An early goal came from Barry Robson from the penalty spot and then after chances went awry got the vital second goal thanks to Kevin McDonald from range. A final goal from Dave Kitson with virtually the last kick gave the score line a further gloss.
United had to make one change from the two away wins earlier in the week as Jonathan Forte’s calf strain had prevented him being in the match day squad so Barry Robson came in with Jamie Murphy moving into a more central striking role. Former Owl Clinton Morrison was on the bench for the U’s who started with ex West Ham striker Freddie Sears partnering Jabo Ibehre as they looked to build on some excellent recent form.
United manager Danny Wilson had spoke pre match about getting a good start and bringing the crowd into play in a positive manner and so it proved as the Blades were ahead after only 4 minutes.
There was good work from Flynn who managed to go at the full back and put over a dangerous cross. ROBSON just got there first and as he toed the ball on, he was clumsily upended by Thompson and the penalty award seemed fairly straight forward. With Nick Blackman no longer at the club, Robson took responsibility and smashed the ball emphatically past Walker, who went the wrong way, to net his first goal for the Blades.
Soon after United could and maybe ought to have had another penalty kick. The lively Murphy got in and went past Thompson who definitely seemed to bring him down but this time referee Webb decided against the award and gave a corner. It was a real let off for the visitors whom the game could have been over before it started.
Slowly Colchester started to get back into things. They won two free kicks in good positions with the latter giving a chance for Sears but the ball hit the wall. United still were showing some good movement when attacking and McDonald, Murphy and Kitson combined to set up a half chance for Flynn but the ball was blocked. Doyle had an effort saved before Colchester finally had an effort on goal as Long pushed away Sears shot.
United had lost an element of control and some sloppy play led to them conceding possession. Colchester won a number of free kicks and had a good spell without creating much. United needed to start winning more loose balls and keep the football better. They did this and created as Murphy had a low shot saved by Walker and then Kitson used his intelligence to create an opening that was finally cleared.
Just before the break United had two chances to double their advantage. Firstly Robson sent in a cross from the right that Kitson headed home but was adjudged to be offside and then from range Doyle hit a great effort that beat Walker all ends up but struck his left hand post and bounced clear before Kitson’s rebound went off target.
The second half saw a few chances for the home side with Murphy blocked out and then Flynn nearly in on goal. United were now well on top with McDonald at the centre of the good play and tried to get the crucial second goal.
Poleon came on for Robson around the hour mark and went up top with Murphy going wide. The new man miscontrolled twice as he tried to adjust to the pace of the game and then the visitors had a half chance as a deflected effort went wide of Long’s post leading to an anxious few moments.
United though were able to get the vital goal that they needed and it came from an unlikely scoring source. A poor clearance from the visitors was picked up by MCDONALD who controlled it and moved it forward and with no challenge forthcoming opted to go for goal and his 25 yard strike bounced off the turf before settling into the corner past the despairing dive of Walker. It was a good shot and at this stage of the game seemed to be the goal that would surely confirm the verdict.
After this Colchester seemed to lose heart and United had a lot of the ball and McDonald continued to dictate proceedings. Murphy and Flynn were working hard and Kitson continued to be a handful. After some poor defending the ball somehow squirted across the box and Kitson was in but his shot was saved from Walker. Not long after Higginbotham had a low shot saved and Flynn somehow could not convert the rebound.
The game petered out for the final stages and it seemed the home side were far more likely to add to the score than the visitors get back into it. In truth nearly the whole of the game was now being played exclusively in the Colchester half. United were able to give youngster De Girolamo his league bow as the game entered four minutes of additional stoppage time.
McMahon burst forward and kept going and going before he was upended by substitute Compton which led to an obvious booking for the Colchester man. Not long after McMahon got away again and just reached the ball before it went out and sent over a cross. It fell into the path of De Girolamo who seemed set for a dream league debut but his shot was pushed away by Walker into the path of KITSON who applied the tap in at the far post. There was a slight suspicion of offside but it mattered little at this stage and only served to give the final score line a more realistic look.
United – It was a much better home performance against a decidedly poor side. We at least made a really good start and got an early goal. After this we maybe could have had a few more and controlled the first 20 minutes. Then we had a real sloppy spell giving the ball away and look less than convincing as we lost control. You could easily see a sloppy goal conceded but we did start to wrestle control again and had a good spell just before half time and had a few chances with Doyle very unlucky to hit the post with a fierce shot. After the break we had most of the game and whilst at times we still made poor decisions or could have made more of opportunities in the final third we controlled the game. We won the midfield and actually passed the ball fairly well on an awful surface. Like last week McDonald and Doyle got a grip of the game and Murphy and Flynn showed some glimpses and always looked to try and make things happen. We still gave the ball away too much and made heavy weather of a 1-0 against a side that never really looked like scoring or creating much. Still despite this, when we got the second we then kind of relaxed and knocked it about much better and then nearly scored a few more. The third was about right in terms of the control United had for most of the game (save from that 15 minute spell in the first half).
