United 1 Stevenage 0 - reportMay 15 2012 at 12:34 AM
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Sheffield United’s season will go on for another couple of weeks after they saw off Stevenage in a tense but ultimately victorious night for the home side at Bramall Lane. It was another game of few chances that mirrored much of the contest at Broadhall Way just three days previously. The Blades had most of the possession and created what few chances they were but it looked like the game was going to have to be settled in extra time or even penalties as the game entered the dyeing embers. However with just four minutes left on the clock a superb cross from Matt Lowton was met by a towering header from Chris Porter to send the ground into jubilation.
United now will face the winners of Huddersfield or Milton Keynes Dons and hope to be able to break their Wembley and playoff hoodoo and with it gain promotion back to the Championship.
United named an unchanged line up continuing with the same formation with Chris Porter up front on his own and Stephen Quinn in support. United could not call on the services of Richard Cresswell who was out with an eye infection and changed the bench bringing in Nick Montgomery and David McAllister for Johannes Ertl and Cresswell. Stevenage also made changes with Shroot coming in for Reid to support Patrick Agyemang.
There was a lusty rendition of the Greasy Chip Butty song as the game began with United somehow conceding a corner after having their kick off! However a half chance came to nothing and United began to get in top forcing the visitors back. Quinn got on the ball and tried to force the tempo. Hill then created the first chance when his cross was helped on by Williamson and Porter’s instinctive header was flicked away by the hand of Day. It was a real chance so early on in the game but it was difficult for Porter to get the power as well as direction and Day made a smart instinctive save. United continued to dominate and switched play from left to right and vice versa with McDonald starting to get on the ball. United won a series of corners that came to nothing and Flynn’s appeals for free kicks fell on stony ground twice as referee Miller tried to keep the game flowing. Porter was body checked by Ashton to win a free kick but this did not come to anything.
Freeman was being snuffed out of the play by the hard working Doyle and Stevenage were having little of the ball as it kept coming back. However, United were not able to create any more chances of note and whilst the play was patient it was also perhaps too slow and Stevenage got bodies behind the ball to constantly thwart any real penetration. Porter won a header and then Ashton sliced the ball onto the top of his own net. After another Porter knock down Williamson fired well over as the half time whistle approached. United had been well on top and the majority of the game had been played in the Stevenage half.
McDonald seemed to be struggling just before the break and as the teams came out after the break he had been replaced by the returning Montgomery. United continued to dominate and finally they now created some chances to match their domination of the football. Flynn firstly had a chance but dithered and was blocked out of it before Porter got down the right centered but Williamson swept just wide at the near post. The crowd noise increased further and after Lowton’s ball was knocked down by Porter, Flynn’s half volley flashed just wide. It seemed like United were now getting closer to breaking the deadlock but a warning came on the hour when Freeman who has been well marshalled cut in but his shot was well held by Simonsen. Quinn was seeing much more of the ball in this half and was becoming more and more influential. He got on the ball and hit a shot over and then set up Lowton who had two crosses that were defended at full stretch by the visitors. Sarcastic cheers came when Porter was finally given a free kick after being held but Williamson’s free kick was high and wide. Mousinho came on for Shroot for Stevenage as they tried to get into a game that United had dominated.
Stevenage had been once again on the back foot but had a rare break when Freeman broke away after a United attack had been cleared. Lowton tried to pull him back but the tricky midfielder kept his footing and fed Laird whose effort was tipped over by Simonsen with perhaps a deflection making it a more difficult save than it was. It was a real let off for United and Lowton was booked for his part in the build up with referee Miller giving Borough the advantage which they nearly profited from. Bostwick then hit a low free kick which Simonsen did well to save and it was suddenly a much more even contest. Agyemang had pulled up and was replaced by Beardsley giving the away side a different type off outlet after Collins and Maguire had handled the on loan striker fairly comfortably.
Still United came again with Lowton becoming more influential and his run and shot was blocked before Hill hit a long ranger that was not far wide from fully 30 yards. It seemed like extra time may be inevitable but then finally the deserved breakthrough came on the 85th minute. Lowton got down the right again and hit a tremendous cross that was waiting to be converted and PORTER duly obliged with a firm header past Day. The Kop went ballistic behind the goal and the United players celebrated the vital strike in a tie that had nearly gone 175 minutes before a goal!
