|Ipswich Town 1 v 1 Sheffield United|
Saturday, 22nd December 2018 Kick-off 15:00
We’re Not Far Away From Being a Great Side, But We’re Not Quite There - Notes for Blades
Friday, 21st Dec 2018 11:16 by HarryFromBath
HarryFromBath assesses the mood in the opposition camp ahead of Saturday’s game at Portman Road by delving into their forums.
“Don’t let the fact that we have been in the top six all season fool any of you”, “We’re a very good Championship side and have good foundations to move forward, but we’re not good enough now to challenge the best sides in the league”, “Top six would be miraculous, top half is just about realistic.”
The Blades may be sitting in fifth place in the table but most fans don’t think they will be there at the end of the season. Last Friday night’s home defeat to West Brom repeated a pattern of coming up short against the strongest teams in the league, and followed recent losses to Leeds and Forest.
“We are still playing well. It’s good football and mostly decent to watch, but we continually come up short when it counts”, “We’re a good side but not a great one, and we are not a team that believes it can beat the better teams or get promoted”, “We’re great to watch but are not quite good enough.”
“It seems apparent that unless there’s an injection of quality in January we will struggle for a top-10 finish, let alone the play-offs”, “The January window will be the defining point of the season. Address the issues and we will be thereabouts for the play-offs. Otherwise it will be a season of ‘what-ifs’.”
“Our matches against the better teams in the division seem to follow a pattern”, “We pick up points against teams with poor form or confidence but when we meet a good team that wants to win, we will lose. We always do”, “It feels like the peak of the Wilder era when it could have been the start.”
“When we don’t go up and Wilder has gone, I would like to be the first on this forum to thank the owners for the ‘great job’ they’re doing at the Lane”, “People who are saying ‘but we’re fifth’ need to stop and listen very carefully to his interviews. He knows we’re not strong enough to stay there.”
Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder
“Never a top-six squad, but certainly a top-six manager.” Blades have great faith in their 51-year-old boss who took charge in May 2016 and steered his boyhood club to promotion after six years in League One. This was followed by a solid 10th place in their first season back in the Championship.
“Wilder can’t keep turning water into wine with a bottom-end budget.” Fans see the club as being at a crossroads and are urging the club’s owners to back their manager given the risk of losing him. “He is a heart-on-the-sleeve manager, 100 per cent a Blade and one of our own, but I can see him going.”
“Is it a case of Wilder lacking resources or not knowing how to crack beating the top sides? I’m going with the former at present but the latter is a possibility.” A minority have questioned the high-tempo brand of football the team against stronger opponents which has seen the side struggle with fatigue.
The majority of Blades wouldn’t want to see a change of approach. “You can count on one hand the times we have tried to contain teams under Wilder”, “He has brought the supporters back and given us brilliant football to watch”, “He doesn’t want us to play patient football and that won’t change.”
Passing, Pressing and Pushing Forward
“We play a fast-paced passing style which is a lot more exciting but we need to do better in the final third”, “It’s great to watch the first-time passing and movement, but it lacks any dynamism because we overdo the possession. The really good teams find their feet and work us out after 30 minutes.”
“We don’t have the best players or the best quality but you can’t question the team’s effort. We all know we are not far away from being a very good side.” There’s wide agreement that players with proven top-flight experience are essential for them to break through the Championship glass ceiling.
“We are so massively lacking in pace”, “We desperately need pace in midfield and up front as we can be so pedestrian”, “We win the ball on the break and are easily caught up by retreating defenders”, “We don’t have the pace to stretch teams so we can’t exploit it when their defence play a high line.”
The starting XI (above) for last week’s West Brom game was set out in Wilder’s preferred 3-4-1-2 shape. Mark Duffy acts as chief playmaker behind the two strikers, but the side gains vital additional width and momentum from the driving forward runs of defenders Chris Basham and Jack O’Connell.
“With our style of play we will always be vulnerable to conceding goals. I have no problem with this as it’s great to watch and will never be boring”, “When we are at our best, we overload the attack with numbers but we will always be vulnerable to a side who will break at pace. It’s a trade-off.”
