The Blades stuttering form over recent weeks continued on Saturday afternoon as they were beaten by leaders and unbeaten Charlton. United’s excellent start is now forgotten and form, results and performances have seen that they have now won just 1 in 5 games and suffered back to back defeats for the first time this season. After a defeat to another high flying side in Huddersfield just week earlier, United once again looked second best against another one of the leading sides in the division. For the first time since he took over, manager Danny Wilson now is under pressure to avert the slide with further games on the horizon against leading lights in the division to come. United looked punchless for much of the contest but two dreadful pieces of defending in a mad spell in the second half condemned the home side to another defeat.
United began the game with Jean Francois back in for Williams but the rest of the side was unchanged despite the missed chances the previous week at Adams Park. The unbeaten league leaders began with the free scoring Wright Phillips and Hayes up front and were looking to build on an impressive away record.
The home side started on top and won an early corner. A neat move saw Jean Francois shoot wide and then Lowton’s free kick was held by Hamer. It had been a promising start and a few further neat forays into the Addicks half followed. United really ought to have scored as a corner from the left saw Collins unopposed but his header was cleared off the line and United could not force home the loose ball.
Charlton had their first chance but Wright Phillips was blocked out by Collins and then some hesitancy at the back nearly led to a chance for Hollands. Another corner nearly saw another chance as Hamer got his position wrong but Lowton’s header lacked purchase. Despite United having the better of the game the best chance of the game fell to the visitors when poor defending saw the ball flicked into the path of Morrison but he fired wide when he should have scored.
The league leaders were now back in the game and started to have a sustained period of play and pressure just before the break winning two corners in quick succession. Overall, United had shaded the early stages but Charlton had started to get on top just before the break so it was fair score at half time.
The second half saw little in the way of goal scoring chances but a late tackle by Wagstaff saw him booked after he caught Doyle. United were now struggling to create much after their decent opening spell to the game and the best they could muster was from Maguire’s long diagonal ball that Quinn ought to have done better with but his finish was weak and drifted wide.
The game was drifting along with Charlton probably content as the away side that the keeper had still not made a save all afternoon but from a substation they were able to take the lead. Maguire should have put the ball into the stand earlier but dallied and gave away a corner. KERMOGANT came on for Hayes before the kick was taken and remarkably from the resultant kick he stole a march on the young centre back and headed powerfully home. It was an instant contribution as he scored with his first touch having been on the pitch for only seconds. United looked stunned and more sloppy play, this time by Doyle nearly let in Wright Phillips.
Cresswell came on for the disappointing Porter but before he could get in the game it was effectively game over thanks to a mistake by centre back Collins let in WRIGHT PHILLIPS who tapped in after Simonsen had smothered his first effort.
Soon after Flynn replaced Williamson as Untied tried to find some kind of thread in the game to hang onto. United were making little headway at all and Charlton were seemingly seeing the game out rather comfortably. Finally a moment for the home fans came when Flynn found a yard on the right hand side and whipped in a great cross but Cresswell’s point blank header was too close to the keeper; Hamer, who nonetheless made a very good save.
Charlton could have added to their advantage as Kermogant’s free kick was acrobatically tipped over and then after another defensive howler; this time by Lowton, he saved a driven shot by Wiggins. Charlton looked in complete control and many fans had seen enough and began to leave the ground.
Doyle shot wide from range but it looked a beaten home side and sub Green nearly scored with a fierce drive that Simonsen saved well. Right at the death Evans had an effort onto the post and then subsequently appealed for a penalty but it was too little too late and the full time whistle came soon after as United’s poor recent form continued.
