Monday, 27 January 2014

Highs, Lows and Disbelief

Sheffield United 1
Fulham 1
Bramall Lane
Attendance 16,324

As the rain came down on a bleak Sunday afternoon the man who would be center of attention gave the Bramall Lane pitch the all clear and United vs Fulham was game on. It would prove to be a game that with the exception of one player (one of the usual suspects) every player in a Red and White shirt could hold their heads up high and be proud. The Blades gave John Brayford his debut, Porter was recalled to the side and Coady was selected ahead of McGinn. Andre Marriner got the tie under way and Fulham took control of possession and kept it that why for a lot of the early going. As in the previous tie whilst the Premier League team held possession well it was played sideways a lot and they found it hard to break United  down. When possession was won by United they went straight onto the attack Murphy winning a free kick in a dangerous position, unfortunately nothing came of it neither did an attempt by Porter (who had a good game by all accounts) as it missed the target. Fulham were never going to sit back and had chances of their own, one of the more dangerous saw Rodallega heading over the bar after Karagounis found enough space to put in a dangerous cross. Fulham's day took an early blow as John Arne Riise had to be replaced due to an injury after missing a sliding tackle on Flynn. The continuing rain ensured
the game remained a scrappy affair for most of the first half. Midway through the first half Porter was brought down by Hughes on the outside of the box, this lead to Baxter bending his effort just wide of goal. The Blades got a lucky escape as shortly after a cross from Kasami got stuck in the fresh goalmouth mud and the defense were able to get it clear from danger. As the rain came to a halt and a brief spell of sunshine hit the field of play Harry Maguire made an uncharacteristic run forward with the ball, he bounded past the Fulham midfield, once at the edge of the box he turned his body to block their defense and get off a hard low shot, it was this shot that hit the leg of Chris Porter and gave League One Sheffield United the lead over Premiership Fulham, and the crowd erupted as the front man peeled off to celebrate his goal. It was almost short lived as Rodallega's run towards goal was stopped by George Long who bounded off his line towards the Colombian, The
striker managed to get the ball past long but his trailing leg made contact with Long and he went down, on this occasion the referee saw fit not to award a penalty much to the dismay of the traveling Fulham fans. In all honesty if I was a fan of Fulham I would be convinced this is a penalty as they are given week in week out in The Premiership, and one would think a Premiership referee would have blown his whistle, but also we see them not given on a regular basis in League One. A major blow came on half time as Harry Maguire went down in the box at the death of the half, he didn't make it back onto the pitch before the whistle and at half time The Blades had a deserved lead. The performances of Brayford, Maguire, Hill, Murphy and dare I say it Porter were all top draw, especially Brayford who looked composed and confident.

As the teams made their way to the field for the second half many fans were glad to see Harry Maguire appear from the tunnel still dressed to compete, a tactical substitution was made as new boy Stefan Scougall replaced goal scorer Porter, this left us without a recognized striker and in my view showed we were ready to defend our lead, whether this was the right choice or one made to early is down to interpretation. Scougall however would go on to have an impressive debut and look comfortable against Fulham and showed a vast
amount of promise, he battled hard and constantly wanted the ball, one can only hope he is in the team come midweek. After the game resumed delight turned to horror as Harry Maguire went down again early due to the previous knock, he was replaced by new signing Bob Harris who took up the left back position moving moving Hill to centre half. Baxter managed to get off a tame shot which was easily saved by Stockdale in the Fulham goal, the chance came after some good work by Coady and Scougall who had began to link up well. United had a few chances on the wings but with no target man and Baxter laying deep there was no one in the box to convert the crosses. Just under ten minutes into the half United were down to ten men after Doyle lost his cool and was shown a straight red for an off the ball incident, Doyle (who was average at best in the game and one of the weaker players on the day) is club captain and should lead by example instead of getting caught up in a retaliatory incident. Doyle had
previously taken a blow from Chris David leaving him bloody mouthed but no foul was given, but he should have gotten on with the game, instead he stamped on the Fulham player's ankle in front of the referee, whilst Davies reaction was theatrical at best and many on the Kop were trying to pin point where the sniper was in the stadium it could not be excused that Doyle had acted idiotically and deserved his red card. A disappointing action and one that should result in punishment from the club, and it meant that United would now have to try and keep pace despite their opponents having the extra man. Surprisingly however it was the Fulham freekick that nearly led to The Blades doubling their lead, Flynn got hold of the ball and broke with pace at Fulham, he got past Hughes with ease and drilled an effort towards goal forcing Stockdale to make a tough save with his feet. Fulham held onto possession for large portions of the half and continued to try and take advantage of the extra man going forward but United defended heroically. The away side brought on Darren Bent and Adel Taarabt to try and swing the game in their favor but United remained resistant. Not only would The Blades not roll over for Fulham but they kept going at the away team and when Flynn managed to bear down on goal he fouled by Hughes who stamped on the wingers foot tripping him in the box, a stone wall penalty but the Blades fans were left outraged as referee Marriner (who was in clear view of the incident) waved away the penalty appeals, robbing the home side of their rightful penalty and chance to take a two goal lead and claim another Premiership scalp. Cloughy and Morgan were
so incensed by this that Marriner had to speak to them on the touchline, but Clough escaped being sent to the stands. As with most big mistakes by referees, the victim of said decision (United) were punished after great link up play from Duff and Tankovic enabled Rodallega to find space and drill a low shot past George Long to level up the tie. Fulham from then on piled on the pressure, and Senderos rattled the cross bar with a header along with Matt Hill miraculously managing to get the slightest touch on Kasamis header across the face of goal stopping the effort crossing the line. Fulham had a hopeful effort look like it was goal bound but it flashed just wide of the top corner. It was from the resulting goal kick Fulham again attacked us, but Scougall managed to disposes his opponent and make a darting run forward and as the last few seconds ticked down he played the ball to Murphy on the wing, his run towards goal saw three Fulham defenders crowed him, leaving Scougall open making his way into the box, but Muphey didn't look up instead he stopped at the edge of the box, and the last chance of the game was wasted as Scougall was then marked, Murphey couldn't do anything useful and the final whistle sounded. A brave performance from the ten man Blades left us proud, but at the same time we genuinely think we did enough to win the game was it not for forces working against us. A replay at Craven Cottage awaits us, the reward for progression, either Nottingham Forest or Preston at Bramall Lane. We will have to work hard, but I believe we can upset the odds yet again.

-Jonathan Gascoigne

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