In a game littered with goals, chances and mistakes. It was a game that saw awful defending from both sides but one that United really ought to have had in the bag but yet again woeful goalkeeping and defending saw horrendous goals given away and another two points were simply chucked away.
The Blades began with an unchanged side and kept faith with 17 year old goalkeeper George Long whilst the visiting Grecians also had an unchanged side after their own recent winning run.
The game began in scrappy fashion but there were few chances at either end until a half chance for the visitors saw Archibald-Henville head over. United had a few moves of note and were keeping the ball well but hesitancy at the back almost saw a chance for Nardiello. United did not heed the warning and a woeful mistake saw Exeter take the lead. The ball was played forward and you would expect Long to come and deal with it but as Williams tried to hold off the attacker neither took control and NARDIELLO nipped in to round the young keeper and score easily. It was horrendous defending and a real stunner for the home side. Clarke tried to respond but shot wide and then after good work from McDonald and Phillips the ball was shepherded clear. Dunne’s shot was saved at the second attempt from Long and then unbelievably the away side went two goals up after a clever interchange of passes the ball was transferred to NOBLE who hit a shot from range. The shot took a slight deflection but it nestled into the top corner and it was 2-0 to Exeter.
United were all at sea and Sercombe almost made it three but Long saved scurrying across his goal and the crowd were starting to become impatient. Clarke nearly got in and then Phillips had a shot blocked as United suddenly finally found some urgency. The same man had a shot turned round the post from Krysiak and then controversy reigned when Quinn appeared to be butted by Golbourne off the ball but the referee did not see it and did not even caution the Exeter man. With half time approaching United finally got back into the game as Williams cross was fired goalwards from PHILLIPS and the ball took a touch off Archibald Henville and into the corner. United then could have been level not long after as Lowton’s dangerous cross found Cresswell but his headed effort was weak and easily saved from Krysiak.
After the break Cresswell was involved again but his header from Quinn’s free kick was over the top and then Clarke headed over after more good work from Phillips from the right hand side. United were now well on top and Krysiak made two excellent saves. Firstly Coles deflected the ball towards his own goal and he turned it away and then from a Collins downward header from the resultant corner he again dives low to his right to push it away. Evans came on for Cresswell and instantly was involved in a controversial incident. He got away from Archibald Henville who appeared to slip but he brought the United man down. It was touch and go whether it was inside or outside the box but the referee decided it was just outside the area. He also felt it was not a direct goalscoring opportunity and only gave the Exeter man a yellow card. Evans free kick was deflected wide and then soon after Lowton headed wide as United looked to turn the screw. The equaliser looked like it was coming and so it proved as a lovely move involving Phillips and then Williams saw the ball come over and CLARKE converted with an instinctive first time finish under the keeper. It had been coming and United continued to attack and it was not long before they were ahead. It came from a shot from Evans that was deflected wide for a corner and from the resultant spot kick; Maguire headed down and LOWTON managed to knock the ball home from close range. The comeback was complete it seemed and United now seemed in complete control.
Evans shot just wide and then Doyle and Porter came on for McDonald and Clarke. Exeter had offered very little in the second half but suddenly they had a leveller out of the blue. United actually had a corner but they tossed away possession and from a cross from the left the ball bounced invitingly into the path of O’FLYNN whose header wrong footed Long. There was a suspicion of offside but it was really poor defending from United again who let a cross come in all too easily and then saw two headers go in (akin to the first goal against Wednesday) before the ball went into the net.
It was a woeful goal to concede and it seemed as if United had thrown away a game again but they were undeterred and attacked again and went at Exeter. Maguire’s diagonal cross was knocked down by Evans and PHILLIPS drilled the ball into the corner and United were back ahead 4-3!
It seemed as if that would be that but unbelievably there was another goal in a matter of seconds. Straight from the kick off, Maguire dithered and then long dithered and DUNNE nipped in and from the angle clipped in a tidy finish to stun the Blades again. 4-4. Unbelievable. The referee accrued there would be another 4 minutes of stoppage time and it was difficult to know which way it may go. United looked like scoring every time they attacked but equally looked like conceding every time Exeter attacked. In the end the final whistle went with no further goals. An absorbing contest which the visitors would say they deserved a point for scoring four goals on the road. United really ought to have won the game but more hopeless defending and indiscipline meant they tossed away another winning position. Surely now manager Wilson has to address the goalkeeping and defensive positions that are chucking away goals week after week and threatening to undermine any kind of chance the Blades have at a top 6 position?
