games and has been good for 60 minutes”, “He controls our attacking play if allowed and sees things others simply can’t”, “I hope Duffy sits out the FA Cup game so he can recharge his batteries for Friday’s derby.”
“Cameron Carter-Vickers isn’t very good. He’s more of an athlete than a footballer.” The 20-year-old loan signing from Spurs “has at least four mistakes in every game”, “He has physicality and decent pace but he’s clumsy and reads the game poorly, making countless mistakes in dangerous positions.”
“Carter-Vickers seems to be the guy Wilder uses for battles. He has worked well against big physical centre-forwards”, “He gives us extra strength against physical sides and is like a tank when someone tries to share his space”, “He gives us some much-needed pace in an area where it is badly needed.”
“Danny Lafferty will get his chance in the FA Cup.” The 28-year-old left-sided ex-Burnley man has played as a central midfield replacement in recent games but many expect him to start in a wider role on Saturday. “He’s a fine replacement for Enda Stevens and never let us down in League One.”
“Lafferty is a limited player who understand the left wing-back role well. His positioning is excellent even if he lacks a bit of quality”, “We don’t lose our shape and our system with him in the team. He is fine as a back-up option. He doesn’t have enough quality going forward but is solid defensively.”
Andreas Weimann (Derby County) v George Baldock
“George Baldock has good ability and attitude. He gets up and down the pitch constantly and does not mind getting stuck in either.” The 24-year-old right-back arrived in June from Milton Keynes but was criticised for a blatant foul on Johnny Russell for the penalty which gave the Rams the lead.
“Baldock makes such a difference to our attacking threat, ghosting past players and causes defences problems”, “He has looked a really consistent threat when given the ball”, “He’s good going forward but as a defender he gives the winger the outside all the time and doesn’t stop crosses coming in.”
“I wonder what’s up with Stevens. He doesn’t seem to have the confidence to go around full-backs and whip the ball in like earlier in the season. He seems to want to play the ball back more often.” The 27-year-old left-back or wing-back was signed from Portsmouth at the end of last season.
Josh Scowen (Queens Park Rangers) v Enda Stevens
“Stevens is in dire need of a rest, he looks very tired. Everything is far slower now and he takes much longer to get the ball in the box, and it’s usually a poor delivery”, “He’s a massive upgrade on the left but has been a bit gun-shy lately and gets caught out of position at times when further forward.”
“We have been crying out for Caolan Lavery’s pace in some recent games.” The 25-year-old former Owl and one-time Town youth player fractured his eye socket in a clash of heads with Derby’s Jonas Olsson in August but made an appearance off the bench in the Blades’ recent win over Sunderland.
Caolan Lavery (L) and Harry Chapman
“Lavery works hard to beat his man, but I’m not sure about his finishing”, “He puts himself about, but lacks the composure and anticipation in front of goal that all good strikers need”, “He’s a good impact player for the last 20 minutes to keep opposition defences honest. He works his socks off.”
“Billy Sharp is a finisher and poacher but doesn’t have the pace or tricks to create his own chances.” The 31-year-old ex-Doncaster, Southampton and Leeds man is in his third spell at Bramall Lane. “He needs service and will deliver but nothing is dropping for him. There’s no finer finisher at this level.”
“Sharp lacks the strength to hold the ball up and never had the pace to get across his marker or past people, and his feet aren’t quick enough to link play rapidly”, “He has struggled against stronger and quicker defenders this season”, “Write him off at your peril, he finds half a yard and finishes so well.”
“Clayton Donaldson is the perfect target man, feeding off scraps and looking dangerous.” The 33-year-old ex-Birmingham man “works the channels well and rarely gets bullied”, “He has more pace than I thought, running in behind defences to stretch the games and offer the midfield options.”
Adam Webster and Clayton Donaldson (Birmingham)
“Donaldson can lead the line and allow us to go one up top in difficult away games, so that we can pack the midfield”, “He’s a tall, strong rangy striker that can control a football”, “He’s a great athlete, a fantastic outlet and an absolute handful. He scores or he gets hold of the ball and makes it stick.”
“Clarke is the perfect striker - tall, strong, fast, good in the air and he can shoot or dink the ball over the keeper. His link-up play is first class and his work off the ball is superb.”
The 32-year-old one-time Coventry and Wolves man “is unstoppable not just for his work rate, but the quality of his football”.
