Reflections

Picture credit: Steve Gavin, SG Live Productions

Picture credit: Steve Gavin, SG Live Productions

Sheffield United 3

(Sharp 11, Salmon 59, Edgar 63)

Bradford City 1

(Liddle 83)

Monday 28th December 2015

By Alex Scott

City went into their impromptu Christmas fixture at Bramall Lane well rested and with confidence high. The terrible rainfall in Lancashire and West Yorkshire did for both sides fixtures on Saturday, though given the terrible impact at Apperley Bridge and beyond, a free weekend will have come as little consolation for Parkinson and his men. At this point I should pass on the best wishes of WOAP to all those affected over the past week in West Yorkshire and beyond.

To match City’s uptick in form, United had also begun reaching their potential over recent weeks, with three straight 1-0 victories heading into the fixture.

The Blades have over recent years become a caricature for the faux-Swansea aristocrats, short to the pass and soft to the touch.

Bill Simmons has often promoted the idea of the Good Bad team – the bad team each year that is just good enough to beat all the other bad teams, and then be mischaracterised as a good team themselves. Sheffield United have in fact been the opposite for years, the Bad Good team. They spend a lot of money, play good football, but they don’t intimidate you – their repeated failures when it matters supporting this again and again.

But this season under Nigel Adkins, reports conflicted, and the recent run of clean sheets indicated an extra steel to the Sheffield blade. This has been aided by the return of right back John Brayford, signed for £1.5m in January. Brayford was integral in their playoff run last season, before injuring his knee ligaments in last year’s playoff semi final against  Swindon, being withdrawn at half time of the first leg when his team were 1-0 up. They proceeded to concede 7 in the next 135 minutes, losing the tie 7-6 on aggregate.

Brayford has missed the majority of the season, returning in late November to see his team languishing in midtable, with the 16th best defence in the league. In his four games this year heading into today, United had conceded only one goal, winning 3 and drawing 1, including a win at Coventry. You don’t want to ascribe this much influence to a right back, especially given the small sample size, but his battle with Kyel Reid was the key one to watch.

This game also held special significance for Reid, given this was the ground two years ago where he injured his knee in what would later become The Gary Jones Game. That injury was one of the key triggers to the implosion in the second half of that season, and would lead to him being released from the club in that summer before returning on loan this year.

Phil Parkinson kept faith with the side that had carried them through their recent good run, with Gary Liddle preferred over Billy Knott in the centre and Greg Leigh retaining his place at left back ahead of James Meredith.

The game started in an even fashion with both sides beginning brightly. There was little in the way of goalmouth action, but it was a full blooded local derby in front of 24,000 fans with a referee willing to let the game go. Just as an aside, referees get an incredibly poor deal with City (on the radio, at least) but I thought today’s referee handled a very difficult game exceptionally well.

After a succession of half attacks and hard challenges, Billy Sharp appeared in space about twenty five yards out, before firing into Ben Williams’ far corner. This came completely out of the blue, but it was a terrific strike. There wasn’t really any fault to attribute for it defensively; it appeared more of a ‘cost of doing business’ goal against a decent team.  Sometimes, it just goes in.

Sharp did not endear himself to the City faithful today, but was unquestionably the best player on the pitch throughout and was the difference for United.

City maintained their composure following the goal, and regained their rhythm. Chances were not in abundance and they were not playing exceedingly well, but on the balance of play did not deserve to be behind.

Approaching half time Sharp got the better of Leigh on City’s left flank, before hitting the byline and sticking the ball right on substitute Connor Sammon’s head three yards out. From my angle in the left corner of the away stand, I don’t really understand how it didn’t go in.

This letting off the hook was talked up as a turning point in the away end at half time. 0-1, we can come back from no problem. 0-2, away from home? Not so sure.

City had played well enough in the first half for us to talk ourselves into a comeback at half time, with minutes to spare. They didn’t play badly by any means – just sometimes, it goes in.

Unfortunately, Sheffield United were soon in the ascendancy. The second goal was only a matter of time, Sammon atoning for his earlier gaffe and bundling home at the far post.

City, now well on the back foot, looked out of ideas and were in the process of being overwhelmed. The aforementioned Brayford had Kyel Reid nullified for the most part, and without him as an out ball on the left, Parkinson’s team looked out of ideas.

As City spluttered, United killed the game with a David Edgar header from a set piece, the City defence uncharacteristically leaving him completely unmarked at the near post.

Soon after falling 3-0 down, Parkinson moved to bring in the cavalry, with James Meredith replacing Leigh, who for the first time in a City shirt had become to look overwhelmed, as well as introducing Billy Knott and Devante Cole.

City regained the momentum in garbage time, with Hanson hitting the post with a header before a Gary Liddle header made it 1-3. Meredith was the standout player for the final quarter of the game, so it would not be a surprise at all to see him return at Gillingham on Saturday.

But despite this quiet comeback, the game had already gone, and City were consigned to their second defeat in three – or second defeat in ten – depending how you want to look at it.

3-1 defeats are never fun, especially in local derbies. Though for the most part City played OK. This wasn’t a breaking of the system. They don’t need to go back to the drawing board.

Whilst everyone wants to look for a scapegoat, sometimes you just get beaten by a better team, playing better than you. Sheffield United played better football than City did and even looked to bully them at times. They fully deserved their victory.

Parkinsons main concern, as I’m sure it has been throughout the year, is that with a subdued Kyel Reid, it’s hard to imagine this pragmatic City team threatening the opposition goal outside of set pieces. They simply don’t create enough chances, as they haven’t for two seasons now.

