The Blades’ miserable 2013 continued as they were once again beaten at home; the third straight loss at Bramall Lane; by a fast improving Coventry side. Former Owl Leon Clarke scored against United yet again repeating his strike for Scunthorpe to score in both halves to see off the home side. Clarke notched in the first half to give the Sky Blues a much deserved lead and despite an improved second half that saw Dave Kitson head home a leveller; a late Clarke opportunistic strike gave City all three points. For United the performances and results continue to get no better and today the level of effort, passing and control on show in the first half was to be frank, totally embarrassing. The second half was much improved but ultimately it mattered little as another large Lane crowd trooped away wondering if this side has the heart within it or leadership from its manager; to even make the playoffs. It is a season that is quickly slipping away as United have gone from top to clinging onto the last playoff space in just over a month.
The Blades opted not to start new signings Robson and Forte, putting them on the bench and began with Neil Collins and Ryan Flynn back in the side. The departing Nick Blackman and Daryl Westlake were the man to make way. United opted to continue with the pairing of Porter and Kitson. Coventry came to Sheffield on good form and were hoping to further cut the gap on the playoff places. They had some experienced performers in the likes of McSheffrey, Clarke, Wood and Murphy and would have fancied their chances after good recent results.
City began the game on top and were completely camped in the United half for much of the first 10 minutes in a very one sided beginning as the home side simply could not get going. The first clear chance came to City as a cross from the left was met by Baker who really ought to have scored but turned over. City had further corners and it really was alarmingly one way traffic. It was no surprise when City went ahead just before the quarter hour mark.
Porter clumsily put the ball out and from the quick throw City took full advantage as the cross came in unopposed and CLARKE got in front of both centre backs and expertly steered the ball in off the underside of the bar giving Long little chance.
After the goal City came again and McSheffrey was not far wide. The midfield area was being completely bossed by City and United’s only tactic seemed to be long balls up to Kitson and Porter who were struggling to get into the game. The full backs were making errors and McMahon was rightly booked for a cynical foul and the home side seemed to be grimly hanging on as Coventry looked to put the game away. Kitson was booked for a daft foul just after he had shot into a Coventry defender but the first half had been wretched from the home sides’ perspective with the visitors’ good value. The boos at half time were predictable but probably deserved for such a pathetic showing in which not only did United barely have an attack or shot but barely strung more than one pass together.
The second half began and United at least won a few challenges and started to get amongst Coventry. The ball was now being played more in the City half and Flynn started to run at his man. Murphy had a good chance but wildly blazed over. However, City nearly scored from a break as Long has to push away a header after a deep cross found Edjenguele unmarked with more slack United defending.
Porter had in truth had a shocker (he was not the only one) and was not surprisingly taken off to be replaced by Forte. The Sheffield born Blades fan was instantly involved and showed some neat touches. He then had the first effort on goal for United as he turned and hit a low shot that Murphy held.
McDonald went on a strong run and after a neat header down from Kitson sent him through; he seemed in on goal but as he fell to ground before he got his shot away waves for a spot kick were waved away.
Robson came off the bench and replaced the disappointing Murphy. From his first touch, a corner, the ex Celtic man sent over a delightful delivery that was met on the full by KITSON who powered home a terrific header. Despite such a poor showing for the most part United were back in the game. Kitson then volleyed wide after Robson had been blocked initially as the Blades crowd found their voices.
McDonald was now pulling the strings and seemed a different player as he ghosted past two men and nearly fed Forte. The former Meadowhead student then hooked just wide and it seemed like United were now well on top and Flynn in particular was proving to be a real handful. He had a few good runs and was impeded as he tried to get beyond the full back. He then came inside and darted across goal but errored when he opted to feed Robson who was offside instead of shoot himself.
United were certainly going for a winner suddenly out of nothing with just three minutes left it was the visitors who snatched the all important goal. United had the ball in the corner but three experienced players Doyle, Higginbotham and most critically Kitson overplayed and the latter gave it away. The ball was intercepted and City broke towards goal through Moussa who drove towards goal. The shot had power but Long ought to have done better than parry it weakly out and the ball fell invitingly to CLARKE who was onto the loose ball and from a slight angle placed the ball into the empty net. It was a hammer blow to United but a goal that they should never have been close to conceding. The City fans went berserk behind the goal as they celebrated what would probably prove to be a crucial goal.
