Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Sheffield United 3 v Walsall 2 - Carabao Football League Cup R1

Wednesday 8th August 2017
Carabao Football League Cup First Round
Sheffield United (0) 3
Liam Roberts 7 OG
Nathan Thomas 79
Dan Lafferty 82
Walsall (1) 2
Amadou Bakayoko 13
Admission £15. Programme £2.
Attendance 5,210 inc. 236 away fans
Sheffield United:
Eastwood, Lundstram, Thomas, Wright, Hanson (Evans 52), Duffy, Lavery (Fleck 86), Lafferty, Brayford, Bennett (Basham 58), Brooks.
Unused subs - Stevens, Clarke, Coutts, Blackman.
Gillespie, Edwards, Leahy, Guthrie, Devlin, Chambers, Roberts, Oztumer, Morris, Kinsella (Kouhyar 83), Bakayoko (Jackson 74).
Unused subs - Flanagan, Sangha, Cockerill-Mollett, Candlin.
En route to their promotion from League 1 last season, United lost three times to Walsall, including a defeat in the League Cup.
I was here for one of those games, in November, when the Saddlers won by a solitary Amadou Bakayoko goal just before half time, on a night when Billy Sharp miscued a penalty kick and rolled the ball gently to the Neil Etheridge in the Saddlers goal.
You will have to excuse me for filling upso many column inches pontificating about a game that I have already covered, but the paucity of very much action of note in the first half tonight, left me with very little else to write about.
Manager, Chris Wilder, had made eleven changes from the opening game of the season, when Brentford were beaten 1-0 at Bramall Lane, with Billy Sharp hitting the target this time.
But the most significant change that the popular Blades boss made tonight, was the introduction of Ched Evans in the fifty second minute of the game, in what was his first appearance in the red and white of United since April 10th 2010.
It was a moment that the hyphenated word: 'game-changer', had been invented for.
Evans is, of course, stigmatised by recent traumatic events in his life, but he seems to have put the fact that he associated with Chesterfield FC last season behind him fairly quickly and if tonight was anything to go by, he is on course to play a pivotal role in United's season.
236 away fans
Walsall took the lead in the thirteenth minute when Luke Leahy's forward pass found Erhun Oztumer out on the right wing, approximately five yards goal-side United's last defender, or blatantly offside as it is more commonly known; but the Saddlers number ten played to the whistle as the linesman sprinted down the touchline to catch up with play, and squared to ball to Amadou Bakayoko, who swept it past young Jake Eastwood in the Blades goal, who was one of four players, along with Jake Bennett (previously with Mickleover Sports), John Lundstram (who joined the Blades in the summer from Oxford United, where he was club captain) and Nathan Thomas (a twenty two year old from Hartlepool United, who Mansfield Town had released him to, for reasons that remain both inexplicable and unfathomable) who were making their first debuts tonight.
Apparently, the big badge isn't for sale 
Having taken the lead, the visitors then resorted to playing their four man midfield very deep, combining effectively with their three man defence, to form a stubborn and well drilled back seven, leaving one man Amadou Bakayoko up front (well, if the centre circle counts as 'up front'), while Adam Chambers and Kieron Morris put in a battling display in the middle of the park.
Wilder's side were using their width well, with John Brayford, whose name wasn't even listed on the back of the programme, bombing up and down the wing to good effect, from his starting position at right back, but the puzzle that the Blades had been given to solve, was how they were actually going to find any room to manoeuvre, in and around the Saddlers congested penalty area.
And as half time arrived they still hadn't found an answer to that particular conundrum.
HT: Blades 0 v Saddlers 1
Tactically, although it was akin to watching paint dry, Walsall's sponge tactics, soaking up United's every move, was working well.
So Wilder decided to tweak the Blades approach play, give the crowd a lift and add so impetus to his side, whose sheer frustration was beginning to show by now.
The lift that the introduction of Ched Evans gave to both his team and the crowd could not be under estimated.
One had to wonder if the hustling and bustling, strong as an ox front man, might have lost some of his influence, input and ability to hold off opposition defenders and keep the ball, while bringing his team mates into the action. But even though this was in essence just a League Cup game against a League 1 side, Evans went (quite) some way to showing that he hasn't lost his appetite for busting a gut for the Blades.
Once he got into  his stride, tonight's hitherto going through the motions snooze-fest of a drab game, burst into life in the shape of what had effectively become 'The Ched Evans Show', though David Brooks, Mark Duffy and Daniel Lafferty played very effective supporting roles too, as did John Brayford in my humble opinion, for what it's worth.
The Blades cult hero, (all but) netted the equalising goal on seventy four minutes, when Thomas picked him out with a pinpoint cross and the Welshman's sweetly struck half volley was parried against Liam Roberts by Mark Gillespie and the ball found it's way into the back of the Saddlers net.
Evans repaid the favour five minutes later, when Brayford did well to feed the ball forward to him from out on the right and he cut the ball back from the dead ball line to Thomas, who amid a crowd of players, the vital last touch and United were ahead for the first time in this game that had really sprung into life, since Wilder had made one particular substitution.
Evans was (sort of) involved in his sides third goal, when he won a free kick outside of the Walsall area. Duffy's delivery was only half cleared as far as Lafferty, who bought the ball under control with his first touch and spanked the ball past Gillespie, via a deflection, with his second.
As the board indicating that there would be four minutes of stoppage time went up, Walall were awarded a penalty, when Maz Kouhyar's thumping shot struck the arm of Chris Basham.
Oztumer wasn't in the least bit concerned about the ongoing debates about accidental handball, unintentional contact and the referee's interpretation of what 'ball to hand' constitutes as he calmly planted his penalty kick past Eastwood, but the visitors couldn't force the game into extra time and must rue the fact that they weren't slightly more cavalier and attack minded when they held the lead in the first half.
FT: Sheffield United 3 v Walsall 2