Following on from their opening day victory at Oldham and the penalty shoot out win at Hartlepool; the Blades were able to register another clean sheet and another victory. As they had a week previously United turned a scrappy contest in their favour by upping the tempo after the break. Once again they scored immediately after the interval; thanks to a deflected effort from Jordan Slew and then as they had last week sealed matters with a close range finish from Richard Cresswell. United were not dominant and only played in patches but against similarly poor opposition; United did what they had to and coasted to a relatively easy three points in the end.
United made 3 changes from the opening day with new signing Kevin McDonald coming in for Michael Doyle and then injury victims Ryan Flynn and Chris Porter replaced by youngsters Nathaniel Mendez-Laing and Jordan Slew. Along with Harry Maguire, United boasted three teenagers in their starting eleven. Brentford had also begun the season with an opening day win and had a good following behind goalkeeper Richard Lee’s goal.
The contest began with McDonald imposing himself early winning two tackles to set United on the attack. Quinn tried to get on the ball as he had last week but his first two attempts to create opportunities saw his balls misplaced. United’s first chance came when Slew sprinted down the left hand side but selfishly shot badly wide with players well placed in the box. United tried to play in Cresswell but the high balls were proving easy for the Brentford defence as the game was played in the middle section of the field for much of the opening stages. United saw an unexpected source of another half chance when Collins strode out of the back and tried to play in Cresswell but the ball was hacked clear at the final moment with the striker shaping to shoot. Brentford had an opening when Jean Francois switched off to give the chance of a cross and Alexander headed over. Quinn then showed his ability when he brought down a difficult ball and headed inside before shooting at Lee. United had shaded things but had only had a few openings and at times were too hasty resulting in them coughing up possession. Indeed, Brentford had maybe the best chance of the game just on the half hour mark; when poor marking from the home side left McGinn in space but just inside the box he fired narrowly wide of Simonsen’s left hand post with the fans on the Kop holding their breath. United tried to recover from this let off when Slew finally showed some life and had a powerful shot saved by Lee. The subsequent rebound ricocheted between Quinn and Cresswell but neither could convert despite the Brentford defence being all at sea. Half time came soon after with polite applause being perhaps over generous for a poor game of football.
Despite being very much in the contest, Bees’ manager Rosler shuffled his pack at the break bringing on MacDonald and Saunders for McGinn and Donaldson as he sought to offer more attacking options. However his plans to try and force United onto the back foot were in tatters after only 4 minutes as United took the lead. Quinn played the ball deep into the box and Cresswell used all his experience to hold the ball up and tee up SLEW whose firm shot was deflected past the despairing dive of Lee. It was the youngster’s third goal for the club and once again showed his knack for opportunism.
United now sensed they could really take over the game and came again. Mendez-Laing beat his man twice down the right flank and Lowton also was getting forward at every opportunity. A fierce goal bound shot from left back Jean Francois smashed into Osbourne grounding the defender and then soon after Collins headed over from a corner. United were now in complete control and Lowton surged forward to control and expertly convert but the referee adjudged he had handled the ball in bringing it down. Another move involving the influential McDonald and Mendez Laing nearly led to a chance for Cresswell but the ball was cleared. Brentford had offered little and a rare break out for them saw a tame effort from Douglas straight at Simonsen. United were back on the attack and Quinn exchanged passed with Jean Francois before earning two successive corners.
United made a double change of their own with goalscorer Slew being replaced by Bogdanovic and Williamson coming on for Mendez-Laing. McDonald continued to get on the ball at every opportunity and he started the move that led to Williamson feeding it through for Lowton whose low drilled cross was converted from close range by CRESSWELL. It was another opportunistic finish by the Bridlington born striker and gave United the comfort zone with only 20 minutes remaining. Not long after a rare flash point saw goalscorer Cresswell and Osbourne clash after a foul by the Brentford man. They wrestled on the turf and both raised their hands but the referee decided to give them both yellow cards rather than an early exit. The final stages of the game saw Brentford mount a couple of raids but often a poor final ball or lack of conviction meant the most danger they put on the home side was winning two late corners that came to nothing. United kept possession without creating any more real chances and saw out the game comfortably. United fans saluted another victory and another clean sheet in a professional if not scintillating performance against another poor opponent.
