It was a dour game overall with few chances but the opportunities and efforts that came were nearly all from the away side and the Blades shaded a tight contest and probably just about deserved to take all three points. The game was played in difficult conditions in terms of the state of the surface which looked more like Blackpool beach than a football pitch! However, United got the crucial goal and then used their experience to see out the game without too many problems and get themselves back in touch with the leaders in League One.
United began without Jamie Murphy and had Forte and Kitson up top supplanted by wide men Robson and Flynn. On the bench there was a mixture of experience and youth for manager Danny Wilson to call upon. Rover’s fresh from a win at the weekend against Stevenage
the match began with the ball bobbling around horribly for both sides and it was clear there was not going to be much football played. Tranmere forced a few early corners but Collins and McDonald both headed away. The game became mired in a scrappy midfield battle with a shot blocked from Wednesday loanee Palmer for the home side and then Forte likewise having a shot that was stopped by defender Taylor and span away to safety.
Tranmere shaded the early stages but did not have any real efforts on goal and gradually United started to get a foothold in the game as they saw more of the ball in midfield with McDonald’s influence growing.
United came out of defence and after Kitson smartly held it up, he played in Forte. The pacy striker had the first real effort of note on target as he was played through and used his pace to cut in on the angle but his low shot which was goal bound was turned around his near post by Williams. It was a fine save and stopped a certain goal.
Forte had another effort that lacked power and was easily saved by Williams after the Southampton loanee had turned in the box. Tranmere won two free kicks but these came to nothing and then soon after Flynn was the first man to be cautioned; as after he had originally gave the ball away he chased back to try and win it but pulled his man down.
Maguire was then harshly booked for allegedly holding Akpa Akpro as the ball came forward. It may have been a foul but a booking seemed very harsh considering it was his first offence and the contact was minimal.
United had a good chance as Robson sent over a whipped cross that Kitson met but his flashing header went wide. United were asking most of the questions but it was a real slice of luck that led to them breaking the deadlock.
A short free kick was taken and McMahon hit a long range effort that took a massive deflection off defender TAYLOR and span away from the wrong footed Williams and nestled into the other side of the goal where he was diving to. It was a fortunate goal but it rarely seems like united get much fortune or such goals so maybe lady luck had turned at a crucial time.
The second half saw united attack their massed throng of supporters behind Williams’s goal but the home side seemed more determined and tried to show some greater urgency with their play. However they failed to trouble Long and Collins and Maguire had easily won the battle with their respective opponents. Hill also was making several timely clearances. A ball landed on top of Long’s goal and a corner came to nothing before McGurk replaced Bell Baggie as Ronnie Moore tried to introduce fresh impetus to the Tranmere attack.
Robson had a shot straight at Williams before Tranmere finally had an effort of note as substitute McGurk’s shot hit a defender but fortunately for United; Long made the save down low. Sidibe was the first home man to be cautioned after he caught a United player with an elbow when the high ball came forward. A few misplaced passes from Tranmere saw the home crowd start to become a bit anxious as the visitors were frustrating them.
Robson and McDonald showed their class by keeping the ball for a period of play and whilst United had not been scintillating they continued to be professional in protecting their hard earned lead. Indeed they could easily have scored again with two good chances late on.
Flynn hit a speculative long range effort but it dipped late and clunked the top of the bar before bouncing back into play and the ball was eventually scrambled away before Forte could get on it. Soon after United had another effort as they looked to make the game safe. Robson cut in and hit a ferocious effort that Williams managed to push over for a corner. From the resultant kick United managed to waste a fair amount of time by keeping the ball and forcing another couple of corners.
As the game approached the final minute Poleon came on for Forte as United were actually looking more like scoring again than the home side. Tranmere in truth has never really threatened but as the game entered additional three minutes of stoppage time they pumped the ball forward at every opportunity but Collins and Maguire remained solid. In the final seconds Tranmere forced a corner and with the goalkeeper up they sensed a final chance but the ball was cleared and before Rovers could get it back into the danger area, the referee rightly called time with the game 30 seconds past the additional three minutes despite Tranmere players complaining they were still on the attack.
United – It was pleasing to see United get back to a solid base and defensive show after the debacle at Stevenage. If we do go up it will be based on games like this away and there are so many now away from the Lane where we have just been really tight at the back, got a goal and then just defended well without showing much attacking imagination. It has worked all season as the away performances and results prove. Of course at home it is a different story. Today the recipe for much of the away success continued as United. It was a really professional performance. We got a lead and protected it well and actually could have scored a few more late on. Overall we were not superb or flashy and at times frustrated with some poor play but we did enough to win and on a difficult pitch against fellow high flyers that is the most important think.
