Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Sheffield United 0 v Walsall 1 - EFL Division One

Tuesday 29th November 2016
SkyBet EFL Division One
at Bramall Lane, Sheffield, S2 4SU
Sheffield United (0) 0
Walsall (1) 1
Amadou Bakayoko 42
Admission £18. Programme £3.
Attendance 18,343 (inc. 178 Walsall fans)
Sheffield United:
Moore, Fleck, O’Connell, Basham (Chapman 69), Sharp, Coutts, Freeman, Ebanks-Landell, Duffy, Lafferty (Lavery 80), Clarke
Unused Subs - Hussey, Scougall, Done, Ramsdale, Brown.
Etheridge, O’Connor, Preston, Laird, Morris, Chambers, Edwards, Dobson (Osbourne 69), McCarthy, Oztumer (Ginnelly 69’), Bakayoko (Jackson 77)
Unused Subs - MacGillivray, Cuvelier, Kinsella, Makris. 
A win tonight would have seen the home side make good use of their game in hand over Bolton Wanderers, to climb into second place in the table. But despite Chris Wilder's side throwing everything they had got at the Saddlers, you got the feeling that the fates had decreed that United were not going to find the net if they carried on playing until the Northern Dairies milk float rattled its way along John Street tomorrow morning, due to some dogged determination and unrelenting hard graft from the visitors defence, a vast array of profligate finishing by numerous Blades players and the intervention of an assistant referee with a spring loaded right arm.
No expense was spared on the match advertising posters. None whatsoever!
Seventeenth placed Walsall turned up at "Beautiful Downtown Bramall Lane", as all Unitedites call it, in need of any kind of positive result whatsoever, to help claw themselves away from the bottom four in the table, that currently consists of Coventry City, desperately struggling and hopefully doomed crisis club Chesterfield, Oldham Athletic and Shrewsbury Town.
The Saddlers manager Jon Whitney, employed a 3-5-2 formation and would probably have been happy with a draw at a ground his side had already won at in the EFL Checkatrade Trophy earlier in the season. Those two back rows of his strategy, were so tightly gelled together at times, that you could quite easily have mistaken the game plan as a not entirely cavalier 8-1-1, for long spells as the Blades vaingloriously tried to thread their way through a defensive maze and more often than not rushed into snatching at half chances out of frustration.
A minute's silence in respect for the Chapecoense team, supporters and
others, who sadly lost their lives in a plane crash in Medellin, Columbia.
Reading the match stats on the thirty five minute train journey home (the scenery around Darnall and Woodhouse is far more aesthetically pleasing than usual when it is dark) the numbers backed this theory up, inasmuch as United had twenty one shots tonight, of which just five were on target. Walsall had their moments to, with an accuracy ratio of three from their five attempts and these figures also reflect where the majority of the game was played, i.e. in and around the visitors defensive third.
Though I have only seen a snatch of the highlights from Chris Wilder's sides 1-1 draw at Charlton Athletic at the weekend, when they succumbed to a stoppage time equaliser, so I can't really pass judgement on that performance, while you could point to the fact that they have been unlucky twice over the past four days, it would also be fair to say that five points have gone begging because of United's failure to kill their last two games off.
No doubt the Blades manager will be looking at working on his sides finishing skills later this week in his sides behind closed doors friendly with Mansfield Town, that the Stags recently installed manager Steve Evans will be using to run the rule over some of he players he has at his disposal in the run up to the next transfer window opening.
Sham 69 belted out from the tannoy as I took my seat on the Kop, which is commendable and after everybody present immaculately observed a minutes silence, by way of a tribute to the Brazilian First Division club Chapecoense, whose terrible news as shaken football the world over, even though the majority of people in this country had probably never heard of them until they turned on the news this morning, the devastation has touched many, the game got under way. And for the most part it was one way... towards Neil Etheridge, the Saddlers goalkeeper.
Walsall, inadvertently rubbing their smash and grab win in to their hosts wounds, just that little bit more, by sporting a kit that looked like a retro version of another South Yorkshire teams strip (sans a pig badge motif), had the first real chance of the game, when, having absorbed some early pressure from United. mounted an attack, that was brought to an abrupt halt by Ethan Banks-Landell, who fouled Joe Edwards, twenty five yards out from the Blades goal. Erhun Oztumer stepped forward and delivered a dipping free kick and the ironic cheers of derision from behind the goal, as the ball looked to be going over, changed to gasps of relief in an instant, as it crashed back off the crossbar.
The close call spurred the Blades into action and it only looked like a matter of time until they would be inflicting some serious damage on their West Midlands visitors, as Mark Duffy unlocked the Saddlers defence twice to set up Leon Clarke, who put both chances narrowly wide of the target.