United – An odd game that at times resembled a pre season friendly or practice game. It did not seem like the game as a contest ever really got going and it seemed really slow paced for the most part. Both teams chucked possession away easily and neither team had any real quality in the areas that mattered until United finally lifted things after the break. We had far more of the ball (63%), more chances and more corners (6-2) and deserved the win but it took till the second half for us to get full control.
It was a performance where United did just enough to win. Like last week they were dragged into a scrappy contest with few chances for either side in the first half. United once again played too much long stuff and could not get the wide men or strikers into the game. We had far more possession (save for a ten minute spell towards the end of the half – when Brentford had one good chance) but did little with it and often gave it away when we entered the last third or went long too early.
United fans remained patient though and as at Oldham, United came out and upped it 20-30% in the second half and got the wide men on the ball, got more balls into the box, saw full backs overlapping and became a threat. We got the vital breakthrough and after this controlled the game without dominating or creating tons of chances. I never felt they were that dangerous but of course at 1-0 you always need a second goal and when that came; the game was over completely. The style of football was mixed again with too much long stuff mixed with a few attempts to get it down (Simonsen trying to throw it out) but often things did not come off due to poor technique or lack of pace.
We did have a good spell in the early stages of the second half with Lowton, Mendez Laing being influential to what we did but we did not create a plethora of chances but enough to win the game. I thought we always controlled midfield with McDonald being excellent on his debut. We do need more creativity, pace and threats going forward but two clean sheets is excellent and considering the lack of pace/mobility at the back (centre backs) we have given very few chances away (Simonsen barely had a save to make in the first two games).
I have not been impressed at all with either of the first two opponents and figure there must be much harder teams we will face. The fact that United have played quite average in both game and won so comfortably is promising if we can improve but I do temper any enthusiasm by repeating how poor both teams have been that we have faced. United will have to do better against some of the other teams we will play.
Brentford – Like Oldham another relatively poor side. I would say they were slightly better than the Latics as at least they had a bit of a go first half and did not just shut up shop as I feared they may. United were better early on and they struggled to get into the game but as the first half went on they had a good spell and few decent moves. They had a couple of chances; a header just over and then a really good chance when McGinn shot just wide. If he had scored here then the game could have been different of course. They were very much in the game and whilst both teams had not been great; they were probably happy with the scrappy contest and would have took a point before the start. I found it surprising that Rosler changed the front two at half time as whilst they had not had many chances or been that threatening they were, as I say, in the game and surely did not need to make so many changes. Maybe he felt our lack of pace down the middle could be exploited as they did take off two bigger players for two smaller, more mobile players. Like last week United took control though and penned them in for the early parts of the second half. Brentford could not get out and we had all the possession. We scored early on and this seemed to deflate them. They barely had an opportunity and whilst they had a lot of the ball in their half they looked clueless when they got into the United half and often lost possession or ran out of ideas. United still needed the second goal and when this went on they seemed to give up. Much like Oldham last week they had a few half chances at the end but the game was pretty much over and I think they knew it from the moment the second went in. Indeed you actually never felt they would get back in the game even after the first goal.
Appointing Rosler is a brave move as although he has managed in Norway; he has no English league experience. It seemed very harsh to relieve Andy Scott of his duties last year as he had got them up and whilst the caretaker manager steadied the ship and they had a creditable finish last year; I do feel Scott was removed too early as he had shown real promise. Maybe as an outsider I don’t know the full story. As for the players they have a couple of experienced players at this level who have done well in Jonathan Douglas, Gary Alexander and Clayton Donaldson but no one in particular stood out. The defence looked very shaky in the second half and both full backs looked easy to get at (the right back looked like he had put his boots on the wrong feet) and they had little in the way of attacking threat. On that evidence they may struggle but they may be able to get enough points at home to see them away from the danger area.