I thought the defence was excellent and all played their part. Further forward Forte and Kitson were up and down and both could have done more for me. Ditto for the wide men although both had decent late efforts and Robson showed his experience in keeping hold of the ball. I felt McDonald whilst not dominant looked the best midfielder on the pitch and whilst it was only bits and pieces he did (basic control, making a yard and passing to feet) this was more than many others for both sides could manage! Doyle was poor I am afraid but did better in final stages when we were trying to see the game out.
It was the sort of game where you just want to get the win and as I say the Blades continue to frustrate with poor balls and lack f adventure in the final third. It was an odd one though as we led and you wanted us to be solid which we were but against a really poor side with a bit more quality we could have won that game 3 or 4 nil. It just needed someone to really just grab game by scruff of neck but sadly we do not have that type of player so have to resort to huffing and puffing our way to 1-0 wins away against some awful opposition. Still it’s a win and now we move onto the game Monday. We have not scored the last 2 home games and it is crucial we can lift the home crowd with some kind of performance. Personally I would take a scrappy 1-0 again but I do feel it is about time they gave the home fans something to shout about. If we could win on Monday and inevitably a few around drop point then we hopefully could be right back in terms of points with the 3 above us. With a tough game at Walsall next week, it is imperative we follow up today with another win on Monday. After that we have 3 home games in a week including Swindon and Brentford. That could be the week that defines our season I feel.
Tranmere – Thought they were really poor. I watched them against Stevenage on Sky and they looked much better with Sidibe a handful; Palmer using the ball well and a good mixture of pace and power up top. Today they looked clueless for long spells. They had a few corners and set plays and a few balls in the box but our defence handled anything they did fairly comfortable and for a home side to only have one shot on goal (deflected effort) all game says it all. They could not argue with the verdict. I cannot see them going up and if I was a betting man they would be the ones that miss out on the top 6 at the end of the season.
Going back to the game; I thought Sidibe would cause more problems but looks a shadow of the man he was at Stoke where he was fast, strong and a real handful but obviously had so many injuries. Bell Baggie, Akpa Akpro and Bakayogo all possess pace but United defended deep and thus easily stopped any raids from such players. I rate the latter as an attacking full back but he was not a factor going forward. The lad from Wednesday Palmer did a few bits and pieces but faded and McDonald outshone him in the second half. The centre back Gibson is decent and handled Kitson quite well and is a good prospect (on loan from Boro). I heard Moore have a go at the lad who scored the own goal but that seemed harsh to me as I do not think he had time to really think about it. It seemed to hit him more than him trying to play it.
They badly needed something different today and I was surprised Moore did not put O’Halloran on. I know he was poor at the Lane but at least he gave them some direct running. The fact he only made one change when they never looked like scoring was odd. I felt they would have threw caution to the wind but it was not like United were getting chances at the end as they were throwing men forward; they just gave the ball away a lot.
Ronnie Moore has done a sterling job and I thought they may go down this year with the lack of resources but with the loan players he has got in and some excellent management, the fact they are anywhere near the top is a tremendous achievement. Next season will tough if as I expect they just miss out as they will have to follow this up and the high level energy and effort they have put in this year may be hard to replicate but it depends on who he can get in on loan again.
Long 7/10 – Had very little to do actually. Made one standard save from a scuffed shot; punched one ball away under pressure and general handling was sound. Thought he could have come for a few through balls and did miskick one clearance/back pass near the end. Well protected.
McMahon 7/10 – Steady game. He did ok defensively and had a few efforts from free kick; none were that close and the one that went in took a huge defection and I doubt it would have really troubled the keeper but at least he had a go! At times he does lump it too much for me and that is strange as he is not a bad footballer.
Hill 7.5/10 – Thought he was very good and one of our better players. Nothing flowery or overly technical about him. He just gets on with the job of stopping his man, clearing the ball with head or feet and rarely makes mistakes. I do prefer him to Higginbotham due to his mobility/pace.
Maguire 7.5/10 – Solid and apart from a few daft fouls (a few harsh as well – including the booking) he did well and headed and cleared everything that came at him. Had a real battle with Sidibe but easily came out on top for me.
Collins 7.5/10 – Like Maguire, just quietly went about his job and defended sensibly. Headed a lot of balls away and just ensure the defence kept a good line and restricted Tranmere to long range efforts or hoping they may get something at a set play.
Flynn 5.5/10 – Thought he was poor really save for the shot at the end which hit the bar and twice when he just kind of forced corners through running and pressuring. Mostly he gave the ball away cheaply and got outmuscled. At times he is easy to play against as you just kind of lean into him and he kind of gives up. Would like to see some more aggression and direct running but it never seems to happen. Many say he works hard and does a job but other than a couple of times I mentioned I cannot recall him sprinting back to cover defenders or blocking/tackling much? Would McFadzean be worth a start? Surely he may offer more creativity?
Doyle 5/10 – He was atrocious at times with some hacked clearances, passes given away and generally just lumping it to no one in particular. Three times in the first half he gave it away and each time it led to a half chance or a corner for Tranmere. He did improve slightly after the break and towards the end kept it a few times and finally realised how poor they were and did not have to wildly swing at balls. One moment when he kind of got stuck in the pitch and could not move as he put his leg out and they broke summed him up for me. Sounds harsh but whether we go up or not we have to upgrade in this position.
