The indelible image that was ingrained in my mind both after the game, last night and still this morning was the sight of a young boy maybe 6 or 7 clutching his Sheffield United teddy bear in full strip crying his eyes out. After Steve Simonsen had skied his penalty to give Huddersfield promotion we slumped out and the sight of the said boy was one that was hard to not be moved by. As his parents and other Blades consoled him, you were left with the same thoughts; ‘Why us? Why again? Are we the unluckiest football club in the World?’ Seriously. I saw quite a few other reactions that ranged from more tears from a variety of ages to anger but mostly disbelief and silence as we made that same disappointing walk down Wembley Way.
As I got on the tube and the crowds thinned I went into central London but there right in front of Eros at Piccadilly Circus I saw another couple of Blades sat head in hands. The sharp reality hit home again. It really is hard at times being a Sheffield United fan. To say this club puts us through the mill is an understatement but we still love them and will still go back for more and more. To most football fans if you had said we would lose on penalties with the whole of both teams taking them and our keeper blazing it over the bar to lose the game, they would have probably indicated it was closer to fantasy land. Sadly to most Blades and such a conclusion was not such a farfetched possibility and so it proved as United found a new way to lose a showpiece game and in doing so failed to score a goal yet again.
United’s incredibly poor playoff record continued and now they have an unenviable record in finals of played four, lost four without a goal even being scored! 390 minutes without a goal and with barely even many shots on target! It seems to matter little who the players are or what the circumstances, this football club simply fails to deliver in big game and when it matters. Some head spinning circumstances with our main striker imprisoned in the closing weeks of the season and us throwing away a seemingly insurmountable lead to our closest and hated rivals was hard to take. Today was just another kick in the teeth to the loyal fans that have backed them to the hilt once again this season but now must face up to another season in the third tier of English football and unquestionably the Blades are now comfortably the biggest club outside the top two divisions
United began without Kevin McDonald who failed to recover from a hamstring injury meaning the Blades started with stalwart Nick Montgomery in the centre of the park. Richard Cresswell was deemed fit and was preferred to semi final hero Chris Porter up front as the lone striker as United played the same formation they had against Stevenage. Huddersfield were without former Blade Ian Bennett, with Alex Smithies coming in to start in goal. The prolific Jordan Rhodes started up front with Lee Novak with Alan Lee on the bench.
The game began in searing heat with United kicking away from their own supporters, with many of these camped right amongst the glaring rays of the sunshine. Huddersfield began by forcing an early corner and Higginbotham scuffed wide. United had been slow to get going but forced a half chance as Cresswell chased down a long ball but his shot was blocked and then Williamson pulled his shot wide after Flynn had retrieved the ball. United then forced a corner after Quinn had made inroads but it came to nothing. The game had been relatively even and with Maguire and Collins keeping a close eye on the Terriers front two, it was a cagey affair. Huddersfield won another corner and Hunt’s flick header was not too far off target before good work from Maguire saw off Rhodes. Flynn’s cross was not taken by Smithies but the ball fell nicely for Town to clear where as Hill had a shot blocked. The game had been mostly mired in a midfield battle and the pace had been relatively slow with numerous breaks due to the humid conditions.
Hunt then had another chances but was off target and a series of niggly fouls slowed things down. The half time whistle was not long coming in a game that had failed to see a decent attempt on goal for either side. United will have been happy to keep it tight with Huddersfield probably having the more dangerous forwards on show and indeed maybe shaded it on both the territory and possession.
After the break Huddersfield came out with a renewed vigour and nearly scored after less than 2 minutes. The ball dropped to Ward who hit a cracking curling shot reminiscent of the one Hopkin had scored with at the same end but the ball this time cannoned off the bar with Simonsen well beaten. The ball was scrambled to safety. Huddersfield were now finding more space and United had to be at their most alert at the back to see off a few breaks. Maguire headed wide at the other end before Clarke was off target with a similar effort for Huddersfield. The first booking came when Higginbotham was cautioned for pulling back Lowton and son after the impressive Quinn almost forged a chance with a pullback but once again there were very few Blades in the box. Quinn then also came inside and had an effort but his shot was pulled badly wide. Huddersfield did make a change when Higginbotham was replaced by Roberts.