United – Where do I start? Came out lackadaisically at the off and seemed slow to the ball and lost most of the major battles early on. Exeter seemed quicker and more determined and we seemed to think we could coast it but they got amongst us and made us turn it over. We seemed so slow and whilst we played some nice tippy-tippy football I always thought we looked hesitant at the back. The first goal was dreadful with Williams at fault to some degree but Long mainly in the wrong (keeper has to come and get that or at least call and make a decision). The second goal was well made but again we were so slow to close down, akin to the MK Dons goal in the week and it seemed like we had blown it within half an hour. We finally started to play and show some interest for the final 15 minutes of the half and got a vital goal on the break. After the interval we looked well on top and the 2nd and 3rd goals were not a surprise. After this we needed a leader to take the game by the scruff of the neck and someone show some leadership but we seemed to panic (yet again) and it was not a major surprise when they scored even if it was their first attack of the second half; as we had started to give the ball away and defend deeper and deeper. We then scored again and you thought that was it but unbelievably we gave away another schoolboy goal. After this we could have lost another goal as easily as scored another.
United are clearly not good enough to be a promotion side or even be a consistent top 4-6 side at this level on current performances. Our defending in short; is diabolical. Simonsen was not good enough. Long is now clearly not good enough. So we need a new experienced keeper and fast. Both have made mistakes but Long today looked woefully out of his depth. However, in front of him we have the pedestrian and error ridden Collins who cannot command nor help his fellow lesser experienced defenders and then Maguire who today looked awful. We do not have a decent keeper nor centre half. The two centre backs have been lauded a lot of the season but today proved they are simply not god enough (neither of them). Exeter had barely scored a goal all season away from home and today they scored 4 and could have had more! Maguire really looked like a youth team player in the first team and is woefully inconsistent at the moment (played well on Tuesday). We desperately need a leader at the back and with Morgan probably some time away we may need to sign someone here too. These positions are costing us point and if we continue with the Simonsen/Long, Maguire/Collins axis we will finish middle of the league. That is a fact I am afraid. We really invite pressure, don’t get tight on men and invite shots/crosses. Lowton has been equally poor defensively and even Williams was really abject today (at least defensively although both did well going forward, especially second half). We do not have one defender who can simply defend. It was embarrassing watching ordinary (no offence to Exeter) players simply tear us to pieces when they go at us. We could have scored 10 and I felt we may have let 10 in. It was that bad.
Going forward we looked good but most of the good things came from Phillips and Clarke who look a notch above. Phillips was excellent today and showed good skill, direct running and really went at his opponent. Clarke was so –so first half but came good second half with clever interchange and some smart play off the ball. Cresswell was poor; Evans slightly better and Quinn was up and down. As for the midfield pairing, McDonald has drawn my ire in recent weeks but he was superb today, with a range of passing and control that was above and beyond what you would see at this level normally. He showed some strength and aggression too and I felt he was the best midfielder on the pitch. Montgomery alongside him was the opposite. Won a few tackles and blocks but his passing, control, vision and awareness was out of the bottom drawer. He could not do anything right in the main (although played one or two nice balls wide in the second half) and some of his telegraphed balls were frightening. He looked like he was not good enough against very ordinary league one opponents and that is worrying
The crowd were remarkably patient with him but even they lost it after he chucked away 3 or 4 aimless balls in the second half.
Overall, United were decent going forward (finally after they were 2-0 down) and looked like we could score whenever we attacked but at the back we were frightening. It was dreadful. They was no understanding, no organisation and no command at all. We really look an odd side at the moment who looks like they can score and create but what worries me is that the loan players are our biggest assets and when they go back we will be in trouble as the defence is that bad. I would love us to sign two new centre backs and a new goalkeeper but probably only one out of the 3 new signings we need will be made. We will probably have to hope it is a keeper at least and then inspire some confidence into the centre backs. In the week I said we lacked fitness and ability to keep the ball but I would throw in today the total lack of leadership. For us to come back and go 3-2, and then 4-3 up and never look like winning the game shows we do not have anyone in the side that can get their foot in and control things or at least failing that talk and tell people where to go and organise a semblance of a unit. When they scored the 4th it looked like they were facing a side on Graves Park on Sunday mornings. We really were all over the place and it was that bad it was embarrassing.