The tempo of play in terms of passing and ability to get the ball into the front area was much better. We were not amazing but there was just a greater sense of urgency and the ball retention (still not perfect) was better as Robson and McDonald got the ball and moved it around. Kitson was a handful all game and Flynn and Murphy worked hard. The defence were relatively untroubled and save for some sloppy touches and silly free kicks (full backs mainly) we restricted the number of chances.
We still do not look convincing and it was more workmanlike than dominant. It is frustrating as we still try and play the killer ball when we don’t need to. The number of cross field or diagonal balls when we could just keep it added to the frustration. When we just passed it and were patient and only attacked at pace when we had exploited the gap (by moving it from side to side) then we made things happen. If United keep the ball and just wait for the chance they will score goals as have some clever players. However according to the BBC site we had 85% of the possession! I never agree with these stats and certainly not this tone but gives you an indication of how much control we had.
I think we will have to improve by a lot for the next game against a very good Bournemouth side though. Usually we choke in big games so will be interesting to see what kind of approach we take. They will be smarting after a defeat to a poor Preston side and will be bang up for it so we will have to defend well and take any chances we get on the break. If we can get a result there next week then who knows as we enter the run in as we don’t have to go away to any of the top sides (save Tranmere who are fading fast) and only have to play 2 games against the top 8 (other one is Brentford at the Lane on Sky). We play a lot of mid table sides so cannot say it is a really touch run in? United now have to keep the momentum going. A series of 3 or 4 more wins and we are right in there with a real chance but the opposite and we are out of the top 6. Going to be interesting. United are hardly great but it is a poor division and so it is hard to say what will happen? We could finish 1st or we could finish 8th.
Colchester – They have picked up recently and won a few games to get away from the bottom 4 but today they were mostly well beaten. They started badly and gave away a penalty (could have given away two) and then seemed to struggle to get into the game. They did have a spell around the 20-35 minute mark and had one effort that Long saved but they came back into due as much to our sloppy play. Their passing was really poor and they looked like they would concede at the back with some really immobile centre backs. Okuonghae was given a torrid time from Kitson and thought he may even get sent off. He was booked and continued to struggle to hold him up.
Up front Ibehre was never a threat and although Sears had a few runs he won one free kick via legal means and then tried to con the referee for another and was rightly booked. I thought they had got back into the game and had been fortunate to see the shot from Doyle hit the post and may have a real go in the second half but it never really happened. Whilst United never really pressed their advantage home, I cannot recall a significant chance or real concerted spell of possession or control they had of the game in the second half. When the second goal went in, the fight seemed to disappear out of them and they looked a beaten side. Indeed there could have been a few more goals after that and looked like they knew the game was up.
Like Shrewsbury last week, they look a side that lacks real punch up front and probably will rely on their home form to get enough points to stay up. They looked quite brittle and never really won the midfield battle. They have lost one of their key men in Wordsworth (gone to Ipswich) and have a few players who have done ok at this level. However, I was surprised Morrison did not come on as I was certain he would have scored (did earlier in the season and the baying from the South Stand would surely have brought the inevitable).
The keeper Walker never looked secure, both in his handling/general keeping and in particular his kicking which to be frank; was woeful. He sliced several back passes out and even from his hands/dead ball he seemed unable to keep the ball in play. I also felt he was slow to react to McDonald’s shot that bounced quite a bit before it went in.
Felt sorry for the couple of hundred that came as they were given little to shout about and the side kind of looked beaten from the moment they went behind.
Long 7/10 – Very little to do. Took one good catch and always tried to roll it out and allow us to keep the ball when distributing it. He made one save from a low shot in the first half that was routine and at least he pushed it away from goal (learned from Coventry).
McMahon 6.5/10 – I thought defensively he was erratic much of the game committing some more silly fouls and getting in a few bad positions. He was rightly booked for a daft challenge (seems to commit at least one a game and has a penchant for going to ground and thus putting himself out of the game too easily). He did get better as the game went on and then got chopped down near the end and kept going and made the goal with another run down the wing.
Collins 7/10 – Relatively unchallenged for much of the game against two largely ineffective centre forwards. Did ok with routine headers and clearances against little pressure. A few times he came to step out and try and initiate the attacks. Once I felt he backed off when they broke when he could have attacked the ball and stopped the danger and this led to a deflected effort just wide.
