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Saturday, 4th August 2018 Kick-off 15:00
It’s Never Too Soon to Get Promoted - Notes for Sheffield United
Friday, 9th Mar 2018 11:00 by HarryFromBath
HarryFromBath assesses the mood in the opposition camp ahead of Saturday’s game at Portman Road by delving into their forums.
“It has been a good season and we would all be happy if we were in this position having been more consistent. The dip in form since Christmas has left a tinge of disappointment”, “We were allowed to dream when we were playing well in the top two but we have been unable to sustain that level.”
“We have more than established ourselves as a Championship side.” The Blades head down to East Anglia ninth in the table and three points off the top six. A run of three wins and four losses in their last seven league matches have typified the mid-table form which has seen them drift out of the top six.
“A bad night all round.” The manner of Tuesday evening’s 3-0 loss to Craven Cottage reinforced a belief that there is a gulf in quality between their hard-working side and the teams sitting directly above them. “Fulham showed us up for the standard we are and I will be amazed if we make the play-offs.”
“I don’t think we are quite good enough. We are missing that five per cent to kill teams off”, “The recent losses to Fulham and Wolves were the final nail in the coffin for me. Even if we made them, what is the point? Villa, Fulham and Derby would beat us hands down. They have far more quality.”
“We aren’t ready for the Premier League yet, so just hold your heads high and be happy at a great first season back in the Championship”, “This bunch of players have probably gone as far as they can go, which is decent for a team out of League One but a little bit short of reaching the play-offs.”
“Chris deserves so much praise for building this team”, “He is doing his best but cannot get any more out of this group of players. He has tweaked things and changed players here and there but the top teams are just so much better. I’m not sure that different coaching or planning would change that.”
“We are still finding our feet at this level and Chris and the players deserve great credit.” The 50-year-old had two spells playing as a defender for the Blades before replacing Nigel Adkins in May 2016 and taking League One by storm last season, picking up the title and 100 points in the process.
“Does anyone seriously think that Chris Wilder has given up on the play-offs? Quitting is not part of his style”, “He is one of us and is desperate to succeed here but won’t be taken for granted either”, “He can’t change the budget he is given and evolving a new team will take longer than people hope.”
Blades believe that Wilder has got the best out of his playing squad but some fear losing him if the club can’t match his ambitions. “Let’s evolve with the players and the manager, it’s so easy to get ahead of ourselves. Wednesday threw money at the job and wasted the lot as we did in the past.”
“Chris doesn’t change things, does he?”, “As much as I respect him, the way we set up leaves holes to exploit and we don’t counter it. The one thing than rankles with me is that he hasn’t changed his tactics for these tough away games. We are so open that the best teams can go straight through us.”
Playing on the Front Foot
“We all love how Chris Wilder sets his teams up to play attacking football and take the game to opponents”, “The formation and style of play relies heavily on the midfield and it simply doesn’t work if they are not retaining possession and moving the ball quickly or covering effectively.”
Blades enjoy their side’s brand of energetic industrious football which revolves around quick passing and movement in possession and high pressing from all players without the ball. There is widespread belief that this model has got the best out of a squad largely constructed from lower-league acquisitions.
“I am surprised at Wilder’s stubbornness in keeping the wing-back shape”, “He seems to want to use one approach even if it has been found wanting on a number of occasions”, “We need a Plan B when we play teams like Wolves or Fulham. I hope this is one of the big lessons we take from this season.”
Tuesday night’s starting XI (above) at Craven Cottage was set out in Wilder’s preferred shape. Width is provided not only by the wing-backs as both wide centre-backs Chris Basham and Jack O’Connell will push forward and overlap. Richard Stearman is highly praised as a decent footballing centre-half.
Jamal Blackman is viewed as a solid keeper who commands his area. George Baldock’s pace on the right flank is a valuable threat but left wing-back Enda Stevens was left isolated by Sheyi Ojo on Tuesday. “Fulham sussed out Enda Stevens and our left side is where the threats are coming from each time.”
“Our season hinged on Paul Coutts’s injury as we all feared.” The loss of the former Derby midfielder with a broken leg in November has unbalanced the Blades’ midfield as his ability to start attacks and keep play ticking over was ideal for their style of play. This is seen as a turning point in the season.
“Mark Duffy is the link between the midfield and the strikers.” The former Birmingham man is now seen as having a vital creative role. “When Duffy isn’t there the other players are unable to step up to the challenge in the final third. Nobody else takes responsibility to open up opposition defences.”
“We have gone from a cultured passing midfield to an agricultural one.” Duffy, John Fleck and January arrival from Wolves Lee Evans are most fans’ preferred midfield trio, but they were overwhelmed at Fulham. “We seemed incapable of putting our foot on the ball, there was too much hoof and panic.”