Exeter – Credit to them. They scored 4 goals away from home, attacked us and never sat back all game save for a spell after half time. They scored some decent goals (granted many given on a plate) but played some decent football and closed us down all over the field. They had some sharp attackers like Nardiello and played some neat moves. After we made it 1-2 they did panic and you felt we would score more goals as it proved. They had the run of the decisions with the Quinn head butt and then the pull down of Evans. They could easily have had 2 red cards given against them but buoyed by these decisions they fought back twice from going behind and credit to them for their spirit and fight. We will play far worse teams this year (as we have proved) and they are confident at the moment and feel they can get results wherever and whoever they play as proved today. They maybe would feel disappointed to throw away a 2 goal lead but when they have come back twice in the last 10 minutes it will still almost feel like a win.
Long 3/10 – He had a nightmare. He was at fault for the first goal making an almighty rick as he hesitated, then came, then missed everything and just basically did nothing to command the situation despite having everything in front of him and with Williams trying to shield the ball let Nardiello walk the ball round him and into an empty net. After this he really looked uncertain and dithered on anything that came near him. The second goal took a slight deflection and he had little chance but there were countless other times when he should have come out and claimed the ball but stayed on his line or got into bad positions. The third goal was poor defending all around but Long got into a bad position a la Simonsen; neither coming for the cross nor getting into position to save the header. The fourth saw Maguire get in a bad position and Long was exposed and the ball was sent beyond him. Another goal the keeper won’t be happy with. He had a terrible game and although he was left exposed by bad defending, he really did not cover himself in glory. He is clearly not ready/nor good enough to be a first team regular yet and with Simonsen’s awful form we have to sign an experienced replacement and fast. Neither of our keepers are good enough. Simonsen will probably be brought back in next week unless he signs a replacement this week.
Lowton 6/10 – A real mixed bag. Going forward he was excellent, linking well with Phillips and looking a real threat. He got some good crosses in, linked well and looked a competent player. Scored a well taken goal that put us 3-2 in front and looked to take the game to the opposition. Defensively he was really poor and left acres of space as well as being too slow to react to any danger. Numerous attacks came down his side and he seems too slow and way too lackadaisical to react to danger. It seems as if teams know he is so poor defensively and have now seemed to play on his weaknesses. He needs to start showing he can play both ways or we will continue to give up chances and goals.
Williams 5/10 – Thought he had an awful first half; his worst 45 minutes in a red and white shirt. He was all over the place and at blame a little for the first goal as he did not block his man and maybe should have put his foot through it. He made a number of other errors and generally seemed not at the races. He improved a great deal after the break and made the second goal, was first to the ball and sharper in all facets of the game. He still gave is winger too much time but he at least started to won some tackles and made his man go the other way. Like most of his fellow defenders though he must realise he has to be tighter and concentrate more.
Maguire 4/10 – As you expect of a youngster he is very inconsistent. He was excellent in the week after making a poor mistake at Orient the previous game but today he was pretty dire. Sure he made the 4th with his predictable diagonal ball but his basic defending was atrocious. He lost quite a few headers/clearances but more than this he was so hesitant with most balls played in his general direction. On the second he played another long ball and then was badly out of position when they scored. He then was out of position again when they scored the 3rd and was at fault in some way for the 4th for awful positioning and inability to track the man. He is some way off being a solid player, even at this level and seems to believe his own hype at times. He has failed most of the season to put back to back solid defensive games together and his lack of pace, positional awareness and inability to do the basics means he is some way short of even being a solid league one defender. He does not look like he is going to the top player everyone thought at the moment which saddens me and at the moment I would take just average but he is struggling to be even that at the moment.
Collins 5/10 – Like Maguire he looked all at sea at times and you felt every time Exeter attacked there could be a goal. He did not really command and lost a number of headers to opponents much smaller. Sure he did not make any glaring errors that led to goals but he still was pretty poor most of the game. He was perennially back tracking and when the ball came to him all he could do was just kick it out. Why he cannot kick it out further up the field rather than kick it out at a 90 degrees angle is beyond me? Why he cannot kick it out further up the field or pull clearances further I do not know. Maybe he is not capable or maybe he is just not good enough.
McDonald 7.5/10 – United’s best player and the only one who looked like keeping the ball. He got it down and passed it short and long. Showed better strength today and overall looked the most capable player on either side of making a pass; to lead to a chance or goal. He really did stand out and showed his touch, vision and ability to switch the play left to right and vice versa. Was tiring and rightly came off but he has set his standard today after some so-so weeks. Needs to play like that every week.