As the game entered the final 10 minutes the Terriers came on strong and had a series of chances to win the game. Firstly, Clarke’s header was excellently saved from Simonsen and then from the scramble that ensued Doyle kicked away on the line. From the next corner Clarke headed goal bound but Simonsen saved well low down to his left. Rhodes who had been superbly marshalled by Maguire finally got away but his header went just wide. United were hanging on somewhat and were struggling to keep the football.
Porter came on for the tiring Cresswell as the game entered the dying embers of normal time. Roberts theatrics failed to impress referee East and after two minutes of stoppage time the game was ended and would need a further 30 minutes.
After the players (and supporters) took on much needed refreshments; the game restarted and once again it seemed Huddersfield looked the more likely of two very tired sides. United were defending well in numbers and saw off two more corners. United then broke out and had maybe their best spell with Porter having an effort blocked and then good link up play seeing Quinn nearly create a chance. However, the best chance of the game for United came when Quinn drifted inside dribbling past 3 players and hit a low shot that was saved by Smithies. The set up was excellent but Quinn will have been disappointed not to quite get the necessary purchase on the ball. Maguire was harshly booked for a foul on Rhodes. Lee came on for Ward and already used his ‘experience’ to win two fouls after innocuous challenges.
The second period began and O’Halloran replaced Flynn but once again United still employed only one up top deciding to put O’Halloran out wide left. The next chance came for Town as Lee was in on goal after Roberts through ball but Simonsen saved well again. Another great chance came when from a Clarke header the ball fell down near the line but Montgomery hooked clear when it seemed like a goal was inevitable as two Huddersfield players converged to try and force it home. Porter was held back but Williamson’s free kick was straight at Quinn. Arfield came on for Novak and Taylor for Montgomery as both managers now had an eye on penalties and were probably already looking at likely takers with such changes at such a late stage. The final whistle came and the final promotion place would be settled on spot kicks with some Blades fans unable to watch. Skipper Michael Doyle seemed to lose both tosses as Huddersfield had both the end and the choice of starting first.
Miller (Huddersfield) – Missed. His kick was low to the left but Simonsen got down to save well. It was not right in the corner and a nice height.
United 0-0 Huddersfield
Williamson (United) – Missed. Another poor kick that he seemed to scuff. It was close to the corner but was not hit true and Smithies saved down to his right.
United 0-0 Huddersfield
Johnson (Huddersfield) – Missed. A shocking kick that was wide by a few yards to Simonsen’s right.
United 0-0 Huddersfield
Collins (United) – Scored. A cool effort that waited till Smithies committed before rolling it the right with the keeper going the other way.
United 1-0 Huddersfield
Lee (Huddersfield) – Missed. Another really poor effort that saw Simonsen springing to his right and save fairly comfortably. Town had missed all 3 of their kicks and United now had a great chance…..
United 1-0 Huddersfield
Lowton (United) – Missed. Too close to the keeper and a nice height. A huge moment as if Lowton had scored this then United would have only needed to score one more. I felt this was the turning point in the game.
United 1-0 Huddersfield
Clarke (Huddersfield) – Scored. Bit like Collins’ effort as the keeper went early and was sent the wrong way. After 4 kicks parity was now restored.
United 1-1 Huddersfield
Taylor (United) – Missed. Why he was brought on to take is anyones guess? Has he ever taken penalties before? Has he ever scored or even had an effort on goal. Why he was taking one before several strikers and Quinn was baffling.
United 1-1 Huddersfield
Arfield (Huddersfield) – A vital kick as a miss and United could have won it. He scored fairly comfortably. Pressure was now really on United going second every time. If only Lowton or Taylor had scored?
United 1-2 Huddersfield
Porter (United) – Showed a little of bottle to score with his kick again sending the keeper the wrong way.
United 2-2 Huddersfield
Rhodes (Huddersfield) – Strangely the penalties were now going in easily an Rhodes effort sent Simonsen the wrong way again. Odd that Rhodes was also not in the first 5?
United 2-3 Huddersfield
Quinn (United) – Pressure was always on United now but Quinn took an excellent penalty going high with keeper nowhere near it.
United 3-3 Huddersfield
Roberts (Huddersfield) – Went straight down the middle to score really easily.