The Blades conversely looked no longer the caricature they have been for the past few seasons, but a solid, tough team with the ability to turn on the flair when they needed too. They had a pragmatism to the dreaminess that has thwarted them for years.

After a long while finding his feet at the underachieving club, Adkins appears to have added the requisite steel to his Sheffield charges, and on today’s evidence, they look a real threat to the top of the division.

Bradford didn’t see anything today that should give them too many concerns. Not every team has a multi million pound defender to combat their main threat and, more importantly, they kept their heads at 0-3, when things could have got out of hand. With a bit of luck, they could have got themselves back into the game at the end, as United failed to shut up shop.

Though, the extent of the resignation you felt at 0-2 does linger as we enter the second half of the season. City have scored more than two goals only once all season long and the unsustainably solid defensive record notwithstanding, you feel this will eventually come back to haunt them.

In the book Soccernomics, Kuper and Syzmanski write about the recruitment strategy of strengthening the weakest link to progress. Parkinson has followed this to a tee, establishing a squad with no weak links to speak of, with even players at the bottom of the rotation like Greg Leigh able to come in and contribute.

But games like today do make you wonder whether it will be enough. Only two teams have scored fewer goals than City this year. They play every game close and low scoring, but as we saw  today, sometimes long shots go in. Sometimes someone makes a mental error at a set piece. Then what?

City’s top goalscorer – and only true goalscorer – is the third man off the bench, on a good day. Their midfield sits deep, and their front line isn’t prolific. If Kyel Reid has an off day, then what?

I wouldn’t by any means call City a Good Bad team; I think they are a bonafide Good team. But is this team, playing this way, going to be good enough to achieve their ambitions?

They don’t need to go back to the drawing board, but with how impressively Nigel Adkins has married pragmatism and flair today, perhaps the balance for Parkinson’s men needs to be looked at.

City: Williams, Darby, McArdle, Burke, Leigh (Meredith 69), McMahon, Liddle, Evans (Knott 69), Reid, Hanson, B. Clarke (Cole 76)

Not used: N. Clarke, Marshall, Bowery, Cracknell

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Categories: Match Reviews

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6 replies

  1. Missed the game through illness…so thanks for that, great to keep up with things through a superb report

  2. Why do the referees have to suddenly “allow the game to run” when its a derby? Wasnt it abit too much? But yeh agree with the fact that we didnt compete physically, and also didnt really have any pace where it mattered.

  3. Fair report. Not sure when was the last time we took over 4k to an away league game, sure someone will know. The 1st halve I thought we held our own, there wasn’t much in it to be honest. We came out strongly in the 2nd halve and then it all went wrong. The atmosphere was odd too. With City fans split over an upper and lower tier it seemed to impede our collective singing. The home fans only found their voice once 3 nil up.

    To my main point, our inability to score goals is a serious problem. As it’s been noted only 4 teams have scored less in our league. This for me is our achilles heel. The front two are not going to take us to where we want. We could go for the famous Arsenal 1 nil approach and win games by a single goal but so far we haven’t beaten any of the top 6.

    Im pleased with Parky as he created a bond with fans which is something I cherish but I don’t see us finishing in the top 6 this season. I’d not particular gutted by that, as the team has progressed, especially from a squad strengthening point of view.

    However there are team’s above us with weaker defenses but have the ability to score goals. I rather go for broke and have Evans and Knott starting all games including away games, give Cole a run in the team. If you live by the sword, you…

  4. ‘If Kyel Reid has an off day, then what?’. You mean if Tony Mcmahon does? How many assists or even clear cut chances for other players has Kyle Reid created? He has had a positive impact on the team undoubtedly and is a good outlet with pace to relieve pressure but at the moment we only look like scoring from set pieces but McMahons his delivery for the majority of the game was not up to his usual standard even though we still manage to convert from one when the game was already over.

    I agree though we do need more of attacking threat from midfield but this is how Parky has had success in the past. Doyle/Jones did not bust a gut to get forward and we are seeing something similar now unfortunately we don’t have a Nakhi Wells anymore.

    As for Billy Sharp – he certainly endeared himself to me. What a fantastic player who didn’t stop all game and the type of character football misses these days (oh how I miss Mr Windass). He seemed like he thrived on the abuse he was getting from our away support. Also a lot of credit to him as it appeared when one of our own idiots threw a coin onto the pitch at him he picked it up and put it in his shorts.

  5. Decent assessment of the match but I have a different views on a couple of points. I thought the first goal very poor, we seemed distracted by not getting a decision when Darby was “fouled” by the corner flag, did’nt close Sharp down and whilst it was a good strike it was from distance and perhaps a save could have been expected. But Williams had no chance with the other goals – interestingly United scored with their only 3 attempts on targets – in contrast Long made 3 excellent saves and we hit the post. Also just a word on the referee Mark Haywood who displayed a completely different approach in last nights Leeds v Derby game to that he adopted at Bramall Lane. An example being the lack of a yellow card for a foul early in the game on Reid as he broke into space in the Sheffield half – decision that set the standard for our game. But a similar incident (again early in procedings) brought an immediate booking at Elland Road, and other bookings followed for challenges that were no worse than those inflicted by Sheffield during our first half.

  6. I am generally one to back referees, but I cannot agree this time. The bloke allowed SUFC to kick us out of the game. The tackle on Reid, that Trevor refers to, was a yellow card in the old days never mind current days and there were several more similarly unpunished. I think the lack of protection affected us second half and we sat off them and were punished.

    Similarly, I am unaware what Billy Sharp has done wrong to City fans in the past, but he thrived off the goading and won his battle hands down. However, I’m not sure since when his actions throughout the game, with gestures to the crowd, stopped being yellow card offences.

    Disappointing day out.

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