The prolific Ched Evans continued his impressive goal scoring form with a well taken double as United got back to the kind of performance which has catapulted them into second around the turn of the year. With individuals restored to the starting line up and the defence looking more solid; United were able to score a goal in both half and see off a side that have been formidable at home with some comfort in the end.
Back in the defence were Harry Maguire and Matthew Lowton with Matt Hill partnering Maguire. United were without Neil Collins and Lecsinel Jean Francois. There was also still missing influential midfielder Kevin McDonald but opted to give a first start for Will Hoskins and a rare opportunity for Chris Porter partnering Evans. On the bench were Egan, Beattie, Howard, Cresswell and Montgomery.
As the game started it seemed Hoskins was operating on the right hand side but was often coming inside and thus United had a very attacking looking line up that at times seemed to resemble 4-3-3 as much as 4-4-2.
Brentford won an early corner but Forshaw’s effort was off target. United took the lead with virtually their first attack and it came via an innocuous through ball from Simonsen. Porter strongly won the header flicking on towards EVANS who touched the ball up over the defender Logan and then as it came down he hit a bouncing half volley past the dive of Moore into the net.
Brentford tried to respond from this early blow and won a few corners. Soon after Bidwell’s free kick fell to Legge at the far post but Simonsen did well to save at close range as the defender could not get enough purchase on the ball. A scrappy period followed as Diagouraga was booked for a foul on Williams and a number of niggly fouls stopped the game having any kind of impetus. Saunders had to go off replaced by McGinn just after the half hour.
United had two golden chances to extend their lead before the break. Firstly a chance for Evans came after a mix up between Moore and a defender saw the keeper misjudge the through ball. The striker with just one defender between him and the goal just had to knock the ball into the empty net but somehow put the ball wide. It was a dreadful miss and a real let off. Soon after good work from Hoskins down the left this side saw the ball come across and Porter seemed set to score but his header from close range was somehow palmed over the bar from Moore. Hill then had to be alert to clear a cross field ball before the final chance came to Forshaw but his free kick was straight at Simonsen. The game had been relatively even but United had created the 3 clearest chances with Brentford only really testing Steve Simonsen once.
At the half time interval; Bob Booker came onto the pitch and was applauded by both the home and away supporters remembering his contributions for each club.
United had a good chance when Williamson’s threaded the ball through and Evans was in again but he blasted well over the bar. It was not long before he had made amends thanks to a gaffe from the keeper who had kept them in the game just before half time.
Moore’s goal kick from dead was dreadful and went right along the ground barely even making it to half way and going straight into the path of EVANS. The striker controlled it well and pushed the ball on and found himself ahead of everyone else and through one on one with the keeper. As he came out Evans took it around him on the left hand side and rolled it coolly into the empty net. The Blades players ran to congratulate their leading scorer in front of the massed following behind the goal. It was a pivotal moment and like the first half had come so early after the kick off meaning United had a crucial two goal advantage and a cushion to defend for the remainder of the game.
United nearly had a third soon after as Williamson’s ball inside the right channel saw Porter in on goal but his toe poked effort was saved by Moore as United threatened to run away with things. Weston came on for Forshaw and soon after Maguire was harshly booked for a foul. Douglas’s free kick after the foul was off target. Montgomery came on for Hoskins as United looked to see out time without conceding as Williamson reverted to a wide position with the Blades substitute going in front of the back four. Brentford were having their best spell of the game and had a few half chances with Simonsen saving from Berahino and then a couple of deflected efforts leading to a succession of corners. United were defending deeper and were guilty of turning possession over too easily but Brentford had not really had any clear cut chances.
Osborne replaced Dean and then Cresswell came on for the tiring Porter with just over 10 minutes to play. The game now had become very scrappy which suited United as time ticked down. Lowton made an impressive surging run and played in Evans whose shot for the hat trick was blocked by the legs of Moore. Cresswell was booked for a late high challenge in stoppage time but the final whistle came not long after and the United players trooped off into the changing room in the corner but not before saluting the impressive away following that had been vocal all afternoon in their backing for the side.
