Blades Bow Out

Sheffield United’s FA Cup run was ended at the first hurdle as Aston Villa side got a much needed victory for under fire manager Gerald Houllier at Bramall Lane on third round day. Micky Adams is still looking for his first victory as a manager and his injury and suspension hit side were undone by two well taken first half goals. Despite a potential comeback from the home side with a Jamie Ward penalty; Villa managed to see off the fight back and scored a decisive third at the death to seal their passage into the fourth round.

The Blades made two changes from the side that entertained Doncaster with Daniel Bogdanovic and Leon Britton replacing Richard Cresswell and Mark Yeates. Villa began with Young and Agbonlahor up front but opted to leave Petrov and Downing on the bench. Emile Heskey was suspended and John Carew was still out of favour. Kyle Walker made his Villa debut against his boyhood heroes after signing on loan from Spurs in the week.

United began with Evans up front and Bogdanovic and Ward down the flanks supporting him. Villa began the game in the ascendancy with Reo Coker winning two tackles on Montgomery and allowing Albrighton to whip in a dangerous cross. United had struggled to get into the game and Parrino was under pressure when Young attacked down the right but it was from the other flank where the first real chance and a goal came. It was predictable for the second game inside a week at the Lane that the former Blades player and fan would score. WALKER came into the United half but went through Kozluk and Bartley as if they were not there before cooling slotting home. Walker, in contrast to Sharp earlier in the week, did not celebrate his goal walking back to the centre circle and barely taking the congratulations from his teammates.

United tried to get back into the game and Bogdanovic almost worked an opening but the ball was cleared. Kozluk was booked for a foul on Walker but then United had their best spell of a game that they had been second best so far. First Ward was given a great chance when Dunne’s back header was seized upon but he hit Friedel’s legs when he really ought to have scored and then appeals for a penalty for handball from Ward’s corner were waved away. United had a few half chances from corners but could not test Friedel further. Villa were first to the ball for much of the game and once again they managed to turn United’s defence but Albrighton’s cross was away from Agbonlahor on the half hour. Not long after this the advantage was doubled though. Some good build up play and patient football saw the ball switched across the field and then Young was given way too much time on the right and sent over a cross that was converted clinically but all too easily by ALBRIGHTON. It was a goal similar to Doncaster’s opener on Monday with attackers been given way too much time to cross and shoot.

Simonsen had to save smartly from Agbonlahor as Villa looked to run riot just before the break with their superior quality all over the field beginning to show and United just struggling to keep the match a contest of any kind. Just before the break there were appeals for a penalty for a challenge on Dunne but the next whistle was for half time. It had been a fairly comfortable first half and other than the Ward chance the chances, efforts and quality had all come from the visitors.

The second half began with Williamson prominent as he looked to get on the ball more. Montgomery was now winning tackles and United were finally getting into the last third and causing problems. Within minutes this improved commitment led to a penalty as Williamson drew a silly challenge from Cuellar and referee Jones after waiting initially pointed to the spot. WARD and Evans almost tussled over who would take it before the Villa fan won out and hit it low and straight as Friedel went down to his right.

United came again and the crowd appreciated this improvement. Williamson’s cross went behind and then after Walker’s sloppy pass Bogdanovic’s low cross had Friedel sprawling across his goal to push the ball round his post. United were now on top and Parrino was also getting forward more. His run past Young saw the Villa man rightly booked before Pires and Bannan were replaced by Downing and Petrov. Villa still looked dangerous on the break when Agbonlahor shot wide after going past Ertl too easily.

However, the Blades were still throwing bodies forward and Montgomery had a shot blocked after a corner. McCallister came on for Williamson for his home debut and then Young upended Bartley and did not seem surprised by the referee’s second yellow card which led to the England winger’s early bath.

United won a series of free kicks and corners with one cross leading to Ertl attempting a spectacular overhead kick but Friedel was alert enough to get down low and save. Another effort saw two shots blocked away as United went for the leveller before Kozluk shot wide. The best chance perhaps came when Britton was well placed on the edge of the box but blazed over when he ought to have got the ball on target.

Slew came on for United and Collins for Villa right on the 90th minute and now Bartley was being used as an extra attacker. As the game went into the three minutes of stoppage time though Villa broke and were able to kill the game off. Albrighton broke away and released PETROV who took a touch and smashed an expert finish high past Simonsen to leave the Villa fans celebrating the victory and a safe passage into the next round.

