Wednesday, 13 August 2014

And So It Begins

Sheffield United 1
Bristol City 2
Bramall Lane
Attendance 19,889

After all the waiting, the worst part of the year for any football fan was finally at an end. It felt good to walk back up the stairs, to see the sights and sounds, the familiar faces, the music, it felt good to be home.

A pre season of optimism and an early kick off live for the world to see added to some fans expectations, and Nigel Clough marked the opening day by making a very brave set of choices in the Blades starting eleven. No Collins, no Butler, no Baxter and no Doyle. Alcock, McGahey, Basham and Higdon all made their league debut for us and seventeen year old Louis Reed made it into the starting line up. With the absence of Doyle Michael Higdon took the armband and lead us into the first battle of a long campaign.  

United started slowly and after the first Annie's Song of the season drifted into the afternoon air it became apparent Bristol were here to show that they should be bookies favorites this season not us. Bristol's Freeman used he ability to cause us problems, his set piece linking up well with Smith but his effort didn't hit the target. The feisty Higdon caused problems with his physical presence, both squads looked energetic but couldn't make the most of their attacking fortunes, the two sides continued to take turns testing the resolve of their defensive counterparts without really testing the goalkeepers. Twenty minutes in and the deadlock was broken, the few hundred traveling supporters filled the shocked stadium with an overjoyed cheer, Basham loosing possession to Freeman whose pass lead to an energetic run from the right flank and a rasping ball from Little found the powerful Wilbraham who powered his header home, and despite a faint touch by Howard there was no stopping the opener. 

Blades fans rose to their feet and despite a few doom and gloomer's that always find their way into the ground they got behind the team in the full voice, knowing that with plenty of football still to play it was far from over. An almost instant comeback was on but after Higdon's initial good work challenging the Bristol keeper for the cross whipped in by Harris Scougall's follow up was cleared off the line. Higdon then almost leveled after a cross from Davies was headed goal wards, but Fielding's hand came to the rescue as the ball was tipped over. All the pressure was now from United and Higdon fired the Blades level after finally taking advantage of a spell of dominance, Davies launched his free kick into a crowded penalty area where Higdon rose above the rest to nod calmly into the Bristol goal. We then went in for the kill, trying to force another goal that would give us the lead, Scougall headed over and Basham hit a volley wide of the target but we were on top. A pivotal moment approached after again putting Bristol under pressure the ball came to Little who shielded it on the touchline, he looked behind himself and saw Harris incoming before violently striking The Blades full back with his elbow clean in the face, Harris required lengthy treatment and was out cold, but Little not only escaped a red card, but escaped a yellow and was not even reprimanded, a joke of a call and despite the bravery shown by Harris to get up and play on he was not the same again, half time both teams level. 

The second half belonged to Bristol, they came out with a clear game plan, physically dominate and close us out of the game, and with the technical talent of Freeman and Wade Elliott always looking dangerous when given the ball we failed to cope. The larger stronger Bristol side controlled the play and caused our midfield and defense into a succession of errors. United's only attack of the opening of the second half saw the referee book Jamie Murphy for diving, but despite this Little after getting a yellow (despite already getting away with assault previously with no ramifications) was not given his second booking despite being caught diving in almost identical circumstances to Murphy. Howard did well to deny Wilbraham his second goal and like wise to deny Baldock, the pressure was mounting on The Blades who were having to hold on. Jamal Campbell-Ryce replaced Flynn, in a game I would have expected the pacey veteran to start he came on and looked like a man possessed, ever dangerous with the ball and with the talent to keep the ball and use trickery and pace to beat his man, but again the Blades couldn't take advantage of his hard work and put the ball into the goal. Harris's game had deteriorated and he never backed up Murphy when going forward, his distribution was poor and he was not marking well, it seems the first half incident had rattled him and he looked nothing like the calm, collected footballing full back we know he has been in the past. The last twenty minutes of the game just like the first twenty saw Bristol take the lead, a long ball saw a brilliant flick on from Bristol's goalscorer Wilbraham to old enemy of The Blades Wade Elliot who hot home the winning goal for the visitors. McNulty was brought on to Join Higdon upfront and just after a second Blade was booked for diving, this time it was Davies who had clearly dove in the box, not something I like to see from my own players. Bad luck saw us denied an equalizer as we finally took the game as our own and piled forward, Campbell-Ryce fired towards goal, it was then deflected into the path of Jamie Murphy who's clever effort hit the underside of the Bristol keeper before deflecting onto the post towards the back of the net, but dramatically defender Flint cleared off the line for an agonizing third time in this game. Baxter replaced Basham as we had one last throw of the dice, and despite throwing everything forward and having five minutes added time the game belonged to the away side who when the whistle went left with three valuable points, a first opening day loss since 2008 and Bristol's first win here since 1957.

Now since this game many people have panicked and gone into panic mode, I for one think this is unwarranted, yes today was not our day but there were to many positives to ignore, Higdon looks commanding up front, Reed oozes talent and we have the ability to cause a lot of problems, on this day what we did not have was luck. A few players had off games and to be honest the line up to me wasn't the way to approach a fixture like this, but I am not Nigel Clough, I don't see these players day in day out like he does, and I trust his judgment. We are short two fullbacks, one on each side as we have little to no cover, on the left we have no one else, and despite Harris being a good player he could have easily have had to be replaced in this game due to injury. It was not the start we wanted, but anyone panicking needs to calm down, stop believing rumors and being weighed down with the doom and gloom brigade and get behind the team, this was a battle not a war, and one battle loss does not a defeat in the long run make.

Jonathan Gascoigne

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