Whilst it was another 1-0 victory and another clean sheet, the Blades will have been disappointed not to have pressed home their numerical advantage with more goals as they ended up rather limping home in the end. Indeed it took another superb reaction save from teenager George Long to ensure they took all three points. The goal came from leading scorer Nick Blackman from the penalty spot after a professional foul was committed from Walsall defender Dean Holden on Dave Kitson leading to the foul and an obvious red card.
United named an unchanged side from the win at Preston with Dave Kitson shaking off a virus and the centre back pairing of Matt Hill and Harry Maguire continuing to keep the now fit again Neill Collins out of the side.
Walsall had former Blade Andy Taylor at left back as they won the toss and turned the Blades round forcing them to kick towards the Kop in the first half.
United began well with some neat and tidy football and forced a few early throws and corners that ultimately came to nothing. However, after a promising attack Walsall had looked to see of the danger before reckless pass from Baxendale put Kitson in the clear. As the frontman shaped to shoot Holden chopped him down and it was a clear penalty kick. The red card that followed was also obvious as the defender was clearly the last man and denied a clear goalscoring opportunity. After Holden had trudged down the tunnel, leading scorer BLACKMAN put the ball on the spot. He repeated his routine from previous penalty kicks and stuttered in his run up sending the keeper the wrong way before rolling the ball into the corner.
After the goal Walsall manager Smith had to rearrange his defence and had to bring off Baxendale for Downing with the incoming player going into the centre of defence to take the place off the departed Holden.
United looked to press home their advantage and nice work from Kitson led to a half chance for Blackman. McAllister then nearly headed into the path of the goalscorer before Walsall cleared. At the other end McDonald’s under hit back pass nearly put United in trouble but Long was quick to react to clear before Grigg got on the end of it. The striker had to receive treatment after the clearance but there was never any danger of it being deemed a foul as Long as got to the ball first and merely caught Grigg after he cleared the ball and was completely innocuous.
United had seen most of the ball but had struggled to create much and their sloppiness in possession was nearly punished as Walsall broke after a United free kick had been cleared. Cuvelier beat Williams with some lively skill and pulled back to Grigg but his low shot was superbly saved by Long who showed great reactions for the second game running. The young keeper got up and helped deny Paterson on the rebound too.
United had a chance just before half time but as Kitson headed goalwards he was adjudged to have pushed the centre back. McMahon then had a fierce shot over the bar. Not long after the half time whistle went. United had been distinctly average but were in front and had an advantage.
The second half began in much the same vain as the first with United controlling the ball but struggling to make much headway with poor play in the final third and some awful crosses seeing Walsall cope quite easily. Williams sliced badly wide and McDonald’s shot lacked power. Indeed the first real chance came when the visitors broke again and Cuvelier broke away but pulled his shot wide as the United defence looked all at sea.
McAllister had not really been in the game and was replaced by John Cofie who went straight out to the wide right hand side of the pitch.
Miller got his chance to warm applause from the crowd who wanted a lift as goalscorer Blackman departed. He soon had a chance as he broke the offside trap but Darlow saved well palming the striker’s lobbed finish wide. Kitson was booked for persistent offending and soon after he departed for Porter as United tried to hold the ball up for the closing stages. Bowerman came on for Walsall who tried to put another man up top but the game had been a poor one and there were few chances at either end as the home side seemed to be settling for what they had whilst the visitors although in the game were hardly throwing the kitchen sink at the Blades as the ten men started to tire. Miller had another few half chances showing his energy late on and Butler then went up for Walsall as the game entered the final four minutes of stoppage time. After the events of the Oldham game United will have been relieved to have got the ball in the corner and waste the final few minutes with little problems even though the final whistle was greeted by relief rather than glee from most of the home crowd.
United – We were awful against Oldham and other than winning the game tonight there was little to distinguish between the two performances. We began well and seemed to be playing ok 11 v 11. We got in front again as we did in that game but then oddly against 10 seemed to stop playing in the same way we had. Once again we failed to press home our advantage and struggled to create many chances all game. We had loads of possession and knocked it about across the back and in midfield but as soon as we got into the final third we looked absolutely clueless. The passing was poor, the link up play non-existent and the final ball hopeless. We actually never really looked like scoring. Sure we won and we kept a clean sheet but we have to better than that if we are serious about getting out of this division. Many may point to the long unbeaten run but it masks some really poor performances and let us be honest if we do not make improvements we are going to hit a bad spell (tough games v Pompey, Swindon, Stevenage and MK Dons coming up) and start to fall down a very tight league. The performances have been poorer than last season overall albeit with inferior personnel. I suppose the division is not as strong and we have been solid at the back (Long making 2 great saves in last 2 games but little other chances for opponents) and look well organised and resolute.