United tried to instantly attack but other than a Doyle drive well over, Coventry actually had further chances as the game entered 5 additional minutes. Long twice made good saves denying Thomas one on one and also a low shot from Jennings. Coventry played the final minute out by the corner flag and saw out the game with little worries as Unite were consigned to yet another home defeat.
United – A real performance of two halves. First half we were diabolical and an absolute shambles. We were sllow, lethargic and never got in the game. We did not win first, second or third balls and for long spells the game was just played in our last third. Coventry would have been 2 or 3 nil up at half time and the team were rightly booed off. There was barely an individual who did anything right and the side tossed away possession whenever they had it. We looked bereft of confidence and no one wanted to get hold of the ball or take control. They all seemed to want rid of it and often we just punted it up field to the awful pairing that clearly would not work of Kitson and Porter. Regardless of the levels of skill, passing and technique, once again the biggest issue was the lack of effort and passion. We never got to the ball and were so slow to react to anything all half. It was like watching a car crash in slow motion. We were that bad and if you could have subbed the entire team at half time, then you would have. Coventry had a few other half chances and will have been disappointed the game was not dead and buried. They had more chances after the scored as went for the leveller but overall I reckon they had maybe 5 or 6 clear chances to maybe a couple for us and for the away side they played nice football and limited us the other way. They would argue they did enough to win.
Second half the Blades had to improve and they did. They must have had a rollicking and finally they awoke from their coma. McDonald actually got on the ball, Doyle got stuck in and Flynn was a threat. Kitson got in front of his ma n and sub Forte showed some energy and strong running. The goal was well taken and well made with Robson creating with his first touch from a corner. After this we got on top and had a few other chances. It seemed there would only be one winner at this point and we had a few other chances but then some stupid overplay in the corner, a giveaway and less than convincing save and the ball was in the net. We had lost again. A draw on reflection may have been a fair result but then Coventry could argue they still had 2 or 3 good chances themselves second half and for the dominant first half along they may have just about done enough to win the game. United cannot afford to just start playing after the break and the level of effort combined with the dreadful football on show meant the first half performance was totally unacceptable. Wilson may harp on about the improvements but sadly we cannot wait till half time when we are at home against a team who are desperate to get within distance of us in the playoffs. The side had a go second half but generally looks shot of confidence.
Some may point to the crowd but I do not buy that. The crowd were quiet patient even with such an awful performance first half. Some of the players have got to grow some and start taking the games by the scruff of the neck. They are paid more money than most (if not all) in this division but are just chucking the season away. So many seem not to be bothered for opposition players to outwork them and show more desire.
Overall it is another defeat and for the most part a performance not good enough despite big improvements in the second half. Forte showed some life and Robson made the goal but the team is so slow and plodding it is untrue. To think 3 of the back 4 have played top level is frightening as most of them don’t look good enough to handle League 1 attacks (Collins and Doyle led a merry dance by Leon Clarke). The keeper’s confidence looks brittle and the two full backs are very slow. In midfield McDonald and Doyle just keep getting outworked and more nimble, quicker players show more energy and often just pick them off. Up front Kitson and Porter battle for long, high balls but both are so slow and have no mobility. Kitson at least is a goal threat occasionally but he too looks to becoming to the end of his career. Defenders can sit deep knowing we have no pace. Flynn did ok today but Murphy was another major disappointment.
That is now 3 back to back home defeats and I cannot see where the next win is coming from. We give goals away so easily and don’t really look like scoring at the other end but for all the talk about tactics, personnel etc, it is still about application and desire for me and at the moment many do not have it. Sadly with such attitude we will continue to move down the league and probably finish around midway. I got hammered on many of the forums when I had the incredulity to suggest we would struggle to even make the playoffs such was my concerns (even around Xmas) and many said I was mad to suggest we would not make the top 6 as that was a given with top 2 a strong possibility. Sadly I take no glee in suggesting I was right as at current time we will do very well to even be in contention. We have to face facts that we aren’t going to go up and even if we scraped the playoffs, sides like Brentford, Bournemouth, Swindon and today’s opponents, Coventry would see our team of bottlers off over 2 legs. We may need to face up to the future and start building more long term. That’s not throwing up the white flag as of course we are still 6th but can anyone see anything other than us falling away based on the current application levels of the side. They seem to be unable to step up a gear or be ready for games and Wilson seems to have sadly lost the ability to motivate them. He too looks lost and sadly as nice a guy as he is, is probably starting to approach the point where his position may have to be questioned. McCabe and the board have made a right royal mess of everything but they aint going and no one wants to take us over. We are stuck with them. Also due to the stupid mismanagement of those we are stuck with many of the players for the foreseeable (Doyle, Collins, Cresswell all here for a few more seasons). So the only thing you can really change now is the manager and if things continue in the same vein with the mostly pathetic limp performances then he may have to be replaced. He seems a really nice guy but his track record suggest mid table League 1 is about his level and he seems incapable of taking teams out of this division (the right way!). A poor performance on Tuesday and the knives will be out. It is a massive game for him and the side. Another poor showing and a defeat and things will turn nasty. There were murmurings today but a better second half meant despite the late goal and that first half, the side kind of got away with any real criticism at the end but the current form and overall displays have for the most part been unacceptable and despite players leaving (Blackman the latest – who is a major loss as today proved) Wilson still had an experienced collection of players that most have played much higher levels. Unfortunately the buck stops at the manager when players are not playing to the best of their ability and ours clearly are not.