United 3-4 Huddersfield
Maguire (United) – Was concerned with his miss against Bradford and being so young but his penalty summed up his excellent performance.
United 4-4 Huddersfield
Woods (Huddersfield) – Another cool effort hit hide and wide left.
United 4-5 Huddersfield
Doyle (United) – Once again sent the keeper the wrong way and showed a lot of bottle as Untied kept answering.
United 5-5 Huddersfield
Hunt (Huddersfield) – Another calmly rolled effort sending the keeper the wrong way.
United 5-6 Huddersfield
O’Halloran (United) – A very well taken kick low to the left with the keeper going the wrong way again.
United 6-6 Huddersfield
Morrison (Huddersfield) – Simonsen almost got to this one. He went the right way and was not far off it.
United 6-7 Huddersfield
Hill (United) – Maybe United’s best kick of the shoot-out. High and into the top corner.
United 7-7 Huddersfield
Smithies (Huddersfield) – turn of the keepers. Smithies effort was solid but Simonsen got a hand to it and it just went in due to the power.
United 7-8 Huddersfield
Simonsen (United) – A shocking kick as he blazed well over the bar. Huddersfield went berserk and Simonsen laid prostrate on the turf.
United 7-8 Huddersfield
That was it. The game was over. United had been in a great position in the shoot-out but somehow despite Huddersfield missing all their first 3, could not take advantage. It was somewhat inevitable and other than the brief moment when they missed the third, I think most United fans feared the worst. I did not stay around long and my final image in the ground was of their players running away to celebrate, Simonsen motionless and Collins beating the ground in frustration.
United – I never expected us to win and sadly so it proved. The season that for so long seemed as if it would end in glory fell apart around a month ago with a decision in a court room and then our inability to win a single game in the final 3 matches of the season. We did well to see off Stevenage but the complete lack of options/game changers up top and the absence of McDonald meant I felt today would always be a case of seeing if we could nick it 1-0 but for the most part we simply did not do enough. To balance things out in terms of the positives, we did really well at the other end. We defended really well for the whole game. We had a few scares and yes they definitely had the better chances but they never carved us open. We were well organised and kept our shape. I felt it was a very disciplined defensive performance with all of the back four and keeper playing well and also Doyle just in front doing his job. We limited the prolific Rhodes to one chance all game and I felt Maguire and Collins were excellent with the former outstanding. That was the positives. The negatives were from the attacking point of view. We gave the ball away too much and went long too much. When we had the few odd pockets of play we looked threatening and annoyingly I thought they looked susceptible at the back and made some poor mistakes when we pressured them. However with no pace or real heading ability we did not know how to create anything and with no pace or real penetration from out wide we were lacking. I felt that Williamson and Flynn offered little of note all game and up front we got little out of Cresswell who worked hard but his lack of pace and dare I say it class was all too evident as he grafted hard but did not really cause any problems. Porter did better when he came on but he too did not really have any chances or create much of note. Montgomery was abject I am afraid. He barely found a red and white shirt all game his performance mirrored the one he gave against Burnley when he was equally awful. Some of his touches and the way he panicked when often not even under any real pressure was really disappointing. I felt Quinn was the one shining light going forward. He prompted and probed and was a real threat and won fouls, carried the ball and had our best chances/crosses. He was excellent.
Overall though over the course of 120 minutes of a really poor game, whilst we were disciplined and organised we did not do enough to win the game. If Huddersfield had won 1-0 you could not have really argued as they hit the post and had a few cleared off the line aswell as Simonsen making 2 or 3 good saves. Other than a few half (and I mean half) chances, I can only really recall that one Quinn effort in extra time that was a proper effort on goal that you thought this is a chance. I don’t totally blame Wilson as he did what he had to with the resources. Evans, Hoskins and Beattie being unavailable and then of course McDonald robbed us of 4 potential key men. Cresswell and Porter will not score or really look like scoring that many goals sadly unless the service is spot on and today it was not. We almost looked at times like we were playing for penalties and it would have been nice if he had put O’Halloran up top and had a go in extra time using Porter’s height. It was quite negative and as I say Wilson had only so much as his disposal but in the game we cannot say we did enough to win and thus like all the other play off finals we lost and yes we were unlucky but not in the sense that the performance was great and we got robbed.
