Friday, 11 April 2014

The Kids Are Going To Be Alright

Sheffield United 1
Leyton Orient 1
Bramall Lane
Attendance 16,809

Jamie Murphy grabbed Sheffield United's seven thousandth league goal to gain a hard earned point against one of the seasons success stories Leyton Orient. In the clubs fiftieth competitive fixture of the season United were boosted by the return of Harry Maguire. Porter was also in the starting line up as Paynter dropped to the bench. Matt Hill and Bob Harris also returned to the bench after both picking up injuries away at Preston. The opening fifteen minutes was more a game of chess than a game of football, each side unwilling to take many risks or look to try anything out of the ordinary, instead they both attempted to retain possession whilst searching for a potential weakness to exploit.

Odubajo was the first to try and spark the game into life, but his low cross into the box couldn't find a team mate. Brayford's cross at the other end forced the Orient keeper to parry the ball clear of danger, both teams had now begun to test the waters and were ready to try and take the required risks to gain an advantage in the fixture. The deadlock was broken as Odubajo used a cheeky little turn to give himself some room, his shot deflected off of Brayford before being looped into the box, Cox used some sublime ball control and skill to flick it over hos marker, as Howard rushed to close down the danger but Cox slid to roll the ball under the Keeper and into the back off the net, one nil to Orient and as Cox ran in front of the Kop with a rather arrogant celebration it became clear we would have to show a vast improvement to salvage the game. 

The second half was a wake up call and The Blades changed their strategy and fought hard to gain control. A Brayford corner caused danger in the box but the ball wouldn't fall into the goal, Murphy's free kick looked goal bound but unfortunately the ball kept rising and went over the bar. A change from gaffer Clough saw United replace McGinn and Porter with Davies and Scougall, Jamie Murphy switched form the wing to being the sole striker. It was this tactical change that would lead to the equalizer. Goal number seven thousand was one that radiated quality, Davies played a high through ball that beat Baudry in the O's defense, Murphy used great pace to stay onside and rush onto the ball, he used intelligent footwork to round the keeper and slide the ball into the opposite side of the goal from an acute angle to beat the defender who was rushing back, he celebrated his goal in front of a jubilant Kop. United could have nicked all three points, Harry Maguire made an amazing run from his own half, skinning more than one opponent, but once he was at the edge of the Orient box his legs buckled and he resembled Bambi on ice, screams of shoot rang out but Maguire became indecisive and opted to play the ball wide and nothing came of the attack. A draw was a fair result in the end and both teams shared the spoils.

Sheffield United 1
Rotherham United 0
Bramall Lane
Attendance 21,529

Sheffield United have a trip to Wembley just five days after this fixture, so as one would expect it was a very different looking starting eleven that faced the confident Millers. Rotherham were on a sixteen game unbeaten run and confident of gaining their first victory at The Lane since the eighties, all week we had heard from confident Millers how we were going to be defeated, how many they would score, how badly they would humiliate us in our own back yard. But as other fans of other clubs have discovered this season, the best thing to do is ensure your words remain soft and sweet, because you may end up eating them.

George Long replaced Howard in the Blades goal, a back three of Harry Maguire, Matt Hill and youngster Terry Kennedy all had the duty of protecting Long from Rotherham's strikers. Kieran Freeman and Bob Harris took the wing back roles in this altered formation. Clough has selected a midfield three of McGinn, Davies and the eightteen year old Conor Dimaio, the young Irish midfielder making his first senior start. Baxter and loanee Billy Paynter made up the front two. The away fans had made a lot of early noise but soon fell silent and remained that way for a lot of the game, the cause of this silence, United having the early dominance despite an altered line up, with Baxter and McGinn both testing the away side with long range efforts. Rotherham did create a good chance but Tavernier's long range effort was strongly pushed away from danger by Long. The Rotherham total football we had heard so much about was non existent, the away team was content with long ultra direct balls up field that were dealt with easily by the Blades defense. And apart from a few chances late on for the away side the first half ended without incident. 

The second half got underway, Rotherham looked more determined in this half and built a strong momentum, but after having a penalty appeal for handball turned down it seemed they lost their composure, they began appealing for fouls and handballs at every opportunity, believing they were owed one, nothing could have been further from the truth. Two more youth players made their debuts in senior football as eighteen year old Otis Kahn replaced Bob Harris. After driving a hard long range shot that just went wide of target Baxter was also replaced by Louis Reed, a sixteen year old, also the youngest player to ever represent The Blades at league level. Kahn saw a lot of the ball, he looked energetic, pacey, composed and great with the ball at his feet, he was an instant danger, and he sent the Millers into a panic. United began forcing chances, McGinn fired just over. The talking point of the game came in the last minute, the kids had been bossing the game for United, we had taken control, and after forcing a corner tall centre half harry Maguire made his way into the box, before the corner could be taken referee Mike Dean had to blow his whistle twice and
warn The Rotherham defenders that they had to release their grip of harry's shirt and stop dragging at him. The corner was taken and ignoring the official's warnings Morgan dragged down Harry and conceded a last minute penalty. The Rotherham players were outraged, Steve Evans was outraged (his outrage lead to him giving a scathing blast blaming the referee on the radio in a bit of a temper tantrum) but their outrage couldn't save them from their own mistake. Davies stepped up, Bramall Lane erupted and the sixteen game unbeaten run was ended by a makeshift Blades squad, the South Yorkshire derby was won by The Blades.

-Jonathan Gascoigne

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