Sheffield United’s began the new campaign with a narrow victory over Shrewsbury at Bramall Lane thanks to David McAllister’s early strike at the Kop end. If truth be told it was a very fortunate opening day win against a Shrewsbury side that had enough chances to definitely have gained a point and maybe even more. United’s performance was ragged for the most part despite the blistering beginning and United lacked cohesion, invention and goal threat for much of the afternoon. The Blades will be happy with a clean sheet and three points but will know they will have to make major improvements if they want to be in the shake-up at the right end of the table come season end.
United started with former Shrewsbury loan man David McAllister on the right hand side and gave league debuts to Mark Howard in goal, Tony McMahon at right back and John Cofie and Nick Blackman up front. The Blades were without the injured Matt Hill, Chris Porter and Ryan Flynn and there was no place in the squad for Richard Cresswell or Nick Montgomery as most of the bench was filled with youngsters and Academy products.
The game began with United kicking towards the Kop and on top straight away. They forced the play and won a throw in near the corner which Williams took finding Quinn who played the ball back for the left back to send over a dangerous cross. McALLISTER got in front of the full back and was able to guide a volley from just outside the six yard box into the corner beating Weale. It was a great start from the Blades with a well-made and well taken goal.
United continued to impress with Blackman showing good strength and touch to look dangerous and McDonald looking to get on the ball. They had another chance when Quinn’s cross just evaded Blackman and then a corner came to nothing. Despite the promising start Shrewsbury started to come into the game and Morgan was enjoying a rare old tussle with Maguire. Parry had a low shot held by Morgan before Williams indecision led to a foul and a free kick that Parry put wide. Blackman then held off a challenge before curling just wide after showing real tenacity to win the initial first ball.
The game began to get scrappy and United’s ascendancy had all but disappeared as the ball started to see more time in the Blades half. The visitors were growing more and more and as half time approached they created a series of chances. Parry was a real threat down the right and his lobbed finish looked goal bound but came off the post with Wright seemingly unable to apply the finish despite the ball being right next to him as it caromed off the post.
Purdie then raced through and his clipped finish was palmed away by Howard; who then parried a long range shot from Summerfield before Gornell put the ball into the net but fortunately for the home side he was ruled offside. United were relieved when the half time whistle went as it was undoubtedly the away side asking all the questions.
The second half saw few chances but United were continuing to struggle to make headway and were now losing the midfield battle. Gornell had a low shot well held by Howard and Maguire headed over from a corner before the disappointing Cofie came off Miller. As the game went on it seemed United were now content with what they had and were now trying to soak up any pressure as Shrewsbury continued to play some neat and tidy football.
United did have a chance when Blackman held the ball up and played in McMahon who strode forward and from the angle saw his shot saved from Weale when maybe he could have played in a teammate. United then had another chance when Quinn’s clever step over set up a chance for him to cross but Miller could not get away an effective shot and it was blocked. Shrewsbury had made a number of chances with Wildig, Bradshaw and Hall coming on and they had another go at United with a number of chances coming. Firstly Jones headed just wide and then another cross was not cleared properly before eventually Parry got himself free of Williams before his fierce shot was tipped around the post from Howard. McDonald showed a rare moment of class for the home side, winning the ball and then curling his shot wide before another chance came for the visitors when Collins and Maguire blocked substitute Wildig and then a scramble ensued before United punted the ball clear.
Three minutes of stoppage time were to be played but the visitors could not create any more chances and the final whistle confirmed the three points for the home side; even if it was far from convincing.
United – We were very poor today I felt despite the win and the clean sheet. We got off to a great start and scored a really good goal but after this despite some real promise from Blackman and also Quinn looking lively down the left; we never really got going and the game started to get scrappy. We began to go long and the ball kept coming back at us due to sloppy control and passing. Doyle and McDonald did not control the midfield and we were second to the ball for a lot of the game. Shrewsbury realised that we were not that good and suddenly they were on top and had a number of chances.
It was so disjointed as we continually gave the ball away and looked a little clueless at times with the ball. We also looked very poor without the ball and often were slow to get to the ball or react to loose balls. We lost first and second balls too often.