United – We were rally poor today and against enough solid enough but not spectacular sides we were second best. Charlton were not stunning but for an away side they conceded few chances, probably had more of the ball and scored two goals capitalising on poor mistakes. After this they coasted home but even before they scored we had maybe only had one good chance and outside of the first 20 mins, I felt they had started to take control of the game and in particularly dominate the midfield. They got forward quicker in terms of getting the ball from back to front and then supported when they could. We looked slow, pedestrian and clueless. I also felt that we could have been playing for another week and would not have scored. We looked so powder puff it was untrue and it is maybe the slowest United team (all over the field) I have ever seen. Indeed they cannot be slower teams throughout the whole football league. The young defenders Maguire and Lowton are having a real sticky spell and sadly players who have maybe done much better this year than last have started to revert to type. Collins and Doyle has second half performances where they looked like they did last season; hopeless making numerous mistakes rounded off by the Collins horror show that led to the second goal.
The football has continued to be tip-tap but against the better teams who simply sit deep and soak it up we look really clueless and then of course we start to go long and with no height/heading ability of strikers to flick it on or hold it up and more worryingly no pace whatsoever it just goes nowhere. With Quinn off form and Williamson looking poor we have no real threats out wide and even though Evans huffed and puffed we had nothing up top. With the lack of goal threats (take out the Colchester game and we have scored 1 in 4 games) it means we have to be watertight at the back and we have not been and like last season are starting to make stupid mistakes that are lading to goals. Sadly the centre halves that started the season so well have been pretty poor in the last month but we have noone to come in to replace them. After we went 2-0 down you never felt we would come back and many players’ heads started to drop. I felt some actually looked disinterested and seemed just accept the imminent defeat. I was concerned that no one got hold of the game by the scruff of the neck but just seemed to let time go by with no urgency to create anything or even put in a tackle and get the crowd involved. It was all so flat and so insipid. Everyone will say the goals and moments of defensive frailty turned the game which they did but before that can anyone say we looked like scoring or felt we would score the first goal (after the decent first 10 minutes or so)?
We have now won 1 in 5 and lost 3 of the last 4 and seem to be going only one way. I did predict after we beat some of the better teams that a truer test would be when we played some of the better teams. A lot of critics said we had played some of the better teams and offered to me who was the so called better teams. It seems we have now found out that we had not played some of the better teams but now having faced them have a more realistic view of where we are at. Worryingly we still have to face Preston and Wednesday after having now lost to Charlton and Huddersfield. It seems as I feared we will probably settle down to a mid table season; with maybe top 10 at best. I do hope I am wrong but the awful defensive mistakes, allied with the lack of cutting edge at top means we will struggle at any kind of level. We still have enough experience and quality so beat a lot of sides but twice now we have faced the better teams this year we have looked poor and been quite soundly beaten and at home which is a real concern. The majority of our players as shown last season are distinctly average and whilst they may be good enough to beat some teams like Bury and Yeovil; there are teams at this level and players at this level that are still better than ours. The likes of Williamson, Simonsen, Collins, Doyle, Quinn, Lowton etc have to face reality and that is they are playing at this level as they were the ones who got us relegated.
Charlton – As stated above they weren’t brilliant but did not have to be. They survived our decent start and one good chance and gradually got on top of the game. They missed an equally good chance to take the lead but felt they were the better team as half time approached as they picked up the loose balls all over the field and passed it with more urgency; getting the ball into dangerous areas far more than we did. After the break they also seemed to control midfield and whilst not looked that threatening took their chances when they came and like Huddersfield then saw us off easily.
They had more shots on goal, more efforts overall and had more possession. As an away side you have to be happy with that and to keep a clean sheet and your keeper to not have a save of note to make really until the closing stages (Cresswell header – was that it?) is a good professional away performance.
They played some smattering of decent football but the thing that stood out was their midfield actually got ahead of the strikers and showed real mobility and could move between the back, midfield and attack. They seemed to have more flexibility and adventure than us and they were the away side.