United – It was a proper away performance from a team contending for promotion. By that what I mean is we defended well, were well organised, competed and made it scrappy but stopped the opponents having many chances. At the other end we scored 2 and could have had another 3 more goals and had nearly all the best chances in the game. We were far from superb and the passing and fluency was not the best. We still gave the ball away too much and could have made things easier in the second half but overall we never looked in that much danger. I felt our spine was good with Maguire, Doyle and Evans maybe the 3 best players on the pitch.
It was good for United to get back to basics and keep a clean sheet especially after shipping 3 goals in both of the last two games. Today we looked better and both the organisation and desire was much better. Credit to Wilson as he made changes and they worked. He has been criticised for being a little conservative and not reacting (continual selection of Cresswell etc) but today he made a brave move bringing in both Porter and Hoskins. Porter did well and justified his selection.
If we can get McDonald back and with the extra reinforcements in defence we have brought in at least we do have some cover now. We face another tough away game in the week and one we need to get something from. A win at Colchester and we are back with a nice cushion with a winnable home game to come next week. We are reaching the critical point of the season. If we can somehow get everyone fit and get back to basics then we have a chance despite the recent wobbles. What we need is a run like the one at the turn of the year and somehow run off a series of 5 or 6 wins.
I have been quite honest and pessimistic and feel we may just miss out but Huddersfield seem to be wobbling quite a bit and the threat seems to be coming from our neighbours. They have played two teams on a really bad run of form in Bournemouth and Bury and will face tougher tests in the weeks to come (Notts County next week although we have to go there too the following week!). Now is the time to keep our nerve and be professional away and ensure we get maximum points in all our remaining home games (got to be the target). Today we showed calmness and discipline and did most things right which was the opposite of the previous two games. Hopefully our performances can be more like today than Oldham/Walsall in the run in.
Brentford –I had thought they were poor at the Lane and lost rather easily. They seemed miles off a team that may contend for the playoffs and I would have pegged them as a team more likely to finish nearer the bottom. However, they have been in and around the top 10 most of the season and Rosler has done well. I have seen them a few times on TV and they always looked a fairly strong, organised team with some decent individuals that can get goals up top. They should have won at Huddersfield and destroyed Carlisle (a side that beat us) in recent times. Their home form has been very good and they seem to win most games in recent times at Griffin Park. I felt today would be a lot tougher game than it turned out to be.
They had one or two chances and were not a bad side but I felt we looked in control for the most part after we scored. They looked powder puff up front and seemed to lack belief they would get back in the game after it went 2-0. I suppose if they had made it 2-1 then the game could have turned just like last week but the longer the game went on you could feel the impetus and belief draining away from them.
I heard Rosler saying they controlled the game and that we never looked that threatening and that they made us look ordinary and put us on the back foot. This is nonsense as if anything we controlled the game (were winning for most of it) and had all the major chances really. He was right in that they lacked the physicality in the final third and that is where they struggled. They did pass the ball away neatly at times but as soon as they got to the final third it just sort of drifted into nothing.
They are a very big side and looking at them as we kicked off I felt we had to win the physical battle to ensure we would win the game. We had to win the 50/50’s and compete and then a few of our better individuals could make their ability count. That is how it proved in the end. They have a few pacey players as well as height and athleticism but we made them look quite ordinary and the players that looked such a threat in the games I saw recently were dealt with really well as we defended in numbers and limited space for them to penetrate. We also won the key headers and defended well at set pieces which of course have been an issue in recent weeks.
I did feel we handled their attackers well although they had let their leading scorer Gary Alexander go in the week (think he is out of contract at the end of the season?) but I had seen the lad from WBA, Berahino, tear Carlisle apart the other week. The other lad Donaldson can be a handful too. In Midfield Douglas and Saunders are useful players who like to get on the ball but we did well against them for the most part. At the back I felt Legge and Dean really struggled all day with Porter and Evans power and movement. The keeper made a terrible mistake for the second and made one in the first half when Evans should have scored again. However he made a couple of superb saves too and it could have been more without him despite his howler.
They will probably finish about middle of the league and will beat many teams at home as they have proved but like a lot of teams in this league struggle on the road and thus lack consistency home and away to challenge for the playoffs.
