Blades 1-0 Lillywhites

Last updated : 29 December 2009 By Deadbat_DB

Jon 'The Beast' Parkin (right) is watched by Matthew Kilgallon in the Blades 1-0 victory over Preston North End.

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Just over a week ago I had been sat at the Stadio Olympico watching Roma entertain Parma in a relatively entertaining Serie A fixture that showcased the skills of players like Totti and De Rossi. The emphasis was on touch, control and ball retention with the crowd demanding to be entertained.

Yesterday, back in dear old blighty, I sat through over 100 minutes of the contrasting nature of the English Championship as Sheffield United and Preston North End scrapped out a war of attrition with chances and quality definitely at a premium. United had dominated most of the game but had failed to create many genuine chances and it seemed set that the visitors would take the point they had clearly come for back over the Pennines. However, with only 3 minutes remaining Jamie Ward's dangerous free kick from out wide managed to elude everyone and nestled into the back of Andy Lonergan's net. Preston were to lose yet again at Bramall Lane and their third 1-0 reverse in just over 12 months at the ground. In truth they could not complain as for long periods they were never in the game and clearly had come for a draw. Their negativity got what it deserved in the end thanks to Ward's late strike.

United began the game with a more attacking looking line up with Ched Evans and Henri Camara starting; alongside Richard Cresswell and Jamie Ward. Derek Geary also started with Walker, Taylor and Harper not featuring. Preston had Sean St Ledger back in their starting line up after his return from Middlesbrough and also fielded former Blades favourite Michael Tonge.

United began the game well and Camara was involved in most of the good work; with a turn and shot blocked and then a lovely touch that almost played in Evans. United won two consecutive corners and Quinn then had an effort crowded out. A cross from Geary was nodded back across by Creswell and Ward's strike seemed goalbound but former Blades loanee Collins blocked the shot. Preston were not in the game and a woeful long range effort from Parkin summed up their performance so far. Camara then managed to elude two defenders but his shot was dragged just wide.

Parkin was rightly cautioned for a very late and wild challenge on Geary by the touchline as United continued to control the game without really testing Lonergan.

Referee Kettle had frustrated both sets of fans with his inconsistency; namely with stoppages for injuries where sometimes he had stopped the game immediately and others had played on despite many of them being head injuries. However, his injury brought sarcastic cheers from the crowd as he limped off to be replaced by fourth official, Murphy.

The replacement opted not to brandish a second yellow card to Parkin when he brought down Geary again with the crowd baying for the dismissal. United continued to create half chances with Ward crowded out and then Evans shooting into Lonergan's arms. The best chances came at the start of the 6 minutes of stoppage time; for the refereeing change; as Camara was in the clear from Geary's through ball but under pressure from St Ledger he blazed over when he should have done better.

Parkin was replaced by Brown for the start of the second half and Preston sought to try and get a foothold in a game they ought to have been behind in.
United continued to attack though with two balls from Ward and Geary; United's main two pronged threat; whizzing across the box without the vital touch.

Elliott had a rare opening for North End but his shot cum cross also went across goal without a touch. Shumilikoski came on for Parry and Tonge moved across to the left. The former United man had Preston's first effort on goal with over an hour gone but his shot was easily saved by Bunn. Preston had come into things more without really threatening and indeed neither keeper could say they had been properly extended thus far.

Williamson and Little came on for Quinn and Camara; as United tried to find the extra gear and the vital breakthrough. They had their best chance of the second half when Evans headed back from Ward's deep cross and Cresswell seemed set to score but St Ledger denied him with a headed block from right under his own bar. Elliott looped header wide from a deep cross but the game did appear to be petering out to a stalemate until the home side finally got the goal their efforts had merited.

There did seem some controversy over whether the ball should have been returned earlier to Preston after an injury but it had been dealt with totally different by the referees and teams all game and the visitors made little of it when the throw came in. Subsequently, United were able to win a free kick; again that was a little controversial in its award as Sedgwick protested that he had not fouled Stewart.

WARD took the kick and it was a beauty; driven with pace and whip. The ball eluded everyone and with Lonergan unsure whether to come off his line or stay, the ball bounced up and beyond him into the corner of the net. The relieved United players celebrated by the corner of the John Street and Kop stands knowing they had got the goal that would surely being them the vital three points with there being only 3 minutes left to play. Morgan and Lonergan meanwhile received treatment as they had collided as the ball had already gone past them both. There was no question of an offence but Preston were still debating the award of the free kick and Collins was booked for his protests.

Preston finally awoke from their slumber and pumped the ball forward in the final stages as the replacement referee adjudged 5 minutes of additional time but other than one effort from Brown blocked from Geary; they did not really threaten.

United - It was not a tremendous performance but we did control the game for the most part. Whether that was down to Preston being so bad or us playing fairly well is a matter for debate but I felt it was the former. We did not have any players who were outstanding. Our defence was solid throughout; our midfield was workmanlike but lacked real quality and up front we had little goal threat other than flashes from Ward or Camara. Yet for all these criticisms we still were the far better side and with better decision making and quality in the final third could and should have been 3 or 4 up at half time and won the game comfortably.