At the back I cannot recall a major save the keeper made (one kicked off the line) all game and he barely had anything to do second half. The two centre backs had a comfortable game and of course the strikers profited from two errors but also they held the ball up better than ours and ran the channels more than ours too. They were not much better than us but were better and like Huddersfield look far better equipped for promotion with more solidity at the back, goal scorers up top and pace/movement throughout. They are not well clear of us and I cannot honestly see us being anywhere near them in the league this season. As poor as we are they are even poorer teams in this league and thus Charlton, Huddersfield et al will not lose many games.
Sadly Charlton’s wage bill will be far lower than ours but they have hungry, young players who want to get higher up the leagues. Most of ours seem to be on the way down and seem to care very little. Whilst he could do nothing about the dross he was left with; I am disappointed in Wilson’s signings when you look at the players Charlton picked up like Stephens, Hollands, Wright Phillips etc. Not one of Porter, Jean Francois, Flynn, Menez Laing has been convincing at all. It would be nice if we signed a few players from this level or even lower that are young, fast and on the way up. Porter and McDonald are slow players that have proved they are not good enough for the levels higher up. Sadly they are probably stuck here for another couple of years like Doyle and Collins. I am still majorly concerned about our scouting network which seems to bring us no real gems in at all. Indeed, when was the last time we signed a player (any player) from another club that you could say ‘he was a good signing’. Yes, I am struggling too!
Simonsen 7/10 – Had little to no chance on the goals. He nearly saved the second but was a little unfortunate. The rest of the game he should have been given no chance with the opportunity in the first half. Made a few decent but straight forward saves and also tipped over from a free kick and saved well from Green. Given very little protection from his defence all game as the away side had far more efforts than us in the game.
Lowton 4/10 – Thought he was really poor throughout. His passing and touch was off and he offered little to nothing going forward but more than this he was poor defensively making a number of bad mistakes or losing his man. Other than a few flashes going forward I feel he has been a major disappointment this season as first and foremost he is supposed to be a defender but he seems like he cannot even do the basics defensively. You can see why on recent games that no teams have come in for him as he has a lot of improvements to make to even be a solid Championship player at least. Another who would be dropped but we have no one to bring in. Parrino is even worse in my opinion as he gives his winger even more room and gets in even worse positions (he was another nonsensical signing I feel – part of a team that went down so why bring him back?)
Jean Francois 4/10 – Another poor performance defensively as the whole back four really struggled especially n the second half. He looked shaky throughout often hesitating before attacking the ball or letting his man get there first. His tendency to overplay and also his poor first touch also hinders us badly. After a decent start in the first few games he has really regressed and looks distinctly average at best.
Maguire 5/10 – The truth is he has had a few promising games against some really poor sides (Oldham, Brentford, Bury and Colchester) but has not been very good against the better teams/strikers as shown again today. He made mistakes against Scunthorpe and also last week at Wycombe that led to goals and today he also made 2 mistakes that contributed to the first goal; dallying with the ball and losing a corner and then completely losing his man on the resultant corner. He then made a few more mistakes after this as his confidence suffered. He is a good footballer as some of his passing shows and can bring the ball out of defence but he has a tendency to get bullied by more physical players (Kermogant and Lee) and quicker players will also cause him problems. If we had any kind of depth ideally you would like to give him a rest. At times he looks a real prospect and at others looks like a rich man’s pub player. He is probably somewhere in between and is probably not quite the talent some United fans think as like Lowton he is not consistent enough defensively.
Collins 4/10 – He may have had a decent start to the season but in recent games I feel his standards have started to drop and today he made an almighty rick that sealed the game. Aside from this he did ok in the rest of the game but the mistake is something you would mock in junior football. After this he started to go to pieces. In my opinion he is a player that is simply not good enough and at this lower level may be ok for a mid table side but is still not good enough for a side aspiring for promotion due to his tendency to make stupid mistakes. He did it all last season and in recent weeks they have started to crop back into his game. Like Maguire though with no completion they both will stay in the team which means we will see more of the same. Look decent against the poorer teams but any kind of pace/pace/strength and movement and they will both struggle as much as they did at the higher level last season.
