Monday, 25 August 2014

The Contrast of Four

Since the opening fixture The Blades have been involved in four competitive games, and at this early stage of the season instead of four separate match reports I thought it may be more constructive to look at the four results as one. A one nil victory in the League Cup over Mansfield, a one nil loss to Coventry, our first league victory away to Peterborough two goals to one, and finally yet another one nil result this time The Blades defeating Crawly. One loss in four fixtures, not a bad run on paper, but why are so many still so disgruntled?

The Mansfield game, expectations of a big win are always present in these early cup fixtures, many thought the starting eleven including Doyle, Collins and McNulty would be more stable than the one chosen for the opener against Bristol. What followed was a mundane, unorganized disappointing fixture, McNulty fought well for his winner but expectations fell well short in this game. Jamal Campble-Ryce, Marc McNulty and Neil Collins were the stand out performers and looked like front runners for the starting line up in our next fixture, of course this theory was put to pasture when against Coventry the starting eleven like in the opening game left many baffled. 

Alcock was back on center half duty with Davies filling in as right back. Ryan Flynn reclaimed his spot in the side, Louis Reed again featured whilst Higdon took McNulty's place up front. For the first twenty minutes we controlled the game, dominating the pitch and if not for a world class save from a close range Higdon header we would have been a goal up. But after that Coventry were the only team in  the game. United looked frail, weak and resorted to long balls towards Higdon, who despite his size is a ball on the deck player. The substitutions failed to change the inevitable and Coventry got their winner, Bob Harris completing a woeful start to the season by scoring an own goal. Disgruntled fans poured out of Sixfields, angry, disappointed and in a panic about how the early stages of the season have panned out, and with a tricky fixture approaching away at Peterborough many struggled to see where the first three points would come from.

A more straight forward line up took the field at London Road, Alcock at right back, new boy McEveley at left back, Collins and McGahey in the middle of defense. Davies was then in his more familiar role on the right hand side of midfield, McNulty was up front ahead of Higdon. The Blades like at Coventry started brightly, not showing the frailties of previous fixtures, clearly out to prove a point. United could have scored early on but failed to take advantage of some dangerous set pieces. A quarter of the way in The Blades scored a fortunate goal, Baxter slipped and miss hit his effort but it slid across the face of goal and into the back of the net, advantage Blades, but not for long. Some non existent marking allowed Posh to equalize after defender Brisley thundered in a header from his team mates near post corner. The game then went to stalemate mode, neither team able to break down the other, and certain negative tenancies which were familiar from previous games crept in. Higdon replaced McNulty and his late flick from a corner caused Posh to clear the ball wildly, it landed straight to the feet of Ben Davies who struck in from long range to grab the winner. Three points on the board and we have lift off. Not a classic performance but a vast improvement on previous outings. 

Crawly at home, surely a chance to carry on the momentum, one change with Higdon replacing McNulty. But what was to follow was truly awful, United looked lethargic, unable to really break their opponents down and again the frail back four, still ungeled, looked like they could be caught out at a moments notice. Higdon had a disappointing game, still not match fit and still being used as a target man despite that not being his style he failed to make any kind of lasting mark on the game, this being said he played a big part in the winning goal, and in the grand scheme of things, a bad game can be forgiven if you do one thing that leads to a win, and I think many Blades need to keep that in mind. A diagonal ball was chested down by Higdon well who played a calm ball to Basham, he then played it to Alcock who after a clever bit of vision he played off to Baxter, his shot was unstoppable, advantage Blades. The game however did not improve, United ground out the rest of the game and it felt to much like hard work, defending a one goal lead at home, it was a million miles away from the team of last season, three points, but still an obvious advertisement that this team is missing a great deal.

The defense, it looks unsettled, constant tinkering and a lack of real leadership is exposing its frailties, Clough needs to pick a back four and stick with it, and playing a creative winger at right back isn't helping matters. We need to buck our ideas up in midfield, at times we are not strong enough, some teams are to strong for us to be playing young lads like Reed as evident against Bristol and Coventry, this kind of player will be better suited against better footballing sides. Up front, Higdon is not yet fit, and the team haven't realized how best to utilize him, so instead of starting him unfit, isolated and ineffective and turning the more fickle fans against him, save him, get him fit, educate the team in training how best to set him up, then watch the work pay off as he nets goals, it is baffling how this has not been figured out yet. The potential is there, but we have just not completed the jigsaw yet. 

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