United – It was a mixed performance again as United once again failed to put together 90 minutes of football but did ok at times albeit in my opinion too late as they had effectively chucked the game away. On one hand you could say we deserved a draw due to improved second half but then on the other Villa had 5 or 6 clear chances in the game to maybe a couple for us and when they needed to went up a gear. We simply left it too late to start playing despite the admittedly decent second half performance. We once again made bad defensive mistakes, once again were chasing the game and once again despite a gritty effort failed to get anything from the game.

It is all well and good praising the team but it is getting a bit annoying to hear all the talk about how much we are battling as when the games are level we are playing rubbish and going behind! We are only battling and playing when we go behind and often that is because teams sit back. Can we please actually play and compete from the start? To hear some of the fans saying how proud they were at the end was a little embarrassing as once again we only started playing when we were behind. This was the same on Monday and battling defeats or draws at home is only going to lead to one thing; relegation.

First half we were really poor early on and Villa were just too strong and too skilled. We seemed to stand off them and defended way too deep. The first goal was well taken but hideous defending yet again with Bartley and Kozluk the main offenders. The second saw poor defending again with a winger allowed too much time to cross and then the man in the middle completely unmarked. It was 2-0 at half time and despite one good chance which Ward fluffed; we were not really in the game despite plenty of huffing and puffing. Villa could have made it 3 or 4 before the break and many in the concourse expected a drubbing in the second half.

To United’s credit second half saw a turnaround and we had a go but should we have to wait till we keep going behind as we did Monday and once again today, admittedly against a Premier League side? We finally got into them, pressed them and played higher up the field. We won and scored a penalty and then it was mostly United. The Young sending off gave United further impetus and it seemed like we could get a replay. Villa did have one or two breaks and could have killed it on the break but United were still right in the game pressing when Villa did finally finish things off with a class finish at the end.

I came out thinking it was a decent effort and on another day we may have got a draw but it went how I expected with Villa showing their better ability in the last third, creating more chances, United being susceptible again at the back and not being quite cute enough at the other end. We tried hard and did not embarrass ourselves but regardless of plaudits for the toil it was another defeat and it is now only 1 win in 8 and losing is becoming all too easy to this side. Granted you expect to lose to such opposition but it is worrying that it is the same faults; namely going behind and chasing games, with soft goals being conceded that is haunting us week after week.

It has been a decent start from Adams in terms of attitude and commitment but I would expect that from players when any new manager comes in. The players have tried hard and fought back in games but we are not creating many chances and still are still conceding stupid goals and still not winning games (not won any of first 3 games which is a poor start for a new manager – usually galvanises a win early doors; Warnock, Blackwell both could manage this). It is abundantly clear we need 3 or 4 new players at least if we want to stay up and he needs to get these in fast. None of this I need to look at everyone before the end of January I am afraid. He has seen everyone (bar Quinn) who will play and must be aware the present squad is not strong/deep enough. With Henderson, France, Morgan, Taylor and Cresswell not coming back anytime soon then he is stuck with what we have which is a squad which can barely find one experienced player to sit on the bench. I was pleased with his comments about us being a soft touch and the first goal summed it up. I feel exactly the same and we need 1 or 2 physical (even dirty) players at the back/defensive midfield (Hill/Derry types) that can make sure we are hard to beat and don’t give away such easy goals.

Having listened to his interview it confirmed all I thought that he probably has little to no say over who is coming in/going out and probably has little to no funds. He said the other day he wants players but it will be hard to get them in. This to me is speak for ‘You have no money, so get on with it.’

After reading numerous reports that we have signed two Norwegians this week, the Radio Sheffield presenter questioned him but Adams seemed to not have a clue and he is the manager! If these transfers have been agreed then that confirms that Adams is not really in the loop? Why would Birch/the board not have mentioned these players. I know if I was a manager I would want to have a say over who comes in to my club but Adams said they might be part of the development squad. It all smacked as a bit embarrassing.

Villa – Villa came out and pretty much won the game in the first 20-25 minutes. Not through the scoreline but more from their approach and commitment. They came out and bossed the opening, pinning United back, scoring and then having complete control of the game. They did not create tons of chances but looked well in control and then after surviving a close scare when Ward missed; the second effectively seemed to have killed the game as a contest. It seemed easy for them at first half with them winning all the physical battles and then quality players and finishing doing the rest. However, second half we got about them, scored and then easily could have levelled the game. Villa seemed to panic and the sending off although a little harsh was a daft thing to do. They made mistakes and looked more like us giving the ball away. They always looked like they could get another on the break and so it proved. Still they were hardly streets above us and looked as poor as us at the back with numerous daft mistakes and giveaways. Still they had a two goal cushion so it was frustrating as if we had shown the attitude and commitment in the first half and been a bit smarter we could easily have been the ones in the next round .