However, the fact we barely made the keeper make a save all game is a worry and I felt we looked slow and pedestrian in much of our build up despite having 60-70% of the possession. We badly miss the hold up play of Henderson and hopefully he will back soon. We also need Williamson to be a regular in the middle of the field and Quinn and Montgomery continue to frustrate. Ward is continuing to look a really promising player and one of Blackwell's few good signings and Camara looks a genuine threat when played the ball deep in the box; with his touch and ability to turn and go at defenders.

We really do need to bring in a couple of real quality, creative players in the window but unfortunately we will probably need to bring in a keeper and a centre back as priorities meaning the much needed area of creativity will be forgotten again. The remainder of the season sees me feeling we will probably meander between 5th - 10th for much of the way and whether we can actually contend for the playoffs will depend on whether we can bring in some of the qualities I have mentioned. Although the departure of Kilgallon and failure to replace him could see us nearer the bottom end of those positions.

Bunn 7/10 - Had very little to do all game. Made a few routine catches and saves and his distribution was pretty good; always trying to find a man and get the ball moving forward quickly. It does look like he may be going back judging by Blackwell's post match comments as his loan is now up. He has had some better games of late but I feel we need a more secure presence at the back and would look around for other options personally.

Geary 7/10 - Played far better than he did in the second half at Leicester and was a constant bundle of energy all game. Played Parry well; who was taken off and got up and down the flank all game as he linked well with Ward. Looked more like the Geary of old (thought his form had dipped even before he got injured a few years ago) although does seem to be at full stretch a lot and has lost a bit of the pace he did have before the injury I feel. However, cannot fault the guys effort and heart and that alone in a sea of utter mediocrity today was good to see.

Stewart 7/10 - Still not convinced with him in any position but to be fair to him he did have a better game today. At times his positional play is poor and he does have a headless chicken look about him but he did do better today and defended fairly well and got forward a few times too. Not the answer though at left back.

Morgan 7/10 - Had a solid game and was much improved from the other day. Played Parkin well and barely gave him a sniff; ditto for Brown when he replaced Parkin. Won his headers, made clearances and did all the things you expect of your dominating centre back.

Kilgallon 7/10 - Might be his last game at Bramall Lane and he gave an assured display but was up against some really poor strikers in Elliott, Parkin and Brown. Will not have had an easier game this year; until he makes the move to the Premiership of course!

Montgomery 4/10 - I thought he had another really poor game today and his touch and passing was as bad as at the Walkers Stadium. I lost count of the number of times his second touch was a tackle or he just aimlessly shinned the ball to no one in particular. Of course he did put a shift in as always and helped limit Preston's midfield players.

Quinn 5/10 - Thought he was marginally better than Montgomery but he too was poor for the most part with his annoying flicks and inability to hold the ball for more than 2 seconds. He did ok in the opening 20 minutes and was involved in some of our better things but faded badly after this and resorted to treating the ball like a hit potato again after that.

Ward 7/10 - Looked a threat in the first half but his final ball was for the most part disappointing today until the goal! He at least always tries to run at the defenders and make things happen. Did fade in the second half but the free kick that he scored, although not meant as an effort on goal, was the best ball of the match.

Camara 7/10 - He still is not quite fully match fit and the fact is he can only last 60-65 minutes of most games before being dead on his feet is a concern. However, what he did do in the time he played is showed he is a real threat. His first touch and movement is excellent and he genuinely worries defences. He did miss one or two chances today when he would have been disappointed. I am looking forward to seeing him alongside Henderson.

Cresswell 4/10 - I thought he was really poor today and did not contribute much at all. He barely won a header all day carrying on from Leicester; which is his supposed strength and his actual first touch was shocking. Most of the time when the ball went to him we usually lost possession. Amazed he stayed on till the end and amazed we are signing him as along with France, Reid etc he is another player that simply does not improve what we have.

Evans 6/10 - For the most part I felt he was fairly poor again. You can almost feel the crowd willing him to do well and no one has got on his back despite a string of ineffective performances. His touch was mixed with some poor touches and then some good first touches and link play. He at least tried to get the ball down and made one or two forward and direct runs with intent. He had one or two decent efforts on goal but in reality does not look like scoring at the moment. I do expect more than he is showing at the moment. He was not awful today but very ordinary.

Subs -

Williamson - Surprised he was on the bench as all the noises coming out of the club was that he would be out for another month. Came on and showed what a good footballer he was as compared to the others who had played in the centre of the park. He has a nice touch and uses the ball well. Hopefully he can avoid injury and settle down to a long spell in the side.

Little - Thought it was right he was brought on as we needed more creativity. He did a few neat things and always seems to make time on the ball but did not quite have the impact we would have hoped and failed to get many dangerous crosses in.

Taylor - Came on in stoppage time as we tried to hold onto what we had.