Friday, 3 January 2014

The End Of 2013

So I have been without a computer for the last month or so hence why I have not been updating, but I will quickly round up a few things before I start posting for 2014.

Cambridge United 0
Sheffield United 2
R Costings Abbey Stadium
Attendance 4,593

The Blades won the match in what was dubbed an extremely disciplined display by the Official United website, in reality whilst we kept a clean sheet it was embarrassing to watch at times as Cambridge made us
look like the non league side exposing a slow three man defence. A fine strike from Jose Baxter after Flynn placed a low ball into the box left Maxwell in the Cambridge goal with no chance. Cambridge nearly got back on level terms, Dunk again making our defence look amateur using pace and skill to skin our defenders before playing a quality ball across the box to Cunnington who was only denied a goal by George Long darting off his line to block his effort. George Long again came to the rescue having to make two very composed saves. This is when the penalty shouts started ringing from the home support, no matter where the ball hit a Blades player, head, knee, chest the home crowd would scream handball. McGinn picked up a knock and had to come off in the first half, he was replaced by Jamie Murphy, a player yet to make his mark for us and looking to prove a point. 

The Second Half got under way and again penalty appeal after penalty appeal from Cambridge went unanswered (quite rightly so) by the referee, later in the game when they had a genuine right to be agrieved when a penalty for handball was not given I for one believe they only had themselves to blame, if the fans and
players weren't appealing every two minutes or so they may have well gotten this one. Cambridge kept huffing and puffing but could not convert their chances to goals. Then came a chance that I believe sums up Striker Chris Porter to a tee, a cross into the box from Lapping came to an unmarked Porter, a weak header to the left or right of the keeper would have made it two nil for The Blades, but Porter somehow managed to play a direct back pass to Maxwell in the Cambridge goal despite having no pressure from defenders. Luckily this wouldn't prove too costly as George Long wasn't going to be beaten on this day. The second came as Murphy received the ball on the left wing, he took it to the corner of the box before cutting inside and beating two defenders for pace, taking it to the edge of the box and firing it home into the corner, Murphy proving he does remember where the back of the net is and sending us through to the next round. Cambridge continued to try and go forward but the game was over from here and United kept the ball well.
Full time and the Blades were in the pot for the next round.

The Cup win earned us an away tie to Aston Villa, not a hugely glamorous game but a chance to play Premiership opposition non the less, I along with five thousand plus will be taking the trip down the Birmingham to watch us try and get through to the next round. What was interesting is that the other lot from the city were drawn in the tie straight after us, how interesting it could have been if Villa had drawn Macclesfield, would we have seen the first FA Cup Steel City Derby in over twenty years, who knows, it wasn't meant to be on this occasion. So off to Villa Park we go in a hope of upsetting the odds.

Sheffield United 1
Swindon Town 0
Bramall Lane
Attendance 15,430

After an average display in the cup against lower league opposition many fans thought things could only get better, well despite the win and a shining display from Jose Baxter and Harry Maguire they couldn't have been more wrong. Swindon had all the early chances despite conflicting reports from who claim united dominated the first fifteen minutes. Things started with a long range effort from the wing forcing George Long to push the ball out wide, luckily on this occasion there were no Swindon players positioned and ready to pounce, this style of save from Long causes us problems in future games and will be something I address later in the post. Swindon again had a chance to take the lead, Nicky Ajose held the ball well out wide before playing it to Mason who made Neil Collins look foolish easily turning him and beating him for pace, luckily his strike was straight at Long who managed to keep a hold of the ball. Ajose again caused us problems out wide, The Blades defence unable to take the ball from him, again he played it to Mason who was clumsily brought down just on the edge of the box by Doyle who by all accounts, even by his standards, was having a shocker.  If not for Mason keeping the ball close to himself it could have easily been a penalty. Luckily for us nothing resulted from the free kick. 
The Rest of the half was not really allowed to flow or get going due to various confusing and poor decisions by the referee, penalising both teams for next to nothing causing a rousing "you don't know what your doing" chant aimed at the referee from both sets of supporters. Too many times Doyle gave the ball away or lost possession in midfield and McMahon looked sluggish at the back letting Ajose run rings around him, the half time whistle sounded and the half came to an end, and one can only hope Nigel Clough tore into the team in the dressing room. 