In terms of players they looked poor at the back with Cuellar and Dunne slow and clumsy. The midfield I felt was their strongest area in the first half with Reo Coker, Clark and Bannan all prominent in winning the ball and keeping it. I felt Young and Agbonlahor looked threatening at times but our defence did ok against two international players and managed to restrict them fairly well other than a few notable moments such as the second goal. Pires was pretty non existent and look pretty much done at the top level, lacking fitness and fight. Walker was class for the most part with one or two cool pieces of defending, intelligent play all around and then a great goal, although he did make a mistake in the second half that nearly led to a goal for Bogdanovic.

I am sure they will have enough to stay up but you can see why they are struggling as in the second half against a depleted United side as after we scored they seemed to really sit back and invite pressure. A team with a bit more quality and attacking prowess could easily have scored one or two more and sensed the pressure Villa clearly have been feeling.

Simonsen 7/10 – A better performance today. Could not really have done much from any of the goals but he at least caught a few crosses and also made one or two good saves including a crucial one at 2-0 from Agbonlahor and then at 2-1 from Petrov when he was one on one. Still too slow off his line at times and simply does not command the back line but did make some good stops today.

Parrino 6/10 – Mixed bag but overall I am afraid unlike other fans who have enthused about him he does not convince me and was really poor first half. For all his flashy touches at times I look at him as a defender first and foremost and that regard I feel he was lacking. He was at fault for the second goal when as for the Doncaster game he gave his winger way too much time. Seemed unaware of where he was meant to be in terms of positions and then he also was slow to react as Villa seemed to target him as a weak link. Reminds me of Calve, neat and tidy on the ball but does not stop crosses/his man and lacking in awareness of what is going on around him. Second half he did improve and he kept going and never hid trying to get forward a few times and actually looked better going the other way. He had a few decent shots/crosses but he is one that I feel is no more than a fill in player.

Kozluk 5.5/10 – Thought he was poor-average again as he was on Monday despite everyone raving about him and the late goal! Rushed in possession and often at full stretch against players when defending. He was beaten all too easily on the first goal without even an apology of a challenge. He is a game player who is another who tried his best and his commitment to the red and white shirt cannot be faulted but he was not good enough when we released him 4 years ago and it is astonishing that he is back starting in our side!

Bartley 6.5/10 – Too slow at times to react to situation as all the defence was. Let Walker just run through too easily as did many others and at times not strong enough physically against far smaller players Agbonlahor and Young who often surprisingly outmuscled him. Think he is decent technically but he is symptomatic of most of our team in that in short; he is a soft touch. He is just too nice at times to be a centre half and we are so easy to get through or create chances against due to no one just heading/clearing the ball and doing the basics.

Ertl 6.5/10 – Like Bartley I suppose he did ok and Villa did not create chance after chance through the middle until they counter attacked late on. He kept his shape and was solid if not spectacular. However, the times he was faced with pace and players running at him I was very worried as shown when Agbonlahor left him for dead in the second half. He is another player that says a lot about our side in that he tries hard, is an honest pro but lacks pace, athleticism and more than anything ability. Had a decent overhead kick at the end that nearly got us level but overall he looks another that is a square peg in a round hole.

Montgomery 5.5/10 – Poor with the rest of the midfield in the first half as they dictated the game been given too much time and effort. Not faulting his effort again as he toiled well and closed down and won tackles but his passing and distribution was in the main horrific. I had a different vantage point today but he looked far worse from side on than behind the goal as he tossed away aimless pass after aimless pass. He actually had lots of time on the ball on a few occasions but still failed to find a red and white shirt. At least he fought hard, had a few decent shots and tried to drive us on second half.

Williamson 7/10 – Played fairly well and thought he looked one of our better players. Not everything came off and one or two passes/efforts went awry but he always wanted the ball and came short to receive it. Won a penalty and was involved in some of our better attacking threats. I always felt he was one of the few players who may make something happen when he had the ball. Hopefully he will get 100% match fit and be a real influence in the final part of the season.