“Leon has finished chances I didn’t think anyone could”, “He defends from the front like a maniac and the ball usually sticks to him”, “He works the backline well, holding it up and he is a threat with his running”, “He is deceptively quick and hardworking, and he has been staggeringly good for us.”
Fringe Players Who May Feature
“Rotation is widely expected”, “If we lose 5-0 to Ipswich but win the derby on Friday no one will care.” A quick look through the most-selected players from predicted line-ups has produced a starting XI (above) heavily weighted with fringe players. It highlights where Blades’ priorities lie.
“Ben Heneghan has the raw material to be a Championship centre-half.” The 24-year-old arrived in August from Motherwell. “He’s fantastic in the air but his passing needs work. Simple passes along the line are too heavy or under-hit”, “He’s an absolute unit who is good in the are and likes a tackle.”
“Bring Nathan Thomas in at right wing-back. He's got pace, he’s tricky and can cut in on his left foot.” The 23-year-old ex-Hartlepool man “is attack-minded but he’s not a wing-back and can’t defend for toffee. He tries things which are great when they work but it leaves us exposed when they don’t.”
“Regan Slater isn’t the finished article, but he came on at Preston last month and did more to get me out of my seat than Carruthers did in the whole game.” The 18-year-old youth product “is good on the ball and a good range of passing and energy, and for a lad of his size he loves a challenge”.
“It will be Evans at Ipswich, won’t it?” The 29-year-old striker re-signed from Chesterfield in May but his season has been hindered by ankle surgery in September. “He seems slow and lacking in energy”, “With his added bulk I hoped he would be strong on the ball, but his poor touch just negates that.”
“Ched can finish and strike from long range, something we are really lacking at present. When we are putting low hard crosses across the box like we are, he will score goals”, “He has had no games since his operation, so an extended substitute appearance at Ipswich may perhaps be an option.”
Manager Wilder has said that although Evans is back training he’ll “need a few bounce games” to get up to speed and seems unlikely to be involved against the Blues.
Blades’ Thoughts on ITFC and the Game
“A cheery bunch, Ipswich fans, aren't they?” “They seem less keen than us! Let's try to keep the momentum going”, “I didn't realise that Ipswich were in such a bad state, forced to play youngsters or being unable to fill the bench. It sounds like fun, two teams of U23s in third round of the FA Cup.”
“I think we should win after seeing Mick McCarthy’s record in FA Cup. They were lucky to get a replay 12 months ago and were outplayed in both matches by non-league Lincoln. If we sort out these tiny errors we should get a fourth round tie with the ability to play stronger team.”
There has been little discussion about the outcome. “This will be one of those games where they show the goals (if there are any) right at the end on Match of the Day. We will even be at the end of Look North, even after the goals from whoever Guiseley are playing.”
“First trip to Portman Road for me on Saturday and I’m looking forward to seeing a full reserve side.” The major recurring theme among South Yorkshiremen is the need to rotate and rest players. “All eyes are on the derby next week and we need to get back in the habit of winning league games.”
“There was pretty much a guarantee from Wilder in his last post-match interview that we’ll see mass changes and starts for those that haven’t played much of late”, “Don't play anyone who may start against the Pigs. That match has to be our absolute priority and Wilder will understand this.”
Blades did recall some interesting memories, including this: “The FA Cup tie in 1974 was as good a game as I had seen at the time. We were 1-0 down, then 2-1 up, but two Kevin Beattie headers in the five minutes prior to half-time put us 3-2 down again. There were no goals in the second half.
“What springs to mind is having to get up at 4am because the game kicked off early due to the power cuts of the time.”
“I remember Ipswich's Colin Harper being sent off for pushing the referee after he awarded us a penalty [in a 0-0 draw at Portman Road in April 1972]. Billy Dearden took the penalty and Laurie Sivell saved the effort.” Town lost that season’s Bramall Lane game 7-0 the previous November.
The ticket pricing for the game have been widely well received. “Well done Ipswich, £10 for me and £2 each for all the kids under 19. The eldest bringing his missus for her first ever game and only £2 as she’s 18. That’s an excellent effort so well done, I hope we put out a reasonable team.”
The busiest Blades’ message board is the friendly and well-informed S24SU.com.
Photo: Action Images
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