Now United had to defend the final 5 minutes and Stevenage opted to put on Reid for Byrom and then throw centre back Roberts into a forward position. They lofted several balls into the box and won a controversial corner. As the game entered three minutes of stoppage time; they had one chance with a header from Reid straight at Simonsen and won a series of throws deep in United territory. The Blades were able to win the vital headers with a powerful Collins header summing up the determination to keep back to back clean sheets. The final whistle came and the usual pitch invasion followed signalling the Blades were going back to Wembley. Hopefully United can not only score this time but finally end a series of desperately disappointing performances and results. With bodies thin on the ground and a mounting injury/suspension/unavailable list, Danny Wilson will hopefully be able to draw one big final effort out of his troops to seal promotion.
United – We dominated the game from almost start to finish in terms of possession and territory but did not create that many chances nor work the keeper enough (at all really aside from the Porter chance). The positives are we kept our shape, discipline and defended really well. People did their jobs defensively and tracked runners and Stevenage other than a brief flurry and a couple of chances did little to nothing all game. Credit to the likes of Doyle and the other midfielders who stuck to their tasks and made sure we limited them on the ball. I felt we had so much of the ball it was untrue but seemed fine until we reached the last third and then often we ran out of ideas due to the lack of skill/creativity and pace up top. Porter worked hard and tried to hold it up and bring others in but we were too far off him for the first half. We kept the ball fairly well and were patient but at times it was too slow and too predictable.
We improved in the second half and finally were able to get men closer to Porter and closer to the ball and a series of neat moves led to some chances even if half chances. Lowton, Williamson and Quinn began to probe more and look more likely and they defended deeper and deeper. We had a few chances but then so did they and I felt we just did not really look like we were going to score and it worried me they started to get a few breaks. However just as I was resigned to extra time and crying out for a chance of some sort a superb cross from Lowton gave Porter the one chance for him to score. It was a well-made and well converted goal.
We definitely deserved to win tonight. We were good in a lot of ways but also looked limited in many other areas. Stevenage looked a poor side tonight and when we marked Freeman out of the game and stopped the full backs advancing they looked clueless. They seemed happy to defend for much of the game and soak things up but the longer the game went on, the more you feared a 0-1 defeat. It would have been a major injustice if we did not win as over the two legs we were the better side and controlled both games after Stevenage did well for the first 20-30 minutes. They cannot say they deserved to go through and but for the lack of cutting edge up front (not helped by losing Evans, Cresswell and Beattie) we actually looked a much better side and finally for the first time this season for much of this game imposed ourselves on them.
At times we went long too much but again when we got men around Porter he had a spell second half where he held the ball up well and we looked dangerous. Sometimes the long ball actually worked and it broke up the patient but often futile slow build up that just led to them getting more and more behind the ball. We did well when we got Lowton down the right and Quinn started to drive at them. We are crying out for some pace and more penetration and when these two started to go at players and get beyond them we looked dangerous. It is just a shame we lack and out and out winger or someone up front with real pace/ability. I was disappointed with Flynn tonight who I felt worked hard but looked out of his depth whilst I thought two of the often maligned players, Williamson and Quinn (by me I admit sometimes!) were maybe United’s two key men and the two who looked like they may unlock the door. They looked the best two players on the pitch in my opinion from an attacking sense.
Pleasing to see the defence so solid with Maguire and Collins carrying on from Friday, Simonsen making a few saves and even Hill having a good game from a defensive point of view despite poor distribution. In midfield Doyle was quietly effective whilst McDonald was in and out of the game. Disappointing to see him get injured (again – his hamstring again and he will be a doubt and major loss for Wembley if unfit). Not sure Montgomery and Doyle can unlock a better side such as Huddersfield even though they harry, chase and tackle really well. We rely on precise balls as without pace, athleticism or strength we won’t create many chances with this current side.
In the final (assuming it is Huddersfield) we need to maintain the solid defence and ensure the midfielders carry on being disciplined (even the wingers from a defensive point of view). We do need to up things from an attacking point of view and move the ball quicker and with more purpose. Hopefully McDonald may be fit and we can get Cresswell fit but I feel he may play exactly the same formation which I would not be against. If we keep a clean sheet and win 1-0 that will do me. If we play open with the pace/trickery of Rhodes, Ward, Roberts etc then it would not suit us in my opinion. I still feel it is a tough ask and whoever we play will far superior to Stevenage. I maybe feel less confident in this final than any other but who knows maybe this might suit us. We are 90 minutes from promotion and now need to put one massive effort in and hopefully the gods may be on our side for once. I don’t feel confident based on what we have up top in comparison to Huddersfield but you never know.