Keeper Dean Henderson is praised for his acrobatic shot-stopping and is a safe pair of hands in his first Championship season. Basham and O’Connell are also solid defenders while John Egan is seen as a traditional stopper. Richard Stearman is a good footballer and leader who can cover in defence.
“Our wing-backs can’t take a man on one-to-one and cross the ball, so they need extra support to be able to get a crossing opportunity”, “When the wing-backs get to the byline and decide to pass back instead of whipping in a quick cross, it gives teams time to set up and defend on the front foot.”
George Baldock is both viewed as more defensively-minded wing-back on the right in contrast to the more attacking but defensively Kieron Freeman. Enda Stevens on the opposite flank is praised for his consistency but many fans fear that his left-footedness means that defenders can contain him easily.
“The midfield is stationary. Oliver Norwood and Paul Coutts are too similar. You don’t need central midfielders sitting deep when chasing a game”, “Our ponderous midfielders are all too happy to play safe meaningless ball sideways and backwards”, “We walk the ball around at a pedestrian pace.”
John Fleck has provided energy and impetus to United’s midfield, but his poor form has left Wilder with no choice but partner the more patient Norwood and Coutts in the centre. The bigger worry for Blades is the lack of an alternative for the creativity of Mark Duffy who will often drift in a free role.
“Some of our play in the final third is slow and dull. We don’t move the ball quickly enough around the box to pull defenders out of position”, “We get to the byline and don’t cross the ball. We get into shooting range and don’t shoot. We get the ball forward well but pass it to death in the final third.”
David McGoldrick is seen as a possible replacement for Duffy in the deep creative role. He is praised for his vision and footballing brain, but lacks the finishing of Billy Sharp or Leon Clarke’s strength and ability to lead the line. Conor Washington has pace but his poor finishing has been heavily criticised.
“The players are burned-out. The full-on pressing football takes its toll”, “We bossed Derby, Forest and West Brom off the park for an hour and then we seemed to run out of ideas”, “As the second half wore on against Leeds, our quality in the final third decreased because of the players tiredness.”
“’Sheffield United go out all guns blazing but fail to score early and thus lose momentum.’ Anyone is free to cut and paste this report for forthcoming games.” Wilder changed tack in the recent win over Reading by starting quietly and upping the pace after the break, but the pattern of fatigue is a worry.
Wilder’s Plan B
With so many games in a short time-span over Christmas, Wilder may play the starting XI (below) on Saturday which began against Reading two weeks ago. Playing the less technical John Lundstram in midfield and the pacier Conor Washington in attack saw the Blades play a much more direct game.
Duffy replaced Lundstram at half-time while Sharp came on for Washington on the hour mark. This return to their Plan A line-up and playing style allowed them to take the game to Reading with their two most threatening players fully fresh. Sharp scored the first of their two late goals in a 2-0 win.
Sheffield United 1 – 2 West Brom
“That was predictable”, “A team that can play very well but also be totally woeful in the same match cannot possibly go up”, “In the first half we played fantastically well. West Brom scored against the run of play and in the second half we were a League Two side against a Premier League side.”
United went ahead on 12 minutes via McGoldrick's neat finish before Gareth Barry equalised with the visitors' first real chance of the game on 41. Harvey Barnes set up the winner for West Brom on 76 with a clever backheel that left-back Kieran Gibbs drilled in from 10 yards after an incisive move.
“We had West Brom on the run for the first 30 minutes. If we knew how to pass in the 18-yard box we would been leading by a big margin at half-time”, “Faffing about cost is at both ends”, “The gulf in class showed tonight. Look at 38-year-old Gareth Barry schooling us. “There’s a long way to go.”
Reading 0 – 2 Sheffield United
“A great result from a poor performance”, “We tried to play direct counter-attacking football in the first half and it backfired, even though we had good chances”, “It was a bit of a drab performance”, “Thank God we showed up in the second half. The first half was as boring a game as I have seen.”
“Duffy came on for the second half and we took control of the game.” Sharp opened the scoring for United on 83 from Chris Basham's cross, a goal which reflected the visitors’ second-half dominance. Three minutes later they scored again when a corner ricocheted in off Reading striker Sam Baldock.
