Sheffield United’s life in League One began with a comfortable victory over Paul Dickov’s Oldham at Boundary Park. After a dour first 45 minutes; United took the game by the scruff of the neck in the second half and completely dominated their hosts. A header from young defender Harry Maguire and a smart finish from Richard Cresswell; both assisted from Stephen Quinn; proved to be the difference and United then saw out the final stages with few real worries to get off the board in League One.
The game began with United giving debuts to three players with Chris Porter, Francois Lecsinel and Ryan Flynn all starting. The starting eleven also featured both Quinn and Nick Montgomery in their line up despite speculation over their exit from the club all summer. Another player supposedly line up for a move, Lee Williamson was on the bench but Ched Evans did not feature at all. Another newcomer loanee Mendez Laing was also on the bench.
United won two early corners but these came to nothing and the first half chance came when the home side pressed with Winchester and Reid combining before the attack petered out. Cresswell sent over a dangerous cross that just evaded his striker partner Porter. Quinn then also linked well with Francois Lecsinel but the ball once again fizzed across the box with no one able to get a touch. Collins header from a corner was saved comfortably, whilst at the other end the powerful M’Voto headed over from an Oldham corner. Left back Francois Lecsinel had made an impressive start and from one run forward he sent a speculative effort that clipped the top of the bar. Soon after the same man was booked after a series of fouls from both teams. It seemed the referee decided that enough was enough. In truth the booking was very harsh but the one Lowton received not long after was even more ridiculous! The game had been stop start so far and whilst United maybe had shaded things; Oldham had the final few chances of the half as Taylor shot well over and Smith’s tame header as fielded easily by Simonsen. United had defended reasonably but had created little at the other end and had struggled to get new men Flynn and Porter in the game.
The second half saw United attack the goal where their supporters were massed behind and they started the half with real urgency and put Oldham on the back foot. United won an early corner and from Quinn’s delivery, MAGUIRE met it on the full to power it away from keeper Cisak and into the net. United’s players celebrated in front of the fans and Quinn was mysteriously booked. United were almost immediately back on the attack and Montgomery, Quinn and Cresswell combined but the ball was cleared at the far post with Porter waiting to pounce. Flynn had an effort that was saved by Cisak as United threatened to overrun the home side. Quinn had threaded this particular pass though and soon after he was involved again as United doubled the advantage. His strong run down the left took out two Oldham defenders and his cross was met by CRESSWELL who turned the ball home from close range. It may not have been the cleanest finish but it was enough and the United fans celebrated knowing they were well on the way to an opening day victory.
United continued to press and Quinn was again looking to probe but after more confusion at the back Diamond was able to hack clear. Oldham had shown nothing as an attacking force and opted to bring on Parker and Millar for Reid and Winchester in an effort to try and change the flow of the game. In truth they had barely ventured into the Blades half until Furman fired high and wide with just under 20 minutes remaining. Williamson came on for Flynn and then Oldham finally had a chance after a corner as a series of head tennis ended up with Diamond heading just over. United continued to look dangerous and Lowton’s surging run and exchange of passes with Cresswell saw the right back shoot narrowly wide. Oldham’s best chance came soon after as M’Voto’s header seemed goalbound but Lowton cleared off the line. Bogdanovic came on for Porter and almost scored after more hesitancy at the back saw Cisak spill the ball but he managed to block the substitute’s prodded effort after the ball ran free. Black fired wide as time ticked away and then Williamson’s silly challenge on Taylor saw him the next Blade to go into the note book. The final stages of the game was played out with United in possession and the final whistle came with Quinn on the ball; a symbol of much of the second half. The United players saluted the large away following but Danny Wilson who quickly applauded the fans and headed to the changing room probably knows that there will be much tougher foes to handle in the coming weeks.
United – It was a solid, professional performance. We did what we had to win the game and after a lacklustre first half, United controlled the game and Oldham could barely get out of their half for the first 20-25 minutes of the second half. We scored two well made and taken goals and may have had a few more. We did not play scintillating football but a few decent passing moves led to chances. Quinn was at the heart of most of the good play and was the outstanding player on the pitch. If he keeps up performances like that then he may get the move he seemed to want before the end of August. I would not go as far to say he ran the show but most things seemed to go through him as he moved across the field and did not just stay on the left.