United showed a little more enthusiasm in the second half and after a very slow opening few minutes Baxter found the space to fire a long range effort towards goal, but this was pushed away by the Swindon keeper. The following highlights included Doyle falling over when trying to clear the ball, McMahon doing the same on the touchline, Porter consistently straying offside and Flynn being taken off the ball far to easily. It was farcical  at times to put it lightly, the frustration continued as Swindon began time wasting from every goal kick and set piece from the hour mark onwards, clearly happy with the goalless draw away from home. A

chance to take the lead almost came from nowhere after a corner ricochet from what appeared to be Chris Porters backside or thigh and bobbled against the post, any chance of a follow up left as it was hoofed away by the Swindon defence. Porter again could not convert the ball played neatly across the face of goal found Porter who was marked tightly and could only smash the ball wide of goal. The deadlock was
broken after two of the Blades smallest players managed to leap high and get their heads onto the ball. A high hopeful punt into the box found Flynn who looped the ball back across goal to Baxter, who then managed to cleverly put the ball across the keeper and into the opposite corner , one nil to The Blades and suddenly Swindon were not so keen to time waste. Swindon did start to thread the ball around well again,
but most of their efforts remained long range and wide due to being unable to get past Harry Maguire in The Blades defence. Nicky Ajose came more central in the last portion of the game and continued to cause problems, he played the ball out wide and the receiving Swindon player fell to the ground in The Blades box, the Swindon fans and players were not happy when a free kick was given for diving. The game came to a close and a vital three points were earned, but not a performance that one would hope happens every week. 

Stevenage 0
Sheffield United 0
The Lamex Stadium
Attendance 3,003
Away Blades 708

A gang of father Christmas's made the long trip to Stevenage to see The Blades extend their unbeaten run, low on highlights but not without a chance or two to come away with a win The Blades hit the woodwork twice in this encounter. In the First half loan player Aiden White struck a rocket of a shot from out wide causing many by surprise, he was unlucky on this occasion as his effort cannoned back off the woodwork after a marginal but very crucial touch by Day between the sticks. The home team had a half chance after hard work from Zoko led to him setting up Burrow who could only fire wide after some tight marking from The Blades back four. 
The Second half saw Baxter drag one wide in the early goings after a good ball by Matt Hill who was having a solid game out on the left of defence. Stevenage struggled to find a way through Uniteds back four and we kept our composure to avoid silly mistakes costing us. As the rain barraged down and The following Blade's cheered the Father Christmas Gang doing the conga. Hill placed a long ball forward, Porter
got his head to the ball and despite heading it straight to a Stevenage player it bounced off of him into the path of Baxter who hit a power strike towards goal, he was denied a third goal in three games by the upright. A long cross got caught in the wind and Long had to tentatively push the ball out wide in what was Stevenage's best chance at claiming the points, but despite having to battle and deal with a few moments of rough and tumble United came away with another point on the road.