“The first half was one of the dullest Blades games I can remember. In the second half it was back to the good old Sheffield United. Duffy was running the show even if the final ball wasn’t always quite good enough”, “Reading had a lot of pace and power but no heart and nobody taking responsibility.”
Sheffield United 0 – 1 Leeds
“That was frustrating as hell”, “A poor game with not much between the sides, but a mistake won it for Leeds” “It’s really hard to take that. Leeds worked hard but didn’t deserve to win”, “Both teams cancelled each other out but if we want to get in the top places, we really have to grasp the nettle.”
Leeds won a tight game after Pablo Hernandez capitalised on a defensive blunder on 82 minutes. Blades keeper Henderson chased John Egan's overhit back pass to avoid conceding a corner but he miscued his pass straight to Leeds winger Jack Clarke, who squared for Hernandez to tap in a winner.
“We were okay generally, but we then dropped a clanger when it looked a certain nil-nil”, “Bielsa clogged up the wide areas so that we couldn’t overload and run beyond them. It stifled our favourite trick”, “They pressed us very high so that none of our defenders could get up the pitch and overlap.”
The starting XI (above) was the same as the one which started last Friday against West Brom. Many Blades felt that Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa’s tactics nullified their threat. “With the man-marking job Leeds did on Duffy and they way they pressed our defenders they really got it spot on tactically.”
Goalkeepers and Central Defenders
“Dean Henderson is a wonderful keeper and a talent we can only dream of signing permanently.” The 21-year-old Manchester United loanee “can be a bit theatrical with some of his saves but he is a real showman”, “He’s a very agile keeper who makes saves he has no right to claim in all reality.”
“Henderson made a real howler to gift Leeds their winner but we must make allowance for his age”, “He needs to work on claiming crosses and dominating his area, but he’s a proper shot-stopper who gets the crowd going because his saves look fantastic. He’s a keeper who genuinely loves playing.”
“Richard Stearman is a good footballing centre-back and he’s definitely a leader.” The 31-year-old former Fulham man played on loan at Town in 2013. “He’s a reliable Championship defender who has rarely let us down. He’s an excellent footballer gives it everything when he is given a chance.”
“Stearman looks a bit lightweight as a central defender but he’s good in the air and on the ball”, “We look a more solid backline when he’s in the middle of the three”, “He is more comfortable than John Egan and makes simple effective passes, but Egan is commanding in the air and physically stronger.”
Jon Dadi Bodvarsson (Reading) v Richard Stearman
“John Egan is a safety-first defender who clears his lines.” The 26-year-old July arrival from Brentford “has settled into the middle of the defence well. He’s a proper warrior who reads the game well and is brave. He has had the majority of taller strikers in his pocket but struggles against quick forwards.”
“Egan is a good stopper but he’s negative and too fond of rolling a five-yard pass back or sideways”, “He’s good, but makes questionable decisions on the ball and gets turned by clever strikers”, “Teams know he’s a technical weak link in possession. Good strikers press him and knock him off balance.”
“Jack O’Connell is a steady defender and one of our better players.” The 24-year-old ex-Brentford man “defends well and comes out with the ball when he has it, using neat skill to helps move the ball forward”, “His marauding play has been more reserved, he’s playing fewer killer balls into the box.”
“O’Connell is a centre-half who overlaps, beats his man and whips quality balls into the box. If that doesn’t sum up our current team, I don’t know what does”, “His defensive heading is fine but last season we benefitted more from him getting forward and being an attacking threat at set-pieces.”
“Chris Basham is all-action and athletic, making tackles, blocks and getting up and down.” The 30-year-old former Blackpool man “drives us forward, wins every 50/50 and is all over the pitch making clearances, tackles and attacking. When he gets in attacking positions he can panic and plays it safe.”
Basham shoots for Sheffield United
“Basham puts his body on the line every time”, “Sometimes he can be a bomb-scare, then at other times we see Bashambauer”, “He bombs forward far more than O’Connell and his energy levels have been infectious. Defensively he’s a work in progress bit he’s very consistent and is an unsung hero.”