Williamson 5/10 – Did next to nothing most of the game; other than try stupid flicks and drag backs instead of simply getting the ball under control and trying to get forward. Made a few driven runs and crosses but all too often he was not in the game or his touch was not good enough. Another player that thinks he is better than he is; with the truth being that he is what he is; an average League one player.
Doyle 4/10 – Was poor throughout giving the ball away constantly and making so many mistakes with what should have been simple balls. He won a few tackles and blocks but looked more like the player we saw last season today as he showed the best he could do was the odd square or backwards ball or occasional block tackle. His play on the ball was awful and some of the easy passes he telegraphed were embarrassing for a so called professional footballer and he set them on the attack on numerous occasions.
McDonald 5/10 – Not in the game anywhere near enough from an attacking point of view and defensively he struggled as quicker and more mobile players got in the area between United’s defence and midfield. You can see why he has moved around clubs a lot as despite his quality he lacks the pace and mobility to be a top midfielder and is nowhere near influential enough. I also feel for a big guy he does not impose himself physically and today was a casing point as the game sort of just passed him by.
Quinn 5/10 – Think he has been another that his performances have really dropped off and seems to be rarely in games these days. He flitted in and out of the action but is not controlling games like he was earlier in the season and not seeing as much of the ball. He moved from left to right but other than a few occasional moments I thought Charlton handled him comfortably. He needs to step things up or he will be stuck at the Lane for a long time yet!
Porter 4/10 – Offered next to nothing all game. His first touch is awful and he rarely wins headers or holds the ball up. The ball constantly bounces off him or does not stick. He is woefully slow and does not seem to read the game well. Should have reacted quicker to the Collins header in the first half. Looks a very poor signing in my opinion and hard to know what his strengths are. We are crying out for some pace up front.
Evans 6/10 – Thought he looked our best (outfield) player and that was not saying much. He at least showed for the ball, tried to make things happen by turning or having the odd attempt on goal. He had no help or service all game but I did feel he tried hard and kept going and I know his lack of effort is an accusation even I have sometimes levelled at him in the past.
Cresswell – Should have scored with a point blank header but his effort lacked power and conviction. He at least got more involved than Porter but the front three have stopped scoring and also have no pace so defenders sit deep knowing we can’t get behind teams.
Flynn – He actually showed a few glimpses today after a poor start to his United career and got in one or two good crosses; including the one Cresswell should have scored from. At least tried to get at his man and make things happen and maybe after the awful performances of many of the aforementioned deserves a start.
Officials – Mr Mathieson has had some rather annoying performances at the Lane and he had another today. Ridiculously fussy. He seemed to want to be the star of the show and was forever stopping the game. I thought that you only had to stop the game for head injuries but he seemed to just apply his own rules to injuries and stoppages. He was forever stopping corners and free kicks for pushing and then giving predictable free kicks moments after kicks were taken. Penalised 5 or 6 handballs which often were harsh as hit players (for both teams) directly. Conversely let their keeper hold the ball for long periods without penalising him (is it even a rule anymore incidentally as once he held it for over 20 seconds!) Just a very frustrating performance in which we seemed to be forever noticing him rather than the players.
Crowd/Atmosphere – Completely flat. Moved to the South stand this year and have to say maybe it seems noisier in the Kop but the atmosphere at games this year has been really poor. All you could hear the whole game were the Charlton fans that were excellent and very vocal. There was barely a peep from the Blades fans all game and after we went behind the groans and moans started. Many were leaving in their droves before the end of the game. United put on an offer for Schools/Help the Heroes but many will have been put off returning after that performance.
It will be interesting to see what happens if we lose to Wednesday as Wilson has not really had any fans on his back but the recent lethargic and powder puff performances means the pressure is on him for the first time. Unsure how he can react in terms of personnel as it is not as if we have 4 or 5 players who you can say; ‘he deserves to start.’ The good start seems a lifetime away and the confidence seems to have ebbed away. The management team face a big week to get the players back on track.