Some players showed a lot today and stepped up (Maguire, Collins, Quinn) whilst others (Cresswell, Montgomery, Flynn, Williamson) did not. It was a real mixed bag. I cannot knock the effort of the side. They did their best. It was not like they just completely froze as in other play off finals. Today I just felt like they were not quite good enough rather than other years where we have looked a decent side and then in the final looked a pale shadow of the team that got there. It is sad that basically losing some of the players we have lost, chiefly Evans, has made us look so clueless attacking wide. It is hard to replace Evans and McDonald but I did expect us to have a bit more idea and adventure but Wilson did not seem to know what to do but just play solid and hope for a goal on the break. With players like Lowton, Williamson and Quinn I felt we had players as good as some of theirs, if not better but we opted to go for the cautious approach. I suppose we will never know if we had played more open what would have happened. In truth his approach was right so far but I would have gone for it a bit more in the latter stages. Would we have had more chance than the lottery of the penalties? Who knows?
It really was hard to take for the fourth (eighth if you count semi finals of the cup) time. You kind of get the feeling we will never win a game like this and it seems aligned with the stars that when we get to games we either choke or are incredibly unlucky or a combination of both. Today I felt we were not quite good enough with a touch of the bad luck as it came down to a few kicks of the ball.
So that is it. We are stuck in league one and clearly the biggest club in the lower two divisions and thus the biggest underachievers in the country. Next year will be interesting as I think a good number of the team/squad will be gone and it will be much harder to get promotion next season due to the players we will be left with. I cannot see any of Simonsen, McDonald, Williamson, Taylor, Ertl, Beattie, Hill, O’Halloran, Beattie, Harriott being back either begin released (majority), choosing to sign somewhere else due to wages/opportunity to play higher (McDonald/Williamson) or returning to parent club (O’Halloran). Harsh that Simonsen’s last kick as a Blade is that one but his performances (not today as he was good) have not been good enough and he has cost us time and time again. Would like to keep McDonald but fear someone may take him. He does seem injury prone and that may help us keep him and bad luck has cost us of his services in crucial games this year. Williamson is an odd one as he scores goals and does well at times but in big games is one who often does not turn up (Stevenage at home in league and yesterday are clear examples) and I would not be devastated if he moved on despite his goals/performances against the poorer sides.
I also think that Quinn will now move on and we may struggle to keep either or both of Maguire and Lowton. Those 3 are clearly our best assets under contract. We may keep one but the way Maguire played yesterday will have impressed many Championship clubs. He lacks pace but could play at the level reasonably I feel. Lowton is not as good as defender as he thinks but again is technically good and a decent athlete who is comparable with many right backs at the level above. We would not get much money for them either as teams know we are skint. If we got a million for the pair combined that would be about as much as they could expect sadly.
We will be left with a ramshackle and depleted squad of Howard/Long, Williams, Collins, Doyle, Mcallister, Montgomery (can’t see anyone taking him) Cresswell, Porter, Flynn, Philliskirk and Tonne. The latter two could not even be regulars in league two/conference and we have then two untried keepers and a lot of very ordinary players (although Collins/Doyle done ok this year). Having the likes of Williams, Porter and Flynn as key players will see the side in the lower reaches of the division I am afraid. We need to almost an entirely new side but with the new financial rules and no money we will have to sign Bosman’s and loans probably again. Would love for us to sign 5 or 6 exciting young players from some of the sides in our own division (Wilson, Freeman, Gleeson, Lewington etc from Stevenage/MK Dons) but it isn’t going to happen. Next season is going to be very tough. Once the pain subsides the released list will be confirmed and we can look at next season but I do worry what will be left with and what scope we have to bring players in especially considering the poor signings Wilson has made for the most part. I fear a poor start next year and the manager will be wrongly an obvious target for the fans and the anti-Wednesday stuff will come back again. He really does have a massive job on his hands to galvanise those that stay and put together a semblance of a side that can be near the top 6 again next season. I fear that come Autumn if we start badly he will wrongly become the scapegoat when it is clear the type of players he will have left will make it hard to mount a real challenge I feel.