Wing-Backs and Wide Players
“Marvin Johnson is the best pretend professional footballer I have ever seen.” The 28-year-old is on a season-long loan from Boro. “He is glaringly poor, getting a rolling of the eyes and a general groan when he comes on”, “He’s so poor with the ball that I find it hard to say anything good about him.”
“Honestly, what has happened to Kieron Freeman?” The 26-year-old former Derby man “is currently suffering from a major dip in form. It’s baffling because he’s capable of so much more”, “His passing has been atrocious in recent months and we all know that he struggles and makes errors defending.”
“Freeman needed a rest as he wasn’t defending crosses or shots on our right side and it was costing us goals”, “His forward play isn’t half bad and he is very skilful in the final third. He was a breath of fresh air cutting inside and setting up goals. but his habit of letting players go past him is shocking.”
Andreas Weimann (Derby County) v George Baldock
“George Baldock has been pretty invisible since coming back but he has not cost us a goal per game like Freeman has.” The 23-year-old ex-Milton Keynes man “isn’t a bad player but he’s a full-back in a wing-back role”, “He lacks the drive or the attacking threat he had last season and he doesn’t cross.”
“Baldock has a bit of pace, a few tricks and he can keep a shot down but he just doesn’t cross. If he put in a few crosses from the spaces he gets into, we would score more often”, “He’s a good player who is solid defensively but is lacking in several ways going forward. It’s a drawback in our system.”
“Stevens has been one of our better players sticking to his defensive tasks. He gets forward when he can and is involved in lots of good moves. His crossing is not great and he needs to work in this as he gets into good areas but pulls back weak, soft crosses. His touch, runs and interceptions are good.”
Josh Scowen (Queens Park Rangers) v Enda Stevens
The 28-year-old ex-Portsmouth left-back “has the technique but doesn’t see the right ball needed”, “His inability to use his right foot is laughable. It makes it so easy for defenders and halves his threat in attack”, “He has the physicality to be up and down all game but seems unsure about what to do.”
“John Lundstram stops the opposition scything through our midfield.” The 24-year-old ex-Oxford man “is not good enough in comparison with out other midfielders. Even against a moderate side like Reading earlier this month he still looked one division below what we need in a midfielder.”
“Lundstram’s physical style is a good foil for weaker opponents. He’s not good enough for a side looking to win, but is okay for a side playing not to lose”, “I have a soft spot for him after he put Jack Grealish six-foot under last September. I hope he grows more and becomes a real midfield general.”
“Paul Coutts is clearly not match fit and it is affecting his confidence.” The 30-year-old former Derby player was out for nearly a year after sustaining a broken leg at Burton in November 2017. “It’s hard when someone comes back from a long mid-season lay-off and he’s still a bit off the pace and slow.”
“Coutts can put his foot on the ball, calm it down and influence or dictate the tempo of a game”, “He can still cast a nice pass but so can my Subbuteo players and neither can run”, “Mobility was never a strong suit with him, and he can’t play alongside Norwood as they end up cancelling each other out.”
“Oliver Norwood is superb at opening a game up with lots of pinging passes and clever touches.” The 27-year-old is on loan from Brighton with the move becoming permanent in January. “He adds a real creative element to our side. He can control the game and is at the heart of everything we’re up to.”
“Norwood helps us tick play over when we control the game. He can be nonchalant in possession and is extremely ineffective when he is pressed”, “He clearly isn’t a big tackler and needs someone to do the ugly stuff beside him”. “We need pace in the team to benefit from his long-range passing.”
“John Fleck has had four or five decent games this season but has been poor overall.” The 27-year-old former Coventry player “rarely makes his trademark runs forward. He looks sluggish and is not assisting goals”, “He has been poor for a while. He needs a rest, or rather we need a rest from him.”
“Fleck makes driving runs and links up play well. He bites into tackles and will burst forward with or without the ball. We need his drive as we have nobody similar to him”, “He has been combative in the past, but this is a part of his game which seems to have deserted him with so many off-days.”