Simonsen 7/10 – Had very little to do. Watched one header go off target and then was probably beaten by an effort that went just wide which was Brentford’s best chance. Saved a few comfortable efforts but nothing particularly difficult. His distribution was good in that he always tried to get the ball out quickly and tried to throw/bowl it out rather than always kicking it.
Lowton 7/10 – Thought that in the first half he gave his winger a little too much time and a couple of times he was caught sleeping as crosses came over to the back stick. He did not get forward that much either with Mendez Laing not in the game. In the second half it was a completely different story and he was tight on his man, won tackles, headers and made clearances. He also got forward and was one of our main threats as he overlapped, supported and generally showed he wanted to make things happen. Nearly scored a goal (ruled out for handball) and also made the second goal when he got forward and supplied the cross. Really growing as a footballer and seems to be getting better each game he plays. My fear is despite signing the new contract that he definitely can play at a much higher level than this.
Maguire 7/10 – Another solid game defensively with few mistakes and some good interceptions and tackles. He did try and play the ‘hollywood’ ball too often at times and needs to play it simple more. The long 50/60 yard diagonal will not always work and he needs to mix it up more for me.
Collins 6.5/10 – He began the game well and won headers and even strode out of defence on a few occasions. He actually put a few decent balls out and tried to keep possession by coming out with the ball. However, a few wretched slices and hacks quickly saw the crowd groan and a couple of awful punts into touch second half saw him sadly reverting to type. Defensively he did ok today against poor opposition (same as last week) but I fear when he faces some better/quicker players.
Jean Francois Lecsinel 7/10 – Impressed with his athleticism, play on the ball and overall defending. I liked the fact he actually tackles his man and gets close. He also does not wait for the ball and attacks it. Once again he did overplay a few times which nearly put us in problems and need to ensure he does not take too many touches in the wrong areas. However I have liked what I have seen of him so far and he is a massive improvement on the players who have played there in recent seasons.
McDonald 8/10 – Thought he was the best player on the pitch. He began the game making one or two good tackles and showed his strength to muscle a few Brentford players off the ball. His touch on the ball was good and he has a nice range of passing; short and long. He always wanted to get on the football and he also showed he could sit in front of the defence but get forward and support too. Tired towards the end which was understandable but he gave us something we have not really had in midfield for a while; namely composure on the ball and also also height (seems around 6’ 2/3’’) and physique. I will wait till he has played more games (as less than favourable reports from Notts Country/Scunthorpe fans when he was on loan there are slightly worrying) but today was an impressive debut and you could see why Wilson was so desperate to sign him.
Montgomery 6.5/10 – A decent-ish game where he won tackles and broke up a lot of play; whilst covering a lot of ground. His passing was again mixed with a few hospital balls and some misplaced efforts but he kept going as usual and helped us wrestle control of the centre of midfield after the break when we had struggled towards the end of the first half. I do seem to write the same things about him most weeks but often his performances are very similar and you get the same out of him every week. On the whole that is far more positives than negatives and at this level he will be a massive asset if he remains.
Quinn 6.5/10 – A strange game as whilst I thought Quinn was poor today in a lot of ways but he was still always involved and still always looking to get on the ball and make things happen. Whilst last week a lot of things went right for him; today things did not quite happen. Yet, he still got in great positions and always seemed to be around the action. His touch, passing and link play was poor today though and his set plays/delivery was really off (I cannot a remember a good one all afternoon). Brentford actually put two men on him at times and he seemed to drift across the pitch a lot to try and create space but defensively this caused problems leaving Jean Francois.