Up front Blackman looked a threat with good touch and running but we did not create that many chances and it is hard to see where the goals are coming from. With better finishing and more clinical play from the Shrews and it could easily have been embarrassing today. They had so many more shots/efforts than us and I reckon they had more possession too. Indeed for long spells it was hard to see who were the home team/promotion favourites.
Without Lowton, Williamson, Evans we lose so much creativity and goals and I cannot see many times we will hammer teams like we did last season. It is going to be hard for us to get the chances and to see the same kind of free flowing football we had last year as we lack the running from deep or the goal threat. I thought we at least had some pace up front today but Cofie and Blackman had no kind of understanding whatsoever and I am unsure if they will work as a partnership as both like to run from deep rather than hold the ball up; although Blackman did try to do that.
One thing that disappointed me was that the United fans (some of them anyway) were moaning when we passed it around and wanted us to get it forward. The same fans then moaned when we launched it. What do they want? I was happy when we kept the ball and passed it around and felt when we went long we looked poor and it came back. I would rather us retain possession. Many fans seem caught in a quandary between wanting a passing game but wanting it forward as quickly as possible. In an ideal world we would pass it and pass it forward quicker rather than sideways or backwards but we do not have the players to do that.
That said it was really poor today and United will have to improve in every way. Hopefully it was just a case of first day and new faces trying to fit in etc but if we play like that against a lot of teams in this division we will get beat. It was the sort of showing that made you think we will be around mid-table unfortunately but of course I think some of the players can do much better than they showed today so it is hard to tell.
We need another striker for me (a goal scorer) and a wide right man. We also need to get Francois back quickly as the left back is a weakness at the moment. The squad is wafer thin as the bench was filled with kids today. It is interesting to see what is happening with Montgomery and Cresswell as it seems they are not injured and my gut feeling is the club is trying to move them on due to their wages otherwise why were they not on the bench. I heard Porter and Flynn were injured but did not see anything on the other two?
Shrewsbury – They were very slow to start and it seemed like United might blow them away early doors but after the goal and a few other chances; they settled down and slowly came back into the game. They started to create chances and by half time will consider that they were unlucky not to go in level having hit the post. They started to knock the ball about well and got in behind us and in the second half they created more chances and only poor finishing or the break of the ball not going their way prevented them from getting a deserved leveller.
They played some neat football and were probably the better side for long spells of the game as they controlled the midfield and were quicker to the ball. They looked very powder puff up front and the big lad Morgan was a bit like Bambi on Ice. It was the sort of game where as decent as they were you kind of never thought they would score; not through the lack of chances they had but just they never really looked convincing in front of goal. The chance when Howard saved at the end was a rare moment they got a decent effort on goal.
Difficult to say where they will finish as it is only one game and we were really poor. I would say that they were significantly better than many teams we saw last year but then we don’t have the threats going forward so we may see many more afternoons like today.
Howard 7.5/10 – He did well today and his overall play was solid. He held 2 or 3 low shots making sure they did not come away from his body and he punched one high cross away. He saved a one on one first half when he came off his line and made a crucial save at the end when the winger cut in and hit a high flashing drive which he pushed round the post. He does come off his line and that is a positive. He did spill one shot when they scored but it was ruled out for offside and there were a couple of moments of indecision between both him and his defence but it is early days I suppose. The one thing that stood out was his kicking which was a huge improvement over Simonsen. He may have kicked a few out but the distance he gets from both his hands and from ground is quite noticeable.
McMahon 7/10 – Steady-ish game without doing anything too flashy. He ought to have scored (or maybe pulled it back) near the end when he made a great lung bursting run to get into the box but the keeper made a good save. He did ok defensively and seems like despite the one run forward; his bread and butter will be defending and he will be quite different to Lowton in that sense. He gets close to his man and likes a tackle.
Williams 4/10 – He made the goal with a really good cross but apart from that he was pretty poor really. He gave his winger way too much time and often was indecisive at clearing the ball (first half when he let it bounce it led to a free kick). His overall touch and passing were not good either and he often resorted to just lumping it forward. Shrewsbury saw he was the weak link and often attacked down his side. The chance at the end came when he was well off his man again and then he sold himself on the winger and allowed him a free shot. Never thought I would say it but hopefully Hill and eventually Francois will be fit soon as Williams is not good enough.