Huddersfield – They were not that impressive but will feel they did enough to win despite their strikers being well contained most of the game. They did keep the ball a bit better than us at times and in the second half and extra time at least showed more ambition. They looked poor at the back and the keeper looked very hesitant but we could not really test them which was disappointing. They did always look to have a bit more drive and pace in Ward, Higgingbotham and Roberts. They also had better options off the bench with the likes of Roberts and Lee. They must have thought they had blown it when they missed the first three kicks. Be interesting to see what happens to them next season. I think that side alone will be nearer the bottom than top (as we would have been) even with Rhodes. If they lose him they will struggle as a team of mostly old, journeyman (Miller, Johnson, Naysmith, Bennett, Lee, Clarke) outside of a few promising youngsters such as Hunt, Ward and Higgingbotham. Fair play to their fans who did not rub it in too much after the game. Little patronising to hear some of their players/fans saying we had it last year and we know how we feel. No they don’t. They have now won 2 promotions via this route. We have won none. We have never won at Wembley (old or new) or the Millenium. So they don’t now how we feel. However, there is no real rivalry to speak off I suppose and they are now just another club we can add to the growing list of teams that have beaten us on the big occasion.
Simonsen 7.5/10 – He played really well. He made 2 or 3 very good saves and actually has been fine in the last 2 or 3 weeks of the season and no blame can be made to him for our end of season melt down. He also made saves in the shoot out and I cannot blame him for missing. It was a shocking kick but he is a goalkeeper. It could have happened to theirs. Sadly his mistakes and performances earlier in season meant we may not have been in this position but I did have some sympathy for him today. It was a horrible way to probably end your career with a club. I have no doubt he will play another few years in the lower leagues as a decent pro who does his best and seems a nice guy but is not quite good enough. It was odd today that he was one of our best players but then became the villain in the end.
Lowton 6.5/10 – Did alright defensively and was able to help restrict their wide players although Ward did get away from him a few times. He did not get forward that much and when he did he seemed a little cautious. Be nice if he had actually really gone for it and tried to run at people. Awful spot kick that could have seen us have one foot in the Championship.
Hill 7/10 – Thought he played quite well today. He did the basics; kept it tight and was always close to his man. He even got forward more than Lowton and had a decent shot that was blocked. He also showed more composure than Lowton on the pens. We will not sign him and for the most part he has been abysmal but he played well in the playoffs.
Maguire 8/10 – Thought he was excellent. He played Rhodes and Novak well and gave a very mature performance for his age. He kept it simple, used his brain and showed some good reading of the game. A performance that may have scouts coming back as despite his lack of pace, his basic defending is improving all the time and he is a good footballer who is quite intelligent in the way he plays the game.
Collins 7.5/10 – Another one who did not do much wrong and like Maguire he stayed positive in his defending. He made headers and block and put his foot in the way. He was very good all season and continued today. Like Maguire a cool penalty too. In comparison with the forwards they led the side well today and took responsibility in all facets. Seemed to really care at the end too.
Doyle 7/10 – Thought he did about as much as he could/can do in terms of scrapping, winning loose balls and trying to keep it simple with passing. He did not really show much adventure going forward but with Monty’s performance he had to do the job of two men. Made a good clearance off the line and took a good penalty.
McDonald 3/10 – Abject. As discussed earlier. I watched him carefully and was unsure where he was playing. Was he man marking? In front of the back four? Bang in the middle? He seemed too just roam around aimlessly and then when the ball came to him it bounced off him to one of theirs or he gave it away. He has been a good servant to the club but he has to move on now, if anyone will have him!
Williamson 5/10 – Thought he was really poor. In general play he did really create anything. I cannot recall any good moments coming from him or him getting wide, beating a man or getting a shot in. He also took some woeful set plays. We needed solid delivery from free kicks as that would be one of our best chances of scoring but he found the keeper, curled it out of play before it went in or just hit the first man. Really disappointed in his performance and his shocking penalty summed it up.
Quinn 8/10 – Very good and our man of the match. Got on the ball, looked calm and confident and tried to go at their players. He kept the ball well and showed nice touches throughout. Had our best efforts on goal and put a few good balls in. Dare I say it he looked a class act and too good for us at this level. I never thought I would say that after his poor performances since Christmas right up to the end of the season. If he played like that for a side with some strikers or other players of his ilk he would stand out. Took a calm penalty.