Britton 5/10 – Still doing it for me and is certainly miles away from the top class midfielder we thought we had signed; a la Howard and Harper. He disappears from games for long spells and seems to be going through the motions to me. At times shows a few neat and tidy touches but I rarely remember much of note all season where he has made a goal, scored a goal (really poor finish at the end when well placed today) or stopped a goal with a piece of play. May sound harsh but for the big wages he is supposedly on I expect in half a season one of those things to have happened. At times he was often way off his man from a defensive point of view and often he was chasing players and off the pace. Albrighton and Petrov left him for dead 2 or 3 times and he barely chased back.

Evans 6.5/10 – Tried hard and often was ploughing a lone furrow but against two physical centre backs in Dunne and Cuellar. Won more than his fair share of headers and kept going and had one or two half chances in the second half. He is showing more appetite in recent weeks and as a result he is seeing more of the ball and I think fans are appreciating his improved efforts and attitude.

Bogdanovic 7/10 – Bizarre game as at times he was lazy, slow and lethargic but then suddenly he would come to life and show neat bits of skill or intelligence to lead to attacks or link with other players. He is another like Williamson, that although not superb, you always felt like if we created anything or did anything it might be through him despite his frustrating languid style.

Ward 6/10 – Bit better than recently and at least I thought he looked livelier today than he has in recent weeks and occasionally looked an offensive threat. Often had to stay wide due to the formation and was offside too many times once again but did not receive enough of the ball when he often was unmarked; particularly in the second half.

Subs –

McAllister – Came on and went into midfield for Williamson but seemed shocked by the speed of the game and lost possession a few times and also lost track of his man. Looks a decent stature size wise and hopefully when he gets time under his belt he may be a decent addition but nothing of note in his first 15 minutes in a red and white shirt today.

Slew – Came on for Parrino right at the death but with stoppage time only to play; I do not think he touched the ball.


Officials – Felt we got very little from Mike Jones in the first half with a lot of 50/50’s going to Villa but they were probably first to the ball all over the field so that may have explained why they were getting more free kicks. Kozluk’s booking was right and I felt despite the appeals for the penalty for a handball and a challenge on Evans these were more in hope than desperation.

In the second half most of the 50/50’s went in our favour as we got into Villa more and had more of the ball. However, the spot kick after half time was pretty definite and a silly challenge and clumsy trip. Young’s booking for the challenge on Parrino (even though the Blades man did make a meal of it) was also obvious and then it was a really idiotic challenge on Bartley that saw him get another yellow card. We have sometimes moaned about officials being against United this year but whilst it was a foul I did fell it was a soft yellow card and could easily have been just another warning really. I think if it had been the other way we would have felt it was harsh to have a player sent off for two challenges by an attacker in the other teams half with neither challenge that cynical just trips. After this he also booked Petrov for a handball.

Crowd – I very rarely get into the crowds debate and the comparisons between the two Sheffield clubs but today’s crowd was appalling. Yes, crowds are down round the country for the FA Cup and yes, I did not expect 30,000 but when I saw the great offer on prices and that tickets were £12/£10 for season ticket holders and we had only around 10,000 fans in the ground I was quite shocked. It seems United fans are well and truly fed up. They cannot say it was the cost or blame the league form as this was truly a one off game. I can see the frustration at the ticketing system when fans cannot get a ticket online and have to either go down or wait for ages in a ridiculous queuing system on the phone but it is still poor when fans have had 2 or 3 weeks to get a ticket. It makes me realise what the future holds for United and for football on the whole.

The fact that 6-7,000 season ticket holders just did not bother for a Premier League club suggests to me the crowds next season will take a massive drop. Fans for various reasons have had enough. I can understand it in terms of renewing season tickets and many have had enough of the lies of the board/the poor managerial appointment and the selling of any assets we have. The lack of any kind of entertainment and now performances/results means we could be looking at crowds of 14-16,000 again next season. I really cannot see anything but that now happening.

However for a one off game today with such good value prices and the chance to see decent opposition, it was an awful turn out. The massive gaps all over the ground with the Kop barely half full was not good and Villa fans were rightly laughing at the poor turnout singing ‘You could have come in a taxi!’. It was a pathetic effort and the board must have been for once quite rightly disgusted and wondered why they bothered reducing prices. Those that went did their best but from my seat from the South Stand other than for a spell in the second half I thought Villa fans were better in voice aswell as turnout (very impressive, bringing 5,000-5,500 fans) I am afraid.