Montgomery 4/10 – Truly dire. Scrapped and dogged; winning a tackle here and there but overall his contribution was really poor. His passing was dreadful. He must have given away at least 5 or 6 awful telegraphed passes when a simple ball was on and seemed incapable of finding a red and white shirt for much of the game. Against a team that is in the lower reaches of this division; you would expect senior players to excel and stand out. Montgomery unfortunately stood out but for the wrong reasons. Also, as a captain and experienced leader I would expect him to lead and get us disciplined and organised. For much of the last 10 minutes we were all over the place and had no discipline or shape whatsoever. As captain he has to do more to get the team disciplined and organised and he seemed to say nothing and the team looked completely rudderless.
Quinn 6/10 – Another mixed performance. Some nice touches, passes and driven balls but some awful giveaways and moments where he basically coasted through the match. At times his poor touch and over play often gave the ball away and left them on the attack but at others his forward thinking and clever runs gave us the impetus. He is nowhere near the standard he set earlier in the season and whilst still looks a class above at times; this positive play is all too infrequent.
Phillips 7.5/10 – Thought he was out best attacking player and whilst at times he showed the typical winger trait of having his head down and not looking up; he caused problems all afternoon. Scored two goals; albeit the first was deflected and involved in most of our better moves all game. He attacked his full back all game and showed pace, skill and trickery and linked well with his teammates. Should have been the match winner expect for more dreadful defending. He will almost certainly be recalled such is his form where he is contributing to goals and chances week in, week out.
Cresswell 5/10 – Thought he was a passenger much of the first half and merely tried in vain to win free kicks by either going to ground or making out he was held. He seems so slow these days and well off the pace. He missed a bad chance just before he break but did little else all game and his main ploy seemed to be playing for fouls which the referee saw through rather easily. Subbed (again) and to me he is a player that is right on the final stages of his career and is treading water every single week.
Clarke 7/10 – Thought like most of his teammates he was poor first half and slow to the ball and not in the game. He improved massively after the break, becoming more determined, quicker to it and generally woke up. Scored a well taken equaliser and was involved in many of our better attacks. Linked well and showed his movement and creativity. He will be missed when he returns to Blackpool in a few weeks.
Evans – Came on and made the fourth goal with a nice knock down. Not quite sure why he is not starting at the moment as Cresswell/Porter are not good enough and Clarke needs a partner that will link with him and contribute. When he comes on he seems to offer more than the two aforementioned. Maybe he does not run around like a nutter but when the ball is played into him he generally holds it up and brings others into play. He surely has to start in weeks to come. He is not great but is better than anything else we have.
Doyle – Brought on to try and protect the lead. We let in 2 goals after he came on! No real blame to him but he does not exactly do his job of midfield/defensive enforcer/protector. He is a bit part player who is neither here or there in what he offers.
Porter – Brought on at the end to try as we tried to hold onto the lead. He won a few headers and flick ons and actually contributed as we did create more chances in the last few minutes.
Officials – The referee did not give us much all game and 2 of the big decisions went against us. The headbutt into Quinn’s chest could easily have been a red card (to be fair to the ref and the linesman they both missed it) and then the foul on Evans could also easily have been a red card as it seemed as if he was the last man. There were numerous other odd decisions both ways to be fair and he seemed woefully inconsistent; sometimes giving nothing fouls and then others letting blatant things go. None of the goals were controversial and all 4 were rightly allowed with no offside decisions or fouls in the lead up. However, as I have said outside of this he was very up and down and at times you did not know what he would give/or not give next.
Crowd/Atmosphere – A flat atmosphere from the home fans for much of the game despite our comeback and 4 goals. I thought for such a small following their fans were tremendous and sang their hearts out all game. We seemed stunned as we went behind, then found our voice as we came back but then seemed unable to know what to do as we tossed away goal after goal and at the end their was the expected smattering of boos as we had coughed up 4 goals at home to a struggling side and were unable to win the game giving up leads twice. Another poor crowd in numbers (just over 17,000+) despite the quid a kid offers. Shows that all those (including myself) saying we would get better crowds with offers and kids deals are probably wrong and that it does not matter what the club do we are resigned to 15-17,000 crowds most of the season.