Maguire 7/10 – Steady-ish game from a defensive point of view against a very poor centre forward in Ibehre. A few sliced clearances (that seemed as much about the pitch than him) and a couple of balls that put teammates under pressure, but other than that he did his job and they only had one real effort on goal all game.
Higginbottom 6.5/10 – Does not entirely convince me at full back and gave away some ill advised free kicks or let his man get away from him. He did get forward quite a bit today, especially in the first half but his actual touch and passing for an ex Premiership players is surprisingly quite poor. I think Hill may come back in at left back if he does not improve his performances but if we are winning the team will remain unchanged I suppose.
Flynn 7.5/10 – Thought he was decent today and worked really hard. He made the first goal when he ran at his man and got a good pull back that led too Robson being fouled. He also got up and down the flank and showed a willingness to go at the full back. He did well defensively covering back and also came across the field at times and really showed a willingness to get involved. Just did a good solid job for the side.
Doyle 7/10 – It was a better home performance. At times his touch and passing was still wretched but he still got amongst things and broke play up a lot of the times. In previous games he has let things bypass midfield but today we controlled much of the ball in this areas and thus ended up turning the ball into United attacks more than we have in recent home games. He is a hit and miss player though as at times he would win it and lay it off and do his job and then on other occasion he would play a wild slice or telegraph a pass.
McDonald 8/10 – Many of the better moves we played often came about from him getting on the ball and moving it from side to side. At times he was slow to do things and wanted too long but despite this and his obvious lack of mobility, he still stood out as the bets footballer on the field (along with Kitson). He played some intelligent balls from left to right and vice versa and then scored a very good goal as he ran forward and then hit a well placed shot. It was his first goal since Exeter on the final day and was long overdue. Why he cannot or does not do that more is beyond me?
Robson 7/10 – A mixed game. At times he gave the ball away and was errant in his control and passing. However amongst all this there were some clever touches and passes. He made the goal with his run across the defender that won the penalty and then took an emphatic spot kick. Good to see him want to take it and grab the ball straight away. He did fade in the second half and was running on empty and rightly taken off. Does seem a clever footballer and like McDonald, although he lacks stamina/pace, he knows how to play the game and has a football brain.
Murphy 7/10 – Much improved again and he showed some good touches on the ball, ran at men and also worked hard when we lost it to get back and defend. He showed that he has some good pace and also proved he can use both feet. Started up top and then went wide when Poleon came off. He seems to be at least finding his feet and whilst he was not scintillating today there was some confidence in keeping the ball and attacking men and showed better touch and overall desire to get involved.
Kitson 8/10 – Thought he was very good today and most of the play and the game seemed to be through or around him. Felt he won a number of free kicks with professionalism but also was unlucky to concede a number of free kicks too. Despite this it was miraculous he did not get booked. Must be damn irritating to play against but a clever player non the less. He was involved in most good things we did and linked well with others as he roamed around the front line. He uses his body well and is strong as an ox at times as he shields the ball and keeps it well. Should have scored with a good chance but got the goal his performance deserved right at the end.
Poleon – He looks quite well built for someone so young and although he clearly has pace he did not have a huge impact after he came on. He seemed to want to get rid of the ball fairly quickly although a few flicks came off; he never really properly got into the game in the time he was on.
De Girolamo – Came on and instantly won one tackle and then got on the end of the McMahon cross and maybe should have scored but the keeper saved and it led to the finish from Kitson at the back post. Good to see him get a bit of time and maybe he should have been brought on a bit earlier really. Hopefully we will see more of him as the season progresses
Officials – David Webb. Thought he was really poor. He booked 6 (4 for them and 2 for us) and maybe only a few were bookings. He seemed to let persistent fouling go and then just booked people for one foul. He gave us a goal kick when it was a corner, gave some free kicks both ways that looked very harsh and got a number of other decisions wrong. At least he was consistent! He was not helped by two linesmen that may as well not have been there. They gave him no help whatsoever. I felt the penalty was a spot kick as he got in front of his man and then he bottled giving another when Murphy was tripped clearly in my opinion. Just a very poor performance where he seemed to get most things wrong! He also seemed strangely attracted to the ball and he dummied two straight into the path of Colchester players completely fooling United’s defenders.
Crowd - One of the lower crowds in recent weeks. Just under 17,000 with hardly any away fans in the lower tier. The crowd were given a boost when we got a good start and scored the penalty but United did not push home this advantage and there were usual groans and frustration when we failed to retain control. In the second half we had most of the game and the crowd finally enjoyed a home win and a fairly comfortable performance. Did annoy me a bit that the fans were groaning when we did not go forward for more goals. I was more pleased that we just kept the ball (and ironically by keeping it the ball ended up in a good position and McMahon made the third). Hopefully a decent following will go to Bournemouth next week for a vitally important game.