“Duffy is a real threat when he gets on the ball and roams around the final third, getting into some great central and wide areas.” The 33-year-old ex-Birmingham winger now has a free role in behind the two strikers. “We need him in those areas and pockets where he creates and makes chances.”
Mark Duffy v Jack Grealish (Aston Villa)
“Duffy admits he has never had pace and it’s not something he relies on”, “The midfield never looks right without him, you don’t know where the creativity will come from”, “He gets us 15 yards further up the pitch”, “Leeds man-marked him out of the game from the kick-off following him everywhere.”
“Leon Clarke can still do a job for us and score goals no-one else is capable of.” The 33-year-old one-time Wolves man has struggled with a hip injury but may be in the squad for Saturday’s game. “He’s a clever footballer with pace, power, ingenuity, the ability to force his way into a space and shoot.”
“Clarke played the best football of his career in the first half of last season but his form dipped as the season progressed”, “His wider work is undervalued. He wins headers which we don’t without him and he can put the ball on a plate in the box. He can head the ball down to others or else hold it up.”
“Conor Washington is a good option to stretch teams at the back.” The 26-year-old ex-QPR striker “comes on to add some much-needed pace but ends up playing too deep”, “He offers an ‘in-behind’ option but doesn’t seem to be able to finish his dinner”, “He’s nowhere near the standard we need.”
“Washington is unique. I have never seen a player try so hard to get a touch of the ball only to fail time and time again”, “He can come on and cause a bit of mayhem, but he needs to show is that he knows where the goal is”, “He has the pace to push defences back and relieve pressure later on.”
“McGoldrick has a great touch, he rarely loses the ball and his weight of pass is always perfect.” The 31-year-old left Town this summer and signed for the Blades as a free agent in July. “His awareness, skill and ability to play for the team is outstanding, especially when dropping deep outside the box.”
“McGoldrick is a better footballer than Martyn Waghorn but Waghorn is able to score more goals”, “His poor finishing is bizarre as he is such a class player, but he’s a different player in the box to out of it”, “I swear blind that every time he has an attempt on goal, he aims it straight at the keeper.”
“If McGoldrick had pace he would be a regular in the top flight”, “He isn’t the greatest at winning the physical contests, but he has a nice touch and a football brain. He needs some urgency in his game in front of goal”, “My Ipswich friend said that he just won’t last the season and will pick up an injury.”
“Billy is a master at losing his marker in the box.” The 32-year-old is on his third spell at Bramall Lane after arriving from Leeds in 2015. “A poacher extraordinaire, he doesn’t need chances at times”, “His movement is clever, peeling away from defenders to find time and space to hammer the ball home.”
Billy Sharp (Sheffield United)
“Someone has to put the ball in the net which means for now it’s Sharp plus one”, “His all-round play is first class. He harries, chases and shields the ball well against some big lads”, “His ridiculous work-rate and instinctive finishing are great to watch, but he lacks pace to beat anyone in a straight race.”
Blades’ Views on ITFC and the Game
“Ipswich are currently rock-bottom of the Championship with just two wins out of 22 games. They recorded only their second win last Saturday with a 1-0 home win against Wigan. ‘New manager bounce’? Whatever, but anything less than three points for the Blades would just be unacceptable.”
“We haven't got a great record down there with only four league wins. Hopefully our form against lower teams this season will see us through.” Blades have had little to say about Saturday’s game, but the wide expectation is that they will continue their habit of picking up results against strugglers.
“Without Martyn Waghorn’s 16 league goals last season, it’s no surprise that Ipswich are struggling to score. They have managed a mere 18 goals in 22 games with only Bolton (15 in 22) having a poorer return. Freddie Sears remains a dangerous player and one we must keep an eye on.”
“I’m looking forward to this one”, “A good away day involves a decent stadium not too far from the centre of town, relatively friendly locals and plod and a pub full of Blades fans having a laugh, a few drinks and a singsong. Ipswich has all of those, although it's a nightmare to get to from Sheffield.”
The busiest Blades’ forum is the knowledgeable and friendly S24SU Forum. Sheffield United highlights are available on the Multimedia menu as well as Ipswich Town and for the whole of the Championship and other EFL leagues.@HarryFromBath
Photo: Action Images
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