As for the style, well it was hard to tell. They did try and get it down and pass it but unfortunately with players like Collins, Doyle and Montgomery it meant there were the odd wayward pass/long ball. First half was a bit of a mish-mash but they did definitely get it down and try and use the flanks in the second half and the front two actually were more effective with the ball played into their feet (rather than their head as it had been in the first half) and players running off them. There were also some good performances by Francois Lecsinel and Lowton. Two other debutants Porter and Flynn were a tad disappointing. I felt Oldham were there for the taking (as in we could have won 4 or 5 nil) with a little bit more in the final third but we still chose the wrong ball or option at times. Still that is being ultra critical and overall it was a solid win and nice to see us keeping a clean sheet and winning comfortably. I will temper any excitement and wait till we have seen more teams in this division as make no mistake Oldham, on that evidence, will be near the bottom and there cannot be many poorer teams in the division.
There are still some things that Wilson may need to address and at Bramall Lane when teams come and shut up shop we may have to look at different personnel to address the lack of speed and ingenuity to open teams us. The spine of the team may be strong, combative and hard working but there was a massive lack of pace from the centre backs, to the midfield pairing to the strikers. I think the pairs in each area are all too similar and in the long run the likes of Williamson, Bogdanovic, Slew and McAllister all could offer something different and more creativity.
Oldham – Truly dreadful. First half I felt they were poor in a fairly even game and United seemed to get sucked into a scrappy style that they played. They tried to run things through Taylor and the left winger clearly has a decent left foot but United showed him inside the field and his threat diminished as the game went on. I felt Reid, once of Rotherham, may cause problems with his pace but he was poor and offered nothing. They seemed really happy to be level and in the game at half time judging by the fans reactions in the stand next to us but in the second half as United stepped it up they seemed to just fall apart. In the second half they got completely outplayed and seemed to be stuck in their own half as it was like attack v defence for a long period. With around 15 minutes to go they awoke from their slumber and had a couple of chances; a looped effort onto the top of the net and a scramble when actually thought they had scored but an effort from close range was hacked off the line by a Blades defender. After this chance they kind of gave up and the final stages were played out with the result never in doubt.
I cannot recall any other players of note other than the keeper who was very indecisive with suspect handling and decision making. His errors alone nearly gifted us a couple of goals. The centre backs looked slow and cumbersome and the full backs were quite easy to get at. Some of their midfield actually made Montgomery and Doyle look accomplished footballers; so dire was their passing and ability to retain possession. Looking at the back of the programme they have a really small squad and it seems to lack quality and more importantly experience. The fact I had barely heard of any of their players may be as much down to my lack of lower league knowledge but also shows they are relying on youngsters or lower league journeyman. On that showing they will be very close to the bottom and I doubt United will have many easier games this season. I am sure much sterner opposition is to come.
Simonsen 7/10 – Had very little to do really. He saved one comfortable shot in the first half and then dithered coming for a corner when he was unable to catch or punch the ball. Second half he was a spectator for 30 minutes as United dominated before watching one effort go close (landing on the roof of the net) and then another kicked off the line. The fact he barely had to make a save of note meant he was well protected but also showed how little threat Oldham carried.
Lowton 7.5/10 – Thought he looked very assured for the most part; defending sensibly and intelligently and also getting forward to support when he could. He did not do anything flash but did the basics well. Up against Oldham’s most dangerous player, Chris Taylor, he handled him fairly easily. A driving run and subsequent one two in the second half saw him shoot just wide and maybe was the move of the match. Felt the lad Flynn down his side offered less threat than he did going forward.
Maguire 7.5/10 – Assured performance. He defended well showing he can read the game and was fairly effective at using the ball too. An excellent header for the goal too and you could see how much it meant to him. I could be wrong but it looked like he had lost a bit of weight too? Hopefully when Morgan returns we will have a strong central defensive partnership although I worry about the lack of pace in that area and feel Lowton may have to play there at times.
Collins 6.5/10 – He was one of our poorer players but actually defended ok albeit against tame opposition. He headed/kicked and cleared when he had to and did not make any significant defensive mistakes which I guess is a positive! A few times he had some wretched clearances/punts forward to no one in particular and also seems to get little purchase on his headers for a man of considerable size.
Francois Lecsinel 7.5/10 – Thought he had a good debut. Decent on the ball and assured in possession; he also is fairly quick and seems a good athlete too. Once he dithered in possession and took too long and it led to a half chance and also picked up a slightly harsh but needless booking. On the evidence of his first game he seems a better option than Taylor, Mattock, Kozluk or whoever else played there last season but need to see him against stronger opposition before I can properly assess.