Flynn 5/10 – Another one who for me did not really do it. I keep hearing how he works hard and protects the full back which is fine but he is a winger first and foremost not a defender. He is meant to either get crosses in, go at his man or look a threat going forward. He does none of those. His main tactic seemed to be trying to win a corner or throw in by hitting the ball against their man. He seems clueless how to beat a man or find a yard and he never seems to actually get a cross in. Worry if he is the type of player we will have as regulars next season. He may be honest and hard working but he offers no real quality whatsoever.
Cresswell 5/10 – He toiled up front on his own but I cannot remember any real chances other than that one chase down where he had his shot blocked. He lacks fitness/speed to be a constant threat and whilst he does his best he is not good enough in the air nor mobile enough to worry defenders. Most defenders are scared of pace, movement or sheer physical presence. He has none of these. He is about done I am afraid and next season will be his last hooray not just for United but probably in the football league.
Porter – He at least put himself about a bit and was able to show something. He nearly had a chance with a header and then got in the way of a Quinn shot! He is another player that is very ordinary and also lacks pace/movement. We lacked any kind of penetration and were stagnant up top all day with no midfield getting beyond the front man. Decent pen though when he had to score.
O’Halloran – Came on but did not have much time to make an impact and was played wide left. He scored well in the shootout but he is another signing that did not work (like Hoskins, Beattie, O’Halloran). Wilson has to admit his striking replacements/reinforcements have been pretty woeful/non-existent in their impact.
Taylor – Seemingly brought on for the pens? Not sure why. He is hardly renowned for his goalscoring/kicking of the football?!
Officials – Roger East. Did ok. Let the game flow. Initially he did not seem to give us anything but then suddenly he switched and we started to get a few fouls too. He did not book anyone until the second half and even the bookings he did make (Maguire, Johnson and Higginbotham) seemed harsh. There were no really bad fouls all day (one late one on Doyle he missed maybe) and it was a bit of a non-event as a game. A few of the controversial decisions/free kicks were given by the linesmen. He did fall for Lee’s antics near the end.
Crowd/Atmosphere/Day out – As usual a good day out in the smoke with a decent journey down on the 6.25am train on the East Midlands Trains service complete with electronic, ‘Come on you Blades!’ on the destination on the front. Seemed to see a lot more Blades around all day even seeing a few up in Camden/Primrose Hill when was up there. After a few light ales and food, got to Wembley Park around 1.15pm and sat by the station having a few more cans as fans came in. Seemed like Untied fans were in a good mood and strangely confident as they came pouring out of the station with Huddersfield fans much more muted. Always enjoy the walk up Wembley Way and the throngs of fans on either side for each team as you go up the slope. The ground itself did not seem as big on the second visit! We had an excellent view right at the top of the lower tier (row 40) and were bang in line with the goalline. There were more Blades in the ground and seemed louder with most of their fans noise generated by those tacky clapper things. United fans kept going despite lack of chances and real ambition going forward but you could sense the nerves as the game went on. Odd that they had most fans in the lower bowl whereas United fans were split more evenly around all 3 tiers. You kind of knew what was going to happen when we lost the toss and they went towards their end. As for the penalties I watched some in real stood up but most I ended up sat down peering through a few fans in front or watched some on the screen above. It was hard to watch and many around just did not watch with one woman having her hands burrowed in her head.
I will do an end of season review/player marks but that’s it for now….hope you all have as good a summer as you can. It is hard being a Blade but once again you can’t help but going back. We have had worst disappointments than this in bigger games but the more it happens, I am unsure whether it becomes more painful or you just become numb to it. I would not quite as felt it as much if they had scored and won 1-0 or we had missed all our penalties but when they missed the first three, you felt are we going to do it? Stupid me having some belief for once and the hope was soon crushed. As others have said it is the hope that kills you. As I sign off I go back to the opening lines and hope that young lad (and the others who were in such pain at the end) have recovered somewhat today. It is only a game but a game and a club that gives you so many emotions and so much pleasure and pain. We have no choice though. We love the club and it is bred into us. We will be back next season and it matters little whether we play Crawley or Man Utd. It is still the same. A game of football where you hope your team can win. More often than not this club will crush us and keep crushing us but what can we do? We cannot control it. You support your team.
Up (wrong word maybe!) the Blades!