Now before moving onto the next game I need to take some time to discuss George Long. Long has established himself as first choice Keeper, and is currently better than our number two Mark Howard, but many things about the young keeper still leave me with heart failure whilst watching the games. First of all his catching, to many times and especially in the reports I am about to write George spills crosses, this has led to any manager with a brain making sure George is as crowded as possible on set pieces and plenty of players are hunting for the rebound, expecting the ball to be dropped. Another observation is his tendency to parry wide but so far and weakly so it leads to any follow up by wingers or again savvy managers ordering long shots and strikers knowing
where to pounce, to cause us a wealth of problems, whether George has weak wrists or whether he just needs some sort of technique correcting is yet to become apparent. His distribution seems to have deteriorated as of late and along with his naivety when coming off his line or being to eccentric on the ball leads to the question, do we need to bring in a more experienced keeper. No one can deny George can be a top notch shot stopper on occasion and has kept us in games on many a time, but also he has cost us some pretty abysmal goals. Now when you look at training George you would presume is learning from Howard, what is the point learning and being mentored by someone who is not as good as yourself, and other young keepers will have the same problem. Not only would the signing of a good experienced keeper provide George with competition which every player
realistically needs to thrive, but give George a mentor who can help George shake off bad habits and adapt his game to a higher standard. But this begs the question, who is available, and who is the right man to bring in? I would like to see Carlo Nash be brought in, despite being forty years of age he is still a part of a Premier League set up, and has been for years. Now you ask if that's the case why would he come to League One Sheffield United? Well the promise of a future coaching role if he shows a flare for it. Games could be another incentive as he has currently not made a League appearance since 2008, and of course a decent wage. Money talks, and if we can match what he is on at Norwich or at least make an offer look attractive enough I believe he could be a quality signing. Two other options in a similar situation to Carlo are Mike Pollitt, no stranger to the area, and someone expressed how much he enjoys training the younger generation of keepers. Steve Harper would no doubt be an incredible keeper at this level, and great to have around George Long, but this signing seems less likely as he gets cup games and is a direct back up at Hull. Whether Clough or the scouting or coaching staff will agree that another keeper is required is yet to be seen, but I for one hope something is done.

Sheffield United 1
Oldham Athletic 1
Bramall Lane
Attendance 19,551

A boxing day performance to forget, as long as I have known whenever The Blades play at home on boxing day we do not play well, and this game was no change to the trend. Hill gave to much space to Rooney on
the Lactics wing who floated in a cross to Clarke-Harris whose header sailed past George Long who flopped down to the ground. A nightmare start to the game. Things got worse for the Blades as loanee Aidy White was forced off due to injury after ten minutes, he was replaced by Jamie Murphy. United could not keep possession, Doyle, McMahon and Murphy being the worst culprits giving the ball away with stray passes or being dispossessed far to easily. Only the linesman's flag saved Oldham taking advantage of this lack of ability to keep the ball, Smith hit a hard distance effort and George Long's parry wide was so weak it fell to Clarke-Harris who had obviously been prepped on this tendency by the Blades keeper, but his follow up strike was ruled out for offside. Chris Porter failed to take advantage of opportunities presented to him, unable to show any kind of pace he was dispossessed by Lanzoni as he was preparing to unleash a shot. And in a repeat of the Cambridge game Porter failed to take advantage of a clear chance and instead played a headed back pass to the opposing keeper. As the half time whistle sounded The Blades fans sounded their disapproval of the first half performance. 

The second half carried much the same theme, a dreadful performance, however a few players came out much improved, Matt Hill, Jose Baxter and Collins all showed that they can put in a shift and shone out as the players who really wanted to take back this game, it is a shame that Doyle, McMahon, Murphy, Long and Porter remained dreadful and came close to costing us on several occasions. Long fumbled and flapped from start to finish, Doyle couldn't find his own men with a pass all game, along with not winning challenges and falling over again whilst trying to kick the ball showed his inadequacy. McMahon was torn apart time
and time again and when he did play the ball forward it was usually to no one and hoofed up the pitch. Porter didn't look in the game, and every chance that fell to him he seemed to fumble this along with Murphy being the invisible man didn't make an equaliser look likely. Luckily any break away from Oldham was dealt with well by Hill and Collins, Maguire didn't have a great game but wasn't one of the worse and at times looked very fatigued. Baxter had found a second wind and along with Hill was winning some crunching tackles to get back possession when Oldham had the ball, and after Porter was again left on the floor after not jumping for a header Baxter stepped up to take this thirty plus yard free kick. There was no flashy technique or flamboyancy, just a hard venom filled piledriver, rising as it sailed past the Oldham wall and keeper into
the goal, a wonder equaliser to spare Uniteds blushes on this an embarrassing display. The Lactics had another disallowed after some flapping in the box by George Long. A deflected long range effort by Baxter almost gave us a surprise lead but it bounced back off the post and was cleared away. A corner came late in the game and The Blades had it cleared off the line twice as porter bizarrely attempted a back heel from a corner and the follow up was also blocked. But full time sounded and despite Clough, Radio Sheffield and claiming it was a vastly improved and good second half performance, it remains true that apart from a small group of players who's second half improved it was dreadful from start to finish, but another game unbeaten.