Coventry – First half as poor as we were they were excellent. They were sharp, passed it well and made chances. They played it up top quick but then got men round the ball and knocked it around well. We stood off but they still showed some good movement and looked well up for it. The front two Elliott and Clarke showed some movement and never gave our defenders a minute (in stark contrast to the two cones we had up front) and they also fed them well. The wingers got at the full backs and they used the width well.
They fought harder and picked up loose balls. They had a few other half chances and will have been disappointed the game was not dead and buried. Second half they were not as effective but still could have made it 2-0 with a header but regressed as United woke up. After we scored they started to timewaste and sit back and I am sure even Robins would have took a point but then they scored in a smash and grab at the end. They had more chances after the scored as went for the leveller but overall I reckon they had maybe 5 or 6 clear chances to maybe a couple for us and for the away side they played nice football and limited us the other way. They are flying at the moment and the polar opposite to us who are flying down the league. You would not be surprised if they make the playoffs and certainly cannot see them not passing us in the coming weeks. They went away to a big division rival and took the game to them and did not care about our line up or tactics. They just played their own game and fought and scrapped for every loose ball and then used it well when they had it. Fair play to them. They were not scintillating but for the most part far better than us for long spells and save that half an hour spell in the second half will argue they did enough to win for an away side on chances.
They have a nice mix of youth and experience but in all honestly I look at their side on paper compared to ours and would I swap more than 3 or 4 players. Probably not so that sadly shows a lot about the manager who seems to have his side playing for him and they all know their jobs and are all playing for the team. We have a team full of players who look like they have never met and many seem unable to realise they are not as good as they think they are or at least to be kind to them are not playing anywhere near the level that they can do.
Long 6/10 – Had little chance on the first goal as it came across and was converted and was the fault of the defence; who failed to stop the cross and then let Clarke ghost in unopposed. After this he had a few other saves to make and made a good one from a header in the second half but then he was poor on the goal. Saying he should have held it maybe is a stretch but he has got to push it behind or further away and it a weak hand that saw it come right out in front of him and left Clarke with almost an open goal. Like with a few other goals in recent weeks you have to say he should have done better. He did make 2 good saves on the break after this. After his great start he has like the rest of the team started making mistakes fairly regularly and the whole defence don’t seem to have any organisation or solidity. Howard would probably be restored if he was fit but he seems to have had a setback so Long will continue.
McMahon 3/10 – Both full backs were poor tonight and it was questionable which one was the worst one! He was clumsy in his challenges, too far off his man and his passing and play on the ball was off all game. He was lucky not to get sent off as he committed 2 or 3 awful fouls and another referee may have brandished two yellow cards. A strange player who goes from a steady full back who can score wonderful free kicks one week to one who looks barely good enough for even this standard in other games. Have to say that overall he has been a disappointment for me and does not play or show the qualities someone of his experience should.
Collins 5/10 – Felt he and Maguire never got to grips with either Elliott or Clarke all game. The latter in particular was too strong for both centre backs and often Collins was so slow and ponderous to react to dropping balls or players running at him. He did some alright things and got on top more in the second half but effectively faced with only one man up top the two centre backs were given a torrid time for long spells.
Maguire 5/10 – Like Collins he never really got on top of Clarke and often was slow to sense danger and we had numerous balls drop around the last third that led to danger. Both centre backs left Clarke on both goals and sadly they look nothing like the partnership of last season with indecision from both not helped by ineffective protection behind or in front of them.