Simonsen 7/10 – Made a few decent stops although ones that you would expect him to save really and he made one look harder than it was pulling his legs up for the camera! He did come and completely miss one cross but other than that it was a solid performance in terms of handling, basic competency and he was well protected from the players in front of him.
Lowton 7/10 – Good to have him back as he makes such a difference as much from an attacking point of view as defensively. He showed his ability in this regard as he got forward and supported the attack and tried to combine with Hoskins particularly in the first half but at times due to Hoskins not covering in behind he actually held back and was not as ambitious as he has been this season.
Hill 7.5/10 – Played well and he and Maguire looked solid together. He is quite fast and it is nice to have some pace in the middle of the defence which we have not had this season. Not sure he is a centre back really as he has played most of his career at full back. However today he looked assured, covering in behind and doing the basics. I felt he handled a very dangerous opponent in Berahino really well.
Maguire 8/10 – Thought he rivalled Evans for man of the match. He was rock solid today and won every header that came his way and defended with good sense throughout. He looked really assured today and his performance belied his youth and lack of experience. Needs to perform in this manner for the rest of the season especially with the uncertainty over Collins’ situation. Very unfortunate to be booked considering the number of fouls that had gone before. He seemed to suggest it was persistent fouling but I can only remember two fouls from him whilst others for both teams did more and got away with it?
Williams 6/10 – Did ok nothing more, nothing less, after being out for a long time due to injury and non-selection. At times he was still slow to react to danger and not close enough to his man. He did stop crosses coming in for the most part although remember his man getting away from him once. His attacking play was not the best with quite a few poor crosses/balls when in the last third. He put at least one cross behind the goal I recall. He did get better in the second half and was more solid from a defensive point of view.
Doyle 7.5/10 – Thought he did well today and helped make the game bitty and scrappy which was perfect for us in a way as we were winning. Had a good battle with Douglas who is a decent footballer and quite combative himself. The biggest compliment you can pay him is when opposition fans say they wish they had an annoying so and so like him or words to that affect. He may not be pretty but he is mightily effective at this level.
Williamson 7/10 – He did ok in spells and when he got on the ball he actually did some decent things in open play with some good touches and passing. Two through balls to Evans and Porter led to chances. He is a proper footballer in that respect but at times he did seem to lack stamina/energy in the central area. Admittedly he has played out wide most of the season but I felt at times we did not have enough of the ball in this area and had a spell in the second half where we kept giving it away. When we were doing well the likes of him and Doyle were keeping it nice and simple and just moving it on. His set plays were quite poor though with numerous corners and free kicks wasted. In amongst this were one or two decent ones but they few and far between with most going to keeper or hitting first man.
Quinn 6.5/10 – Another up and down showing. Some nice touches and passes mixed in with some miscontrol and a couple of real hospital balls/misplaced passes. He did work hard and got back to support the defence but his undoubted ability on the ball is not always coming to the fore and needs to up his game 20% for the vital run in. He looks a decent player most weeks that opponents respect and you listen to opposition fans and they often feel he is one of our main threats. This is probably true (near top of assists league) but I still feel he can do much more when I remember his early season form.
Porter 7.5/10 – I actually thought he did really well today. Surprised he got the start but he offered far more than Cresswell has done in recent weeks actually holding the ball up better and winning quite a lot of headers. He was a real threat aerially all game and for the once the ball did not always come back. In fact he seemed to win around 70-80% of the headers that came his way. Should have scored with a good chance in the second half. He linked fairly well with Evans, did put a shift in and probably deserves to keep his place on that performance.
Evans 8.5/10 – Looks a class act at the moment. He is scoring goals and looks like a threat everytime the ball goes towards him. You actually feel he is going to score every week and at the moment he actually is scoring every week! Took his first goal really well as it was not an easy finish and then the second was very cool as he showed pace and composure. He should have had another but missed an almost open goal when the keeper made another mistake. His goals of course get him the headlines but his work rate and desire is top drawer at the moment. Defenders are never given a moment against him and this in turn leads to mistakes being made and creates space for others.