“We get to the edge of the box and that’s it.” Fans do want more incisive play from their midfielders. “We need to take the ball into the box and link playing through the strikers with pace. We play passing football to feet but don’t make runs to the box or support play and we don’t put crosses in.”
“The forwards need to chase, harry and put defenders under pressure.” There is a huge onus on the strikers to press in the final third. Billy Sharp is now seen as the Blades’ most potent threat with Leon Clarke having scored just once in 2018. Most prefer Clayton Donaldson to be used as a bench option.
Fulham 3 – 0 Sheffield United
“Thank God that’s over. Sometimes you just have to hold your hands up”, “We looked exactly what we are, a well-organised team that came out of the league below last season”, “God knows what Fulham were doing in the first half of the season. They should be right up where Wolves are.”
The South Yorkshiremen made a bright start but Fulham wrested control of the game after the first 15 minutes and Aleksander Mitrovic scored on 31 and 44 minutes to give the Cottagers a two-goal interval cushion. Tom Cairney added a third just after the hour mark from a rapid counter-attack.
“Fulham gave us a lesson in pass-and-move football and how to outnumber the opposition all over the pitch”, “We have them so much space. We had no pace anywhere and a real reluctance to get forward in numbers. Combine that with pedestrian defending and you have a real hammering.”
“Fulham ran us ragged. We ran out of steam after about 15 minutes and were chasing shadows. We could get no pressure on the ball and both wing-backs were continually skinned. The ball was like a hot potato with long balls up to players with no chance of holding it up”, “It was boys against men.”
Reading 1 – 3 Sheffield United
“Three big points that, we were back to being Wilder’s front-foot Blades again”, “I knew Reading had problems but not to that scale. I have never seen a side with such little heart and desire”, “I don’t think Reading’s performance was forced on them by us. They were utter garbage all by themselves.”
Billy Sharp opened the scoring for the visitors on 11 minutes latching onto a rebound and Mark Duffy added a second a minute before half-time with a superb strike into the top corner. Omar Richards pulled a goal back on 51 minutes before a pivotal two minutes which decided the game’s outcome.
“Simon Moore saves Reading’s penalty and then we go 3-1 up two minutes later.” The substitute keeper saved Leandro Bacuna’s spot-kick on 62 minutes after a foul on Liam Moore and Sharp struck immediately again, side-footing home John Fleck’s long pass to secure what was a comfortable win.
A familiar starting line-up (above) saw Leon Clarke partnering Sharp and many Blades watching felt that they could have been more clinical if anything. “We had seven or eight gilt-edged chances for those three goals”, “If the game had finished 5-1 it would have been a much more realistic score.”
Hull 1 – 0 Sheffield United
“Dear, dear me, that was bad”, “It was like watching a substandard League One game. Hull won all the 50/50 challenges and wanted it more from the kick-off. We were outmuscled and out-thought”, “However well we have done this season that was unacceptable, a clueless, inept, pathetic display.”
“We offered nothing all night.” Nouha Dicko’s finish for Nigel Adkins’s Tigers side on 55 minutes proved to be the winning goal in a low-key Friday night game. The most notable other incident was the first-half throwing of sponge balls on to the pitch from Hull fans protesting at the club’s owners.
“It’s hard watching this. The midfield and wing-backs have been awful and we are breaking with the pace of a sloth”, “A totally shocking performance, so disappointing”, “What galled me was not the poor touch but the half-hearted effort and intensity. We jogged around and looked uninterested.”
“A dreadful team selection.” Blades were worried when they saw that Mark Duffy had been omitted from the line-up (above) and replaced by a more physical Ryan Leonard. “The midfield was guilty of failing to hold on to the ball, there was no link from back to front. We lost tempo and possession.”
Goalkeepers and Central Defenders
“Jamal Blackman played very well for us in the early months of the season.” The 24-year-old loanee from Chelsea “commands his area and pulls off fantastic saves. His handling of the ball is excellent and he takes the ball cleanly or punches it away confidently when going up against big target men.”
“Blackman looks so imposing and domineering in his area and you can see he commands respect”, “I am really impressed with how he deals with long balls and crosses into the box”, “He struggled away at Fulham. He was beaten at his front post. His concentration was lacking and his angles were poor.”
“Chris Basham is a determined player full of passion. He makes tackles and does all the nitty-gritty stuff.” The 29-year-old former Blackpool man “defends really well and gets forward at times but he struggles to deliver quality in the final third”, “He puts the effort in and always wins his challenges.”
“I can’t fault Basham’s effort and commitment but his limitations can be exposed. He sweats blood for the cause but I sigh when he receives the ball from a team-mate because it spells the end of our forward progress”, “He makes terrific tackles and interceptions but sometimes dithers on the ball.”