Higginbotham 3/10 – Thought he was really poor today and looked much worse at full back. His touch was heavy, he lost his man a few times; including for the cross for the first goal and was sloppy with the ball. He did not look like a former Premiership defender and his control and actual passing were mostly really poor but even defensively he seemed to get in poor positions or fail to clear the ball properly. Was involved in the second as he also overplayed (before Kitson) which led to the giveaway.
Doyle 4/10 – He was dire in the first half and players went past him easily and he looked so slow and leggy. He never won any loose balls and always seemed behind the attacking Coventry midfielders. He always seems at full stretch and often puts himself out of the play by going to ground when stretching or trying to slide and win the ball. Why does he not stay on his feet? It is as if he knows he can’t run back or won’t run back. He did get better in the second half and started picking off some loose balls and actually giving us some control in the second half but again it was too late as we were now chasing the game; at home too. Why we have given him another contract is baffling.
McDonald 6/10 – A game of two halves. First half did nothing as he hid behind the play, let the Coventry midfield dominate play and generally strolled around like it was a kick about with his mates. Looked totally disinterested and him and Doyle were bypassed mainly due to complete lack of effort as much as control. Second half he must have had a rocket up his backside as he suddenly came out and showed some life. He showed some lovely touches and pieces of skill to move away from clusters of players and assisted on some of our best chances. He was at the heart of the good things we did although I felt he dallied when he was in the box when he had the penalty appeal and should have got his shot away. It was 50/50 if it was a penalty but he did go down quite easily. Why he has to wait till half time to show some life was beyond me though. He seems to have coasted through most of the season and will be stuck at this level (as we will) for many years to come on such stop start performances.
Kitson 6/10 – Real mixed bag. He was quiet in the first half and put in some daft challenges and was nearly as bad at Porter at holding the ball up. Granted he had no service as we lumped it but even when he had the ball he lost it. Got better in the second half and was involved in some of our better moments.
Forte – Very good. I must admit his signing did not excite me as I never felt he was good enough first time but then we have fallen a long way since then. He had our first shot (in an hour of play!) and had a few other half chances. He ran well off the defence and gave McDonald someone to actually pass to (made runs). Looked lively and not quite as weak as I remembered. Hopefully he can get a run of games as he is an improvement on what else we have but again not quite sure what that says about the strikers we have at the club that are so one paced (alright two, slow and very slow) and predictable.
Robson – Came on and played wide right. First touch made the goal with a great corner kick. He then hit the near post man on two subsequent crosses/corners. He actually gave the ball away a few times but then nearly was involved in another Kitson goal. Very one footed (left) and showed when he took an age to try and get it onto his left foot but then got crowded out. Made a difference but would like to see him play instead of Doyle maybe in the centre where he can get on the ball more.
Officials – Felt the ref at times was a little inconsistent with his decisions in terms of advantage and when he booked/did not book players but many of the yellows he had no choice (United in particular made some awful challenges when players were going nowhere). The ‘penalty’ incident when McDonald was allegedly fouled was hard to see. I felt he was looking for it and should have just concentrated on scoring rather than going to ground so easily but then you have seen them given. As for the rest of the game; he was poor at penalising some blatant timewasting by Murphy the Coventry keeper especially. He also let some free kicks be taken from nowhere near the spot where the offences were. He was not helped by an awful linesman on the South Stand side who missed a few clear fouls and then also flagged to say the ball had gone out when it clearly was nowhere near.
Crowd/Atmosphere – You kind of sensed it might be one of those nights after another transfer window sale and loss of our best player coupled with recent poor form/results. The crowd were not on their backs from the off but some shocking pieces of play and a generally awful first half meant the crowd did start to moan and boo. You could not really blame them so abject it was and for professional footballers to play like that after people had paid good money they cannot expect anything other than jeers. The crowd did try and lift the side in the second half and after we scored it became more positive but then the winner saw the inevitable groans return and a mixed reception of boos and some applause (for improved 2nd half) cane at the end. Many of the boos seemed to be as much frustration at the way we lost than anger at the side or Wilson but generally fans cannot say it was a performance for the whole game that could be deemed good enough. I do not think fans will be as patient on Tuesday with another loss. Credit to Coventry who brought a surprisingly good number (1,500-2,000) on a Friday night and they were one of the loudest set of fans down here and really got behind their side.
Twitter – @Deadbat_DB