Stevenage – Thought they were poor tonight. They never really got going and other than a spell when they had 2 or 3 shots which Simonsen did well to keep his concentration they barely had an attack all game and just seemed to want to defend. I suppose with the resources they have and the gulf in wage bills etc, they did well to be even in the playoffs. Also, we showed real respect (and due to circumstances) by playing just 1 up top in both games. Freeman only had a few moments in the game and for the most part he was harried out of it. The full backs and wide men thet had caused us problems before were bottled up and they never got the ball into Agyemang. They were sloppy in possession and seemed unable to really get at us.
I will say they defended well again and the two centre backs may be a bit dirty but they possess two good leaders in Ashton and Roberts. I also like the right back Lascelles. I think there are 3 or 4 who could do a job for a team higher up (maybe us if we get up?) and their manager has done well to carry on the work Westley has done but also get them playing more football. They maybe ran out of steam tonight and cannot say they deserved a win but I suppose a late goal is never nice even it they had defended so deep there was always a chance of it happening. I am sure they will be around the middle to playoffs again next season if they keep the bulk of their side. We finally worked them out and controlled them tonight but they are a well drilled and spirited bunch that you can see why they have beaten and frustrated a lot of teams at this level.
Simonsen 7.5/10 – Had nothing to do for the entire first half and then suddenly had to make a smart save to get down to Freeman and then saved well from Laird (which may have hit someone). He also held a low free kick well. Fair play to him tonight as everything he did, he did well and when he was called on after long periods of inactivity he was very good.
Lowton 7.5/10 – Started the game slowly but grew into the game as it went on and I felt he looked one of our main attacking threats sending Laird back the other way an forcing them to worry about Lowton. He also was able to force Freeman inside much of the game. He put in a few dangerous low crosses and always looked to go at the defence and try and make something happen. His cross for the goal was an absolute peach.
Hill 7/10 – Defensively he was fine and maybe his best game in United shirt (not saying much!). He cleared, tackled and kept decent position. He may have been criticised a lot but showed he is a better ‘defender’ than any of the other options we may have by keeping to his position and helping stop the cross. He was poor when going the other way for most of the game with numerous hopeful punts or knocks to no one in particular but then had a few good moments aswell such as a few link ups with Quinn and then the long range shot that was not far wide.
Maguire 7/10 – Another solid game. He defended well against Agyemang and kept his composure making the right interceptions, attacking the ball well and keeping the ball moving back the other way. The one knock on a good performance is that he did play 4 or 5 aimless long balls (diagonal) that sailed out or to no one in particular. Wilson told him twice not to do this; so he did it again when he next had the ball! Does not need to play the Hollywood ball all the time.
Collins 7/10 – As with Maguire another solid outing and they have defended well as a pair for two games albeit they have only often had one man to mark between them! Collins did try and come out of defence and had a few runs forward with the ball too. I felt that he was strong and determined a few headers near the end when he powered through to clear summed up his determination to see it out.
Doyle 7.5/10 – Thought he had a quietly effective game. Put a foot in on Freeman and Bostwick when he had to and did all the bits and pieces in terms of picking the ball up and ensuring we moved it on. He was good in both legs and I really felt he was much improved from some below par performances in the closing weeks (the way he played tonight v Stevenage compared to how he was a few weeks ago was night and day but maybe the formation helped him).
McDonald 6/10 – I felt he was in and out of the game and whilst he switched it from side to side a few times; I did want him to get on the ball more but he was often so far behind Quinn/Porter and picking it up too deep to be that influential. Ironically he started to see more of it but then he picked up another injury. He does seem quite injury prone and it seemed rather innocuous when it happened. May be a stretch quite literally to see him figure in less than 2 weeks when he was out for 3 or 4 weeks last time it happened but depends on the seriousness I suppose.
Williamson 7.5/10 – He may have lost the ball a few times when attacking and not everything came off but felt he took responsibility tonight and always wanted to get on the ball. He came inside and looked for the ball and also tried to bring others into play. Did lose Freeman when he was close to him when they had that chance in the second half but mostly did the defensive side well. Looked a good footballer and showed what he is capable of when he exerts some influence instead of waiting for the game to come to him. I felt he was one of our most likely threats going forward and one of the few on the pitch who you thought something might happen when he got it.