Hoskins 6/10 – Played in an unfamiliar role really and it showed at times as he was unsure whether to stay right on the touchline or come inside. His actual touch was not that great today and things did not quite come off for him. He did work hard and try and get in the game. At times not familiar with the defensive side Lowton did have 2 on 1 and we got lucky when they wasted such an advantage. Probably frustrated that he has come here to play and now when he finally gets a start he is put wide. Porter and Evans did well and ultimately the changes worked overall as we looked solid at the back and a threat going forward.
Montgomery – Came on for Hoskins as Brentford seemed to be having a decent spell in the mid-point of the second half. Not sure it really worked as he came on gave the ball away and then committed two silly fouls putting us under pressure. After this less than impressive introduction I think he did sit just in front of the defence and we did limit space for them to get through us as the game petered out
Cresswell – Brought on for Doyle as we tried to kill the game off. Chased down the defenders a few times and won us a few throw ins down the left side. He did commit a silly foul and was rightly booked for the late aerial challenge near the end.
Officials – The referee has a pretty easy game. His booking on Maguire seemed a bit harsh really but the other two; one for them for a late challenge on Williams and the Cresswell one were right. The rest of the game he tried to let things flow and I cannot recall any major decisions that I felt were wrong. The game was a bit scrappy and there were a few fouls and challenges going in but that was hardly the fault of the officials who tried to let the game go as much as they could.
Crowd/Atmosphere/Day out – An excellent away day. Day in London, excellent food for lunch and tea; quite a few beers sank and some good banter everywhere. An old fashioned ground that was close to the action and a Blades win in front of a packed away end. Could not have asked for more really.
The ground was good and we sat on the back row of the upper tier. Although we stood most of the game as did many behind the back of the seats on the walkway to the rather small and inadequate toilets. People were queuing round from the stand down the steps to the toilet which were not big enough and put in a dangerous spot with so many people in the stand queuing on the stairways. Saw Alan Quinn amongst the United throng who apparently has now packed up the game due to injury. Is this right?
The away end was in excellent voice with good noise coming from the standing bit below and from the seated area. The early goal helped but it was a good atmosphere. The home end were only about 2/3’s full (if not even that) and they were fairly quiet. It reminds me a bit of neighbouring QPR in that the stands are right on top of the pitch. The ground itself is a bit of a mish mash with a couple of modern stands and others where seats have just been bolted onto the terrace. Good to see standing though which is of course rare these days.
Travelled down on first class (was no more expensive really) and a few cans on the way before we headed to Richmond for a spot of lunch by the Green (Cricketers) and then a pint by the river at the White Cross as the sun came out! We then via tube and bus managed to get to the ground and three of the four pubs at the ground before and one after. The Princess Royal was comfortably the worst with bad service and not enough staff on and less than salubrious inside to say the least. The next one past the main stand and near the away end was the Griffin and seemed to be packed with United fans stood inside and outside. We got served quicker here by much friendlier and more efficient bar staff and stood outside. We saw Dave Bassett who was serenaded with ‘One Davy Bassett!’ outside the pub as he made his way towards the ground. He looked genuinely taken aback by the chant and the fact so many United fans shook his hand. We then had a quick one in the very small Royal Oak on the opposite corner of the away end. This seemed more of a home pub but it was still amusing to say the least as the door swung open, we walked in to the sounds of ‘Rabbit! Rabbit!.’ Not very often you hear Chas n Dave on the jukebox but if the prices of the beer did not remind you were in London, then the music did! Finally after the game we went to the much bigger and nicer New Inn and had a final beer before heading to the tube at South Ealing via a rather dangerous crossing of the M4! We went back to central London (took ages due to a body being on the tracks near Wood Green – delaying all the trains) and had a quick burger and beer before heading back to St Pancras the journey home. Sat in first class again although a lot of the passengers did not seem too pleased that the so called superior class was full of football fans drinking beer but there was still some good banter non the less.
Apologies I did not get to meet some of the London Blades etc but we got way laid and lost track of time before the game and somehow ended up wrong side of where you were due to the tube we got. Will meet soon definitely though!