“Jack O’Connell was good on the ball at Reading, driving forward and overlapping like earlier in the season.” The 23-year-old left-sided former Brentford centre-back “is calm on the ball and there is a pretty good chance of making a great pass at the end of his runs”, “An absolute rock at the back.”
“O’Connell is our most underrated player. He makes up for everyone’s mistakes and tidies up when called upon”, “He makes good blocks and covers around the back well. He comes forward and tries to put players in with through balls”, “He defends intelligently and will throw his body in the way.”
“The way Richard Stearman plays offers us so much.” The 30-year-old July purchase from Fulham and one-time Town loanee “is probably the most comfortable defender in possession. He’s not as comfortable bringing the ball forward but uses the ball well with his touch, control and passing.”
Jon Dadi Bodvarsson (Reading) v Richard Stearman
“Stearman is very much a captain whether wearing the armband or not. He brings a sense of calm to the defence”, “He’s an intelligent player who is technically good and physically strong”, “He failed to impose himself at Fulham and struggled with their runners, but he had no protection from midfield.”
Wing-Backs and Wide Midfielders
“Daniel Lafferty is a more defensive left-back than Enda Stevens but he worked well with O’Connell last season.” The 28-year-old ex-Burnley man is currently a fringe player. “He is more likely to attack the box and have a shot but my worry is that he is very slow and weak against strong quick wingers.”
“Enda Stevens is limited as a wing-back as he isn’t quick enough. He needs three touches where one will suffice.” The 27-year-old former Pompey man “doesn’t have the quality to take on a man and his final ball rarely meets a striker”, “His is still too far off his man and he gives the ball away carelessly.”
“Stevens was too slow to react to Fulham’s ball for their first goal and he was a liability from the kick-off. It was clear he had problems with Sheyi Ojo down our left side”, “He overruns the ball and fails to track back”, “He frustratingly won’t use his right foot, spinning around to hit the ball with his left.”
“We have been very reliant on Baldock for width.” The 24-year-old arrived last summer from Milton Keynes. “He’s our best outlet with his pace, mobility, athleticism and underrated strength”, “He was superb against Fulham. Ryan Sessegnon is the best player in the league and he was almost invisible.”
Andreas Weimann (Derby County) v George Baldock
“Baldock is willing to take his man on and put a decent ball in”, “He puts in a decent shift, getting up and down well and he is able to support our attacks”, “He’s an attacking full-back who defends well and some good blocks and interceptions, and he can be a constant threat down our right-hand side.”
“Ryan Leonard adds battling and tackling qualities.” The 25-year-old January signing from Southend “has ability but he looks terrified, he’s hot potato football personified in the centre”, “He gives us some bite and energy but we should not be starting him until he gets fully up to speed at this level.”
“Leonard looks slow, languid and clumsy. He looks technically woeful and is struggling with the step up in skill and intensity. He’s behind the ball and always at full stretch, very pedestrian”, “He tackles well and tries to track his runners, but he needs to get his head straight and not grab at everything.”
“John Lundstram hasn’t put two good games together.” The 24-year-old ex-Oxford United man “is a safe midfielder, not prone to a quick or incisive pass. He’s deliberate in his play so that we look less inventive when he plays”, “He tries too many long balls and won’t attack space when it opens up.”
“Lundstram can’t play the deep-lying playmaker role. He gives the ball away too often and moves it too slowly”, “He has a long ball but lacks finesse in the final third, although he’s good when arrives late in the box”, “He’s slow in thought and deed and is liable to get caught on the ball and gives it away.”
“Ricky Holmes has barely played but he has looked bright and positive from what we have seen.” The 30-year-old January purchase from Charlton “doesn’t hide. He has a bit of urgency to his play and is a livewire and a risk-taker”, “It’s good to see someone run at people and try a cute ball.”
“David Brooks is thrown on to single-handedly save games.” The 20-year-old youth product “can beat a man and cut in from the wings”, “He’s a technically gifted player who can run at people and you get the feeling that he will make things happen, but he’s a long way off playing a full game.”
“I’m surprised at Lee Evans’s poor first touch and lack of creativity.” The 23-year-old January signing from Wolves “doesn’t have that forward ‘eye of a needle’ pass, he plays it square and he passes on responsibility”, “An energetic player who is all over the field winning tackles and breaking up play.”
“Evans is a tidy player but he does not penetrate with the ball in terms of passing or running and he lacks mobility to chase runners when defending”, “He’s a bit of an inconsistent flat-track bully”, “He always looks a passenger without a physical minder which he doesn’t have when Fleck plays higher.”
“John Fleck looks more comfortable playing deeper.” The 26-year-old ex-Coventry player “does great things with the ball when he takes it on, carries it or plays others through, but at times he is sloppy and he can try to overplay”, “He’s great to watch and for someone so stocky he glides with the ball.”