Flynn 5/10 – Thought he was poor to be honest and can barely recall him being involved in the game. Seems a bit lightweight and did not see that he was particularly fast nor tricky but he barely got on the ball and a lot of our threats seem to come down the other side. Was taken off in the second half. Hopefully we will see more of him at Bramall Lane in the next few games.
Montgomery 7/10 – He did exactly what he normally does in that he broke up opposition moves, covered a lot of ground and did lots of bits and pieces. His passing was mixed. At times he put some good crossfield balls out but there were a few aimless passes mixed in too. He did make numerous tackles and interceptions that allowed us to transfer the ball forward quickly in the second half and was part of some of the better things we did.
Doyle 6.5/10 – Not sure about him and Montgomery playing in central midfield together as they do seem similar players. I suppose Doyle did ok, he kept possession when he could and kept it nice and simple. Does not seem mobile though and often seems to be slow to get back to react to opponents running off him. He is a workmanlike player but just seems very ordinary and with Montgomery there he seems an unnecessary selection. I think Williamson or McAllister could offer more; certainly in home games but away from home as shown today the combination did what they needed to. We actually did completely control midfield second half so they must have been ding something right.
Quinn 8/10 – The best player on the pitch. Looked to be our best option first half and put a few decent crosses over but in the second half he was excellent. He got on the ball, linked play, ran at defenders and generally got Oldham on the backfoot. His corner made the first and run and intelligent pull back made the second. He actually looked a class above at this level. It remains to be seen if he will stay as rumours abound he could still be on his way.
Cresswell 7/10 – Worked hard all game and most of the attacks we had seemed to see him trying to get on the end of things. He took his goal well although the connection did not seem to be the cleanest, it was a good striker’s goal where he ran across his centre back and was able to apply the vital touch. Had a few other half chances
Porter 5.5/10 – Like Flynn I was quite disappointed with him. He did not seem fully match fit but for quite a tall guy he did not win much in the air all day and did not seem to hold the ball up either. He actually lost possession quite a few times in the first half that led to breaks for Oldham. Seems fairly slow and his first touch was not the best on this showing. Overall he just did not get involved enough. Hopefully he can improve as he gets more match fit in the coming weeks but on that evidence he looked like another Cresswell type player, if a little taller.
Williamson – Came on for Flynn and played wide right and looked decent showing some good skills as he ran at his full back and made a few intelligent passes and runs. Once again showed the stupid side of his game when he got booked for a daft late challenge when he had no need to put in such a tackle. Despite this side of his game and his less than impressive injury record; I would have him in the team as like Quinn he can stand out at this level with his ability on the ball and strong running
Bogdanovic – Was brought on for Porter and at least tried to hold the ball up and bring people into play. Another one who despite question marks against his stamina and work rate who should have the ability to cause big problems at this level.
Officials – Thought the referee was way too fussy at times and some of the booking players picked up for both sides were unnecessary. Lowton’s in particular was never a booking and barely a foul. The others that followed for Francois Lecsinel and also Quinn seemed very soft too. Not sure what Quinn was booked for after the first goal (seemed to be just for taking his time going back to the centre circle but seemed ridiculously harsh as others were jogging back alongside him too!?). It was not a dirty game and there was barely a bad tackle all game but he seemed to be forever blowing his whistle or going for his book. Was not necessary and could have let the game flow a lot more.
Crowd/Atmosphere – It was good to go to a new ground and somewhere different after so many repeat trips to grounds in the Championship. It was not the best ground to say the least though and it was a three sided ground with one side reminiscent of the old John Street Stand when we had nothing there. The main stand and home end seemed fairly full but they were both smallish stands and there did not seem to be much noise coming from the home fans who were almost outnumbered as United brought 3,500 (of an 8,000 crowd!). The United fans packed the end behind the goal and were in good encouraging voice throughout. They made it like a home game for much of the game and the players seemed rightly appreciative of their vocal support at the end when they came over to acknowledge them. Hopefully for most away games United can sell out their allocations and this could really help the team where grounds are so small and compact with much less home fans than in the Championship. I think the harder test will be at home where fans will expect results every week and teams will come and United will have to take the game to teams. As an aside it was strange going to a town and queuing to get in a run of the mill local pub. The pub in question did not quite seem to know how to cope with the extra demand as Blades fans were everywhere. Some of the home fans seemed a little perturbed that one of their pubs had taken over by the away support! It was a strange old place though Oldham and it did seem a little like the ‘town that stood still’ and some of the racist comments by a few locals I heard were quite frightening.