Cresswell 7/10 – Worked really hard all afternoon and despite his obvious lack of real quality and pace; he never stopped and after not getting much out of the defence in the first half he actually wore them down over the course of the contest and second half he won his contest. He held the ball up for Slew’s goal and then of course got in the right area to finish the second goal. He never stopped all game and once again whilst he really should have gone on the end of a few decent balls (just not quick enough to get there) he did show his professionalism by covering for midfielders and defenders a lot when they went forward. Will probably get a lot of goals at this level just for his desire and ability to get in the right areas. Thought he maybe could have got a few more free kicks but also he was rightly penalised one a few occasions for ‘making a back’ on his opponent (which seems to be his favoured ploy of his in an attempt to win a free kick rather than jumping straight up).
Mendez Laing 6/10 – In the first half he did next to nothing and was not involved at all. He barely got on the ball and when he did he came inside a lot or lost possession. His touch was not there and he did not see enough of the ball. In the second half he had obviously been spoken to by Wilson and was a different player. For the first 15 minutes he was one of our chief threats as he beat his full back on at least three occasions and showed his trickery, footwork and pace (although a step over 4 times in 10 seconds is a little unnecessary!). He only had a burst of good play but it helped us to one or two chances and saw us carry more of a threat. He went off after
Slew 6/10 – Thought he was average today even though he scored. He had one good run down the left hand side in the first half but selfishly pulled his shot badly wide and then one effort saved by Lee which was straight at him. He has raw ability and real pace but has a lot to do in other parts of his game. He never seemed to get in front of his man to hold the ball up and Wilson seemed exasperated that he would not chase back or come back and defend (from the front). Wilson must have spoke to him 4 or 5 times in the first half about different things and it is clear he is a long way from being a first team regular. Second half he got in the right area to strike for the goal (big deflection but it still may have been goalbound) but then Wilson replaced him. Clearly he is a talent but I think his agent got ahead of himself in the summer and he is nowhere near ready for a higher level. His first job is to become a professional footballer and be effective at this level. At the moment I think it will be a season where he plays games here and there and will contribute but he won’t be a regular yet. Still he scored today and as a striker that is his job so maybe I am being too critical.
Williamson – Showed some nice touches and passes and clearly he has the technique that should see him easily starting and starring at this level but he is another that thinks he is better than he is and needs to get in the team and show a steely resolve to stay there (either to help us and/or to earn himself a move). I have no doubt he can play Championship but his injury record/lack of discipline means he need to have a long spell of games in which he starts and excels in.
Bogdanovic – Did next to nothing when he came on. Stroked a few lazy balls around the field and generally strolled around like it was a game in the park. I know he is not the type of player to run around like crazy but when you come on for a limited time you would think he would show more passion and determination to get involved or to chase players down. He will remain as a substitute and will not impress any suitors or Wilson with the way he has played (albeit in cameos) the first two games.
Officials – David Webb. It was a nothing game and he had nothing of note to really make decisions on all game other than Cresswell and the centre halves having somewhat of a running battle which nearly culminated with him and Osbourne being sent off. For what it is worth I think the ref got it right and a yellow was right for both as whilst both raised their hands it did seem a bit of handbags. The ref maybe was wrong to not give Quinn an advantage when he was fouled going forward in the second half and he got up and tried to carry on. However, I can’t remember many decisions he got wrong and it seemed such an innocuous game on the whole.
Crowd/Atmosphere – 17,769. People were saying they were surprised how few were there and I did see many on message boards predicting much bigger crowds in the week. I was not surprised at all. If we only sold 11-11,500 season tickets and have very few offers for non season ticket holders or match by match customers then they are not going to be more than a couple of thousand each home game extra paying fans. Brentford actually brought around a 1,000 fans too and they had a decent and fairly noisy following. I think United will average around 15 – 18,000 all season although if they do well this figure of course could rise. I felt the crowd was fairly quiet today but they were patient and appreciative and less critical of mistakes today (helped by the fact quite a few young players started). They gave Wilson a warm welcome when he was introduced (it was hardly vociferous and more a polite round of applause but I heard no boos whatsoever which I feared from some idiots).