Sheffield United 3
Tranmere Rovers 1
Bramall Lane
Attendance 17,460

A better performance this time out but not without some reoccurring problems. The Blades took an early lead after a corner was whipped in, a header towards goal fell to Murphy, who despite being pushed and
shoved by the Tranmere defender marking him managed to juggle the ball just a few yards in front of goal before turning and placing the ball into the back of the net. A good strong start for the final game of 2013. Murphy almost set up a second, his hard cross hitting a Tranmere defender in the box, he was saved the blushes of an own gall as the ball smashed the crossbar before bouncing down and out, despite a few shouts it had crossed the line the score remained at one nil. George Long nearly gave the Kop heart failure as he decided to dwell on the ball showing some fancy footwork to round a Tranmere attacker but instead of then hitting it clear he tried it again almost loosing it. Again Long had a game of spills near misses and
flapping, non worse than when again just like many games before this the same old weak parry wide fell to Lowe who then rounded Long and Collins, but a brilliant block on the line kept the score in Uniteds favour. Apart from McMahon making a clumsy challenge and picking up a booking there would be no more action in this half. The Blades created a few good runs forward and Baxter and Murphy ran the show. Half time sounded and United went in deserving their lead.

The Second half started brightly but many were unhappy to see that fifty minutes in the stray passes from Doyle and McMahon began, and on this occasion George Long joined in,
almost giving Tranmere a chance to get back in the game, McGinn became guilty of also misplacing passes. This was corrected swiftly however and after a threaded pass by McGinn (who has just received an earful from Jamie Murphy about his passing) to Chris Porter, now as much criticism as this man deserves for previous performances and wasted opportunities, it was his splendid and well spotted low pass to Baxter in space that allowed us to double our lead, first touch strike placed calmly into the back of the net. United really began to shut Tranmere out of the game and Doyle began finding his own players with passes, much to the relief of his team mates and we began showing just how well we can play. After Murphy used a burst of pace to get past
the Tranmere winger and full back he placed a low pass reminiscent of Porters previously, this found Flynn who calmly converted to give us a three goal cushion, chants of easy echoed around Bramall Lane. Much to everyone's shock shortly after this Chris Porter unleashed a hard curling shot towards the top corner, not something we are used to seeing from the tall forward but The Tranmere keeper made a world class save to deny Porter a world class goal. Baxter was substituted due to fitness after covering every blade of grass on the pitch, he received a standing ovation and rightly so. A silly free kick was given away by Harry Maguire, who then failed to clear the cross resulting from the set piece, allowing Taylor to score a conciliation goal, but by then it was too late and United had a well deserved three points to end the year. 

And of course the perfect news to end the year came when United wisely terminated the contract of Marlon King, he brought with him a terrible stigma, one that could have been looked past if he had provided goals or put in good performances, but instead he looked lazy, uncaring and provided nothing for us, he stole a wage for months and gave nothing to us as a club, so I for one am glad to see the back of him, sadly Marlon King will get a contract elsewhere, unfortunately this man, callus, unremourceful and selfish wont just wither up and disappear from the game.

-Jonathan Gascoigne

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