McDonald 8/10 – The best player on the pitch. He at times bossed the game, particularly in the second and he kept it better than anyone on a difficult pitch and his composure and touch was clear. He did nothing amazing but he simply managed to get on the ball, control and pass it. At times would have liked him to have gone forward more rather than sideways but we were leading so his passing was crucial in us keeping the ball. When he plays like that you wonder why he can’t do it every week.
Robson 7/10 – He was not great in the first half and gave the ball away a bit and took 2 or 3 rotten corners where he could not beat the first man. He looks very unfit still and was wheezing when he ran back after giving the ball away. He did put in one good cross for Kitson who headed wide. Second half he was better and got more involved, used his experience and kept it well. He had a few efforts on goal and helped us keep the ball in the corner for what seemed like an age. Unsure where his best position is? Would love him in the centre but sadly he does not have the legs/fitness to probably do that. He is not a centre forward and when he plays just off Kitson it means we have no pace. He probably will have to remain out wide for now.
Forte 7/10 – He had one good shot which was saved although took a long time to get his shot away. He had another deflected effort and then another on the turn. He did not link with Kitson as well as I would have liked (apart from that one chance where he got away) and in the second half. I wanted him to show more and he sort of faded away. Not sure he will score many goals but at least his pace gives us something different. I have never been convinced he is a centre forward and might even be better out wide but with no one else and pace needed he will probably stay up top.
Kitson 6/10 – Quietist game really. Played a bit more withdrawn behind Forte. Had one flashing header wide and at times used his touch and hold up play but for long periods he was not involved and Gibson the young lad got in front of him and won quite a few balls/headers. He did help us keep the ball near the end and showed his control and intelligence.
Poleon – Came on and actually put the defence under pressure on the few occasions the ball came towards him but I suspect the change was made to just kill some time right at the end.
Officials – Thought that Haines actually favoured them today. Not massively but quite a few 50/50’s went to them and we had two bookings that were not really worth of cautions in my opinion (do not think Sidibe’s was either). There were quite a few free kicks given to them that did seem harsh and this gave them a few opportunities in and around the box which of course could have led to something. Overall there was nothing really happening or controversial in the game so it was a relatively easy game to officiate. At the end it amused me they were complained they were still on the attack after the corner when it was 3 minutes, 38 seconds (3 mins stoppage time) that had been played. If they had not won a corner he would have blown up then!
Crowd/Day Out - One of their bigger crowds of the season. United fans were in good voice and it was sold out in the away end. Some raucous singing in the concourse before, half time and after the game and it seemed like many had partaken in a few light ales! United fans were excellent today though in their support and it was another game where it was like we were the home side. Indeed in the Prenton pub before the game there were more Blades than Tranmere fans in there although no one seemed to be getting served! The facilities in the ground were less than adequate as the space in the concourse was not big enough for a sold out end. Plumes of smoke in the toilet did not fill me with confidence either as I could barely see where I was relieving myself! Did I also see a flare go off to the right side of the away end aswell near the end?
As for the ground it was my first visit. Bigger than I thought it was and the home end was a large Kop and then a fairly big main stand and decent (at least for this level) away end. There is only one small stand, the Johnny King stand to the left of where we were. The Tranmere fans were quiet and many were leaving well before the end. There was one surreal incident where a fan who was in the home end (apparently he was a Blade) just strolled across the pitch towards the away end. He looked well out of it and just had a silly grin on his face! He did not look like he wanted to cause any trouble but was surreal. He was carted off by the stewards.
The rest of the day was decent. We got into Liverpool (with Wife and son) and after a walk around Liverpool One and the centre; Matthew Street etc; we headed for Albert Docks and had lunch in the Pizza Express down there before my wife and little un headed for the Beatles Story exhibition and also went on the Magical Mystery Tour bus when we were at the match. I and my mate had a few more beers before getting the train under the Water to Hamilton Square. As I do quite a bit of work over there I knew the pubs would be rammed near the ground so had a few in the delightful Swinging Arm (right by the water in Birkenhead) with someone I knew from the area. The landlady then got us a cab to the ground around 2.15ish. After the game we went back there (via me falling off a railing I tried to vault – not even had that much to drink and then had some good banter with the bar staff before we saw a punch up between two lively locals (not Scousers – sorry Blades fans but those on the Wirral are very insulted to be called Scousers!) Just a typical day in Birkenhead!
We headed back to Lime Street and then were home for 9.30pm-ish. It was a good day out with a win thrown in and the rest of my family seemed to enjoy their day too. Not sure whether I can get to the remaining away game and am hoping they won’t be any more (playoffs/Wembley) and also miss at least one home game due to work. Will be there Monday though.