Duffy looked to be the Blades best bet of overcoming Walsall's stubborn resistance and he was only inches away from breaking the deadlock, when he looked up, saw that his options were severely limited by the crowded defence in front of him and unleashed a long distance shot past the post.
The Blades centre half Jack O'Connell got up into the visitors goalmouth and beat Etheridge with a downwards header from a Paul Coutts corner, but Joe Edwards made a last ditch goal-line clearance.
United were keeping the ball down on their well watered pitch and Etheridge did well to keep out Lafferty's well struck low shot.
Three minutes before the break, the United players collectively switched off allowing Otzumer to hit a hopeful long ball foward, that landed in the path of Amaduo Bakayoko, who rolled the ball into the back of the net as Simon Moore ran off his line in a desperate attempt to cut out the unexpected opportunity.
HT: Blades 0 v Saddlers 1
United had gone into tonight's game off the back of a fifteen game unbeaten run in the league, you would have expected them to cement that impressive sequence of results and come out all guns blazing and put the world to right's after going in at half time a goal down, a scoreline that was so against the run of play, it was audacious.
But it just wasn't going to be the Blades night... and after the match day announcer had heaped even more misery on the home support by playing 'Last Christmas' by Wham! at half time... it's still November for crying out loud! It was the visitors who almost struck first after the break, when Moore had to tip Otzumer's angled shot over the bar.
O'Connell thought he'd levelled the score for the home side, when he headed past Etheridge, after short corner routine from Coutts' flag kick, but the linesman in front of the South Stand, who wasn't entirely endearing himself to the home crowd, signalled that he had spotted a foul and the referee, Darren England ruled the goal out.
The home crowd were incensed by some of the referee's decisions and though you have to take into account that they are, by nature, partisan and biased, some of them to a particulary extreme degree; from my neutral, impartial and objectively unprejudiced viewpoint, I would have to say that he will definitely have better games and he probably contributed to the Blades downfall at times.
Billy Sharp was blatantly shoved in  the back as he advanced on the Saddlers goal through the right challenge and lost his footing: nothing given. Adam Chambers headed a cross away from under the Walsall crossbar at the expense of a corner, but Mr England awarded a goal kick... you get the picture!?
The Kop reacted angrily to what they saw as Etheridge taking too long with every goal kick that came his way.
He launched one such delayed clearance into the Blades half of the pitch and the referee blew his whistle, ran  from the half way line to admonish the Saddlers keeper for time wasting and then instructed him to take the kick again.
The guy sat a few seats away to my left, with the home made Sheffield United tattoo on his right hand, that looked more like two crossed chip forks than the rather simplistic but tasteful blades on the proper design (but I was too polite, worldly wise and frightened to point this out to him), almost went into a complete mental meltdown as Etheridge simply carried on faffing about with the ball until he eventually retook the kick.
I kept a straight face, the cold eating away indiscriminately at my fingers and toes was already causing me more than enough pain already, I'm ugly enough already without getting punched ever again..
I'm not sure who Zak Dingle is but was told he was here tonight.
Maybe Etheridge is a master of the dark arts, it would certainly explain the apparent force-field around his goal.
Fleck struck a long shot over the bar and Chris Basham headed wide after Duffy's free kick had wrong footed Etheridge and left the goal at the Blades number six's mercy.
Lafferty somehow managed to divert yet another chance for United over the bar from Fleck's lobbed pass.
The Saddlers keeper was already proving to be unpopular with the massed ranks on the Shoreham Kop behind him, when he got down well to his right to turn Duffy's free kick around the post.
Perhaps Etheridge is slightly hard of hearing and thought that a couple of thousand noisy and passionate South Yorkshiremen, where chanting "Anchor!" at him, whenever he received the ball.
With just six minutes to go, Fleck's eighteen yard shot was blocked by James O'Connors outstretched hand in the visitors area and it looked as though the long awaited breakthrough for the home side was finally on the cards as they were awarded a penalty.
But Etheridge dropped to his left and kept Billy Sharp's tame kick out.
That is to say... the Saddlers goalkeeper laid down on his left hand side and waited for Sharp's awful goal attempt to roll, nee trickle, towards his waiting hands.
It was a shocker!
And if I was Chris Wilder, I would order my players to restrain Billy Sharp and keep him out of the way the next time his side are awarded a spot kick.
Sharp thought he had made amends for his awful miss, when he bundled the ball into the Saddlers goal as the game entered stoppage time, but the referee chalked that one off, claiming that the Blades number ten had used his hand to help the ball over the line... though it did look as though it had actually gone in off of his chest to me,
The same player probably just wanted to lay down and cry in added on time, when he diverted the ball wide of the post from a good position... and that was that!
The Blades unbeaten run was gone, Walsall had taken all three points and the referee was left in no doubt about what the Blades support thought of him as he left the pitch.
FT: Sheffield United 0 v Walsall 1