Maguire 7.5/10 – Thought he was our best defender and dealt with Morgan pretty comfortably all afternoon (until he switched onto Collins). He was getting held and pushed all game but stood his ground and kept playing the game and won his battle. Showed good composure and used the ball well for the most part. Looked a class act and a player that I think we may struggle to hold onto for the full season.
Collins 6.5/10 – Did ok but did not think it was his best game today and had a few moments where he dithered and got beaten. Also did not win as many headers as he normally does and he struggled more with Morgan than Maguire did. He did make a couple of great tackles/blocks near the end when they threatened. I am not too concerned about the two centre backs as at this level they should be one of the strongest units around.
Doyle 5/10 – Thought he was ineffective today. He actually was picked off a number of times and his passing was woeful for the most part. Did not get tight enough to his man and at times it resembled a practice game the amount of space Shrewsbury had in the midfield area.
McDonald 5.5/10 – He flitted in and out of the game and was not as effective as last season. He showed some lovely pieces of control and class to make space and find men but often the game bypassed him and he did not have anywhere near the influence he should have against such opposition (with all due respect). A few turns inside and changes of play showed what he can do (the moment where he won the ball carried it forward and curled just over was evidence of what he can do).
Quinn 7/10 – Thought he had an up and down game. He looked hungry too start the game and was influential down the left and involved in the goal. He also was involved in many of the better openings we created (great cross not long after the goal that Blackman just missed and then the step over between his legs and turn and cross at the end). He was sloppy as the rest at times though with some telegraphed passes and a few times when he lost the ball that led to them breaking away. He can be frustrating but still will be a key player for us if he remains due to his ability on the ball and the chances he creates.
McAllister 6/10 – He scored an excellent volley where got across the full back to finish. He began the game well and linked well with Blackman and others in our better attacks. As the game went on he faded though and I cannot recall him doing much of anything after the break. I do not think he is a winger but then with no other options really he was put in wide right. A player who can get in the box and score goals and there is definitely something there but he needs to show more over full games in terms of consistency and unsure where he ultimately fits; as he lacks physical strength/stamina for central midfield but does not have the pace/trickery to play out wide. Still a great finish today and ultimately the match winner.
Blackman 8/10 – He was maybe our stand out player today and was a real threat particularly in the first half. His touch, running and aggression caused a whole manner of problems for the defenders and he really did look hungry and determined. Most of the attacks we had came about through his initial desire to win the ball and bring others into play. He maybe did not do as much second half but he definitely showed some promise today.
Cofie 5/10 – I thought he was ineffective today and looked like a youth team player rather than someone ready for the first team. Looked uncompromising and very raw. He had one good run but often the ball came off him too easy and he got outmuscled. Selfishly fired wide when well place in another good moment. Came off around the hour mark. Needs to do much better than that but you forget he is only a teenager and that was his first ever start in a competitive English match.
Miller – Looked sharp when he came on. Showed good movement and a few neat touches. He did take too long to get his shot away after good work from Quinn. Might get a start instead of Cofie in the week.
Officials – David Coote. Do not think he did a lot wrong. The Shrewsbury fans seemed aghast that the big centre forward Morgan was not given any fouls; but what they failed to see is that he was the man who was backing in and grabbing Maguire every single time. It was embarrassing and how he did not get booked until the second half was poor as he committed at least 6 or 7 fouls on Maguire. The only other booking was for a cynical block on Blackman by Hector in the second half. Most of the time he did let the game flow and pulled things back when advantages did not result.
Crowd/Atmosphere – It was a surprisingly decent crowd. I did not think we would get anywhere near 18,000+ and thought it would be around 15,000 tops. I do feel the crowds will be closer to the latter figure most of the season. It was very quiet and the normal opening day enthusiasm did not quite seem there; maybe it was the hangover from last season and the thought of starting another season in the third tier of course will hardly bring much excitement I suppose.
The Shrewsbury fans were very good in terms of the numbers they brought and sang all afternoon. They did seem a tad obsessed with us as the majority of the chants were aimed at our ‘poor support’ (remember when we played in the Premiership at teams like Liverpool and Man Utd and they did not make a sound hardly either – that is how it tends to be) or daft songs about Ched Evans or Stephen Quinn. Still they brought maybe 1,500 fans and that was quite an effort considering their average home crowd last year of under 6,000.
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