“Fleck tries to make things happen. He senses the need to play telling balls but he needs runners and they have not been offering themselves as much lately”, “He drifts out of the game when he is wide on the left. He can switch play and move the ball both ways with his lovely control playing centrally.”
“We play much better when Duffy plays. He’s at the heart of most of the good things we do, picking the right passes. He is lovely to watch on the ball and he keeps the tempo going.” The 32-year-old “is a real threat as he drifts around the field. He loses the ball overplaying it but you can live with that”.
Mark Duffy v Jack Grealish (Aston Villa)
“No Duffy leaves a massive gap between midfield and the front two”, “He links everything up but he gives the ball away constantly and tries to do too much on his poor days”, “He did not get the ball at Fulham but off it he did not close or press. He needed to dig in under the cosh but went wandering.”
“Ched Evans won’t be the last signing that hasn’t worked out.” The 29-year-old appeared from the bench at Fulham for the first time since September having been out with an ankle injury. “His first challenge will be to prove his fitness. The reality is that he has four fully-fit strikers ahead of him.”
“I don’t see what James Wilson adds, he seems to saunter around doing nothing.” The 22-year-old January loanee from Manchester United has not featured in recent league games due to an ankle problem. “He needs feeding as he can’t hold the ball up. I fear that it may take too many games to get him up to speed.”
“I don’t think Clayton Donaldson is anywhere near as effective at home against sides who like to sit deep.” The 34-year-old ex-Birmingham striker “does seem to be a better player with more space to use away from home”, “He’s a great asset when we are defending and need an outlet with pace.”
“Donaldson is a journeyman striker who is on his last legs”, “He holds it up and creates chances with good changes of pace, but he misses chances and makes poor choices, slowing play down when we have a chance to break”, “He’s a handful for defenders and he helps the ball stick in the final third.”
“Clarke was a nuisance who ran defenders ragged earlier in the season.” The 33-year-old one-time Wolves striker “has looked slow and second to things lately. The running and energy he had earlier in the season isn’t there. He has been great for us but he’s off form and is not looking like scoring.”
“Clarke’s work ethic suits our playing style. He chases, harries and runs the channels well. He is a lively striker who shows his determination to get in front of his defender”, “He is a classic confidence striker so dropping him will be counterproductive. He just needs to bag a couple to get going again.”
“Billy Sharp does the work of two forwards.” The 32-year-old one-time Doncaster man is in his third spell at Bramall Lane. “It’s not just his goals but it’s his work ethic off the ball. He holds it up well and runs the lines. He links play well and will come off the front. He’s dangerous running with the ball.”
“Sharp has never been fast and that’s more apparent as he has got older, but boy can he finish”, “He isn’t fast in terms of covering a lot of ground in a short time, but his reactions are so quick”, “He’s at his best irritating defenders and being a pest. He’s a goal threat that you will write off at your peril.”
Blades’ Views on ITFC and the Game
“Looking at the table there are 12 teams who have a realistic chance of a play-off spot. Take Ipswich as an example, they are currently 12th and if they beat us on Saturday they will be one point behind us and there are 33 points left to play for.”
Blades have had little to say specifically about Saturday’s game at the time of writing, but the few comments they have made suggest that they see this as a very winnable game, and certainly far less daunting than last Tuesday’s affair at Craven Cottage.
“Ipswich are a team we have beaten twice already including once away”, “As Wilder says we take our medicine from Fulham and go on to games which we can win like Ipswich”, “Roll on Ipswich, a team who I usually don’t like but I don’t mind them tonight.”
“We are now pretty much where Ipswich have been since Jim Magilton was in charge of them”, “We are in Ipswich territory where we need to keep blooding and nurturing our own youngsters, pick up bargains and hope that our manager can make up the shortfall to keep contending at the top end.”
Blades has some interesting thoughts on Town loanee Cameron Carter-Vickers (CCV) who spent the first half of the campaign at Bramall Lane. “CCV did alright for us, put in some good displays, prone to a couple of mistakes, yes, but how old was he, 19?”, “There’s a good player there for the future.”
“Good luck to the boy – he was great against the Pigs [Sheffield Wednesday] at Hillsborough”, “He did a good job for the most part and you can’t fault his effort but he was too inconsistent lately. If he sharpens up I think there’s a good player in there.”
“On the whole CCV did well for us and hopefully the experience has developed him as a player. To me he seemed to be a rounded athlete first and a footballer second. I hope that doesn't sound too harsh”, “It makes little sense for him to stay here with him not getting much playing time.”
“He did his best, was prepared to put his body in and did a good job despite the odd clanger”, “You can see he will be the sort of player to just play every game every season for someone. He’s built like a tank and will be an asset to many sides in that way.
The busiest Blades’ message-board is the friendly and well-informed S24SU.com.
Photo: Action Images
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