Flynn 5/10 – Thought he was our poorest outfield player. May seem harsh but he gave the ball away a lot and cannot recall him beating his man all evening. He lacks pace, strength and guile and too often just gets crowded out. He went to ground 4 or 5 times looking for free kick when maybe only 1 was perhaps a decent call. Annoyingly his first touch is usually decent but he seems unable to beat his man or go out them and he comes inside way too much instead of hugging the touchline. He worked hard defensively and never hid but feel he lacks quality and confidence in his own ability to offer much from an attacking point of view although had one shot just wide after the break (had another where he took too long to shoot).
Quinn 8/10 – He was out best player for me; maybe in both legs and certainly our man threat and outlet. I have criticised him a lot this season; especially post Xmas; for not taking responsibility and hiding somewhat but tonight I will say he did not do that. He got on the ball, he came inside, he probed and prompted and like Williamson not all things happened but he was trying all game. He kept looking for the ball again and again and never stopped all game. Frustrating that he cannot play like that more as when he does he is so difficult to track and as the MK Dons manager said last week, with his left foot and his ability to drift around the front, he is very effective. Will be a key man if we are to win at Wembley.
Porter 7/10 – An odd game as he ploughed a lone furrow much of the game with little service or chance to bring others into play. In the first half nothing seemed to stick and whilst he won a few headers they never seemed to go to a red and white shirt which was not always his fault. He did look lumbering and his touch was not always the most sure but he did keep plugging away. I felt he did improve second half and with better support and players around him; his hold up play seemed more effective. He then scored a great headed goal. He is not the best centre forward in the world and his overall ability is limited to say the least but sadly he is probably all we have who can do this sort of role and we are going to need him to put another big shift in at Wembley. He may have got in by default but fair play to him tonight against two big bruisers who often were fouling him; he kept going and eventually got his reward.
Montgomery 5.5/10 – His first three touches all went to Stevenage players and you thought here we go! However, he settled down after this and for the most part kept it nice and simple. There were not too many misplaced passes (maybe a few behind men instead of in front but that’s being a bit picky!). He did make a few tackles and interceptions.
Officials – Nigel Miller. Tried to keep things flowing at all times but sometimes too much. However, I applaud a referee that just lets the game go and only pulls it back if he had to. Both sides knew how it was from the start and he was fairly sensible and more importantly consistent in how he refereed it. It was good to see him keep his cards in his pocket but then sometimes he maybe needed to book a few. How the big lad, the captain Roberts did not get booked is beyond me as he committed 2 or 3 cynical fouls but he just kept letting him off! I cannot think of many bad fouls all night. Lowton deserved to be booked for pulling back Freeman but that then seemed harsh considering what he had let go as aforementioned. He maybe could have penalised the two centre backs more for grabbing and holding Porter but he too was doing his fair share of grabbing too! A few odd decisions at the end as it seemed he gave them a corner when Maguire shepherded it out and then an odd one in the corner when the linesman adjudged Porter to foul when he was just holding the ball in the corner.
Crowd/Atmosphere – A disappointing crowd in that only 21,000 were in the Lane (it did seem more to me?) but Stevenage only brought around 500-800 I would estimate. Maybe United fans had seen it all before but in an odd way it was a better atmosphere than when there was 28,000+ there the other week and I felt the crowd were more supportive and patient tonight. Even though the game went on for long periods without chances they stayed behind the home side and were right with them being supportive. The noise when the goal went in was deafening and perhaps as much relief as sheer joy in the reaction. Not sure why so many went on the pitch. It is not as if we are up and it is only the League One playoff semi finals. Seemed a bit over the top. Maybe I am a killjoy but I felt it was a bit ridiculous and worryingly there were a lot of adults (not just kids) that ran out. Maybe they have never seen grass before but I am unsure why fans run on the pitch for effectively a semi-final where effectively nothing has been decided yet? Again maybe I am a miserable so and so but if we had gone up then yeah, fair enough but for a semi against Stevenage! Glad to see on the flip side fans applaud the opponents when they came back on and then off and also at least most stayed off when United did finally return for the traditional end of season lap of honour. Be interesting to see how many go to Wembley. I think we may struggle to sell out to previous disappointments and costs but I am sure there will be at least 30,000+ going down there.