We have no real out and outpace or trickery out wide and although Blackman and Kitson have done ok we do not look like blowing teams away up top in the same way as we did last season (Evans a different league). The full backs don’t get forward and Doyle and McDonald are a long way off last years standard. To be affair the central defence and keeper (Howard or Long) have been more solid this year and we look a lot tighter (1-0’s aplenty confirm this). Williams and Hill have been 2 of our best players in recent weeks. That says it all.
The football on the whole is pretty poor this season and we look slow and unadventurous. I did not mind us keeping the ball and knocking it about (especially against 10 men) but we still looked slow and ponderous and at times needed to quicken the pace when we got in their half. Players do not move out of their ‘areas’ and we seem to play way too many square or backward balls. It was really not good enough to barely have a shot on goal against 10 men and a relatively ordinary side at that. McAllister and Flynn were really poor and Cofie not much better. McDonald looks like he is just going through the motions at time. I feel Miller looks sharp in the limited time he had had and deserves a start in some area of the field. I may sound incredibly negative when we are what 14 games unbeaten but it was pretty dire tonight and we have to do much better if we are serious about finishing in the top two.
Next week will be a far tougher test with many ex Blades coming back and even though Pompey have been hit and miss you get the feeling it will be much harder than tonight. We have a week off now to get everyone fresh and at it and hopefully in front of the cameras we can finally come out give a convincing performance at the Lane as there had hardly been one this season.
Walsall – Seen bits and pieces of them this season and they have definitely played some good football, getting it down and passing it and surprised some teams. Tonight they actually were slow out of the blocks and even before the red card were sitting quite deep. After they went down to ten men and went behind they seemed shell shocked initially and of course had to reorganise with changes on and off the field. They did settle down and finally came into it and had the good chance that easily could have levelled it.
They did have to concede a lot of possession but defended well and restricted us to any real chances. They probably did not deserve a draw but if they had got it; like Oldham you would not have been surprised if they had nicked a draw. They did not pile men forward and of course were caught between not throwing men forward and losing more goals and keeping it tight to have a chance of getting something. They did not disgrace themselves and were well in the game despite creating few chances after the break (one run and shot that flashed wide was about it). Credit to them for plugging away and taking the game right to the end. Cannot have been easy with 10 for long and they worked really hard and Holden really cost them any chance of really making it a proper game conceding a goal/penalty in one fell swoop. Hard to probably assess them with the numerical disadvantage they had all game. As for players I felt Chambers worked hard in the middle, butler defended well against Kitson and Blackman and Cuvelier showed some nice touches. They had little up front but had to play essentially 1 up top for the most part. Former Blade Andy Taylor was distinctly average but was put under little pressure from either player he was up against.
Long 7.5/10 – He did not have that much to do in the game save for one shot flashing past him in the second half and a few routine catches but the one real chance Walsall had he made a brilliant reaction save to push it away and then got up to ensure the rebound was not converted. Now made 3 or 4 outstanding saves in the last 3 games and if he carries on then the scouts will be taking note very quickly.
Hill 7.5/10 – Continued his excellent form. Thought he was probably our best player again (of a bad bunch). He defended very well all game, winning headers and making clearances and interceptions. He has been very consistent and at the moment he is probably one of the first names on the teamsheet and it is hard to make a case for Collins to come back in. Never thought I would say that!
McMahon 5.5/10 – Another so – so performance. His touch and passing was inconsistent and he lumped the ball forward way too much and often he is wasteful in possession. I have said it in many other reports but he has really disappointed me since he signed. He has not even done the basics very well and defensively he makes mistakes and in possession he is very sloppy.
Maguire 6/10 – Thought he had an ordinary game and at times was quite sloppy. In fact his touch, concentration and passing under little to no pressure was not really right all game. Too many times he just lumped it or played it diagonally. He also was not assured when getting the ball and seemed to play a lot of loose passes.
Williams 7/10 – He was alright for the most part and one of our better players. Not spectacular and did little of note going forward but he defended ok and I cannot recall many bad mistakes or really poor passes. Sure he had a skewed shot and a cross that was over hit but he kept to his limitations and did not try and do anything too silly. As a defender he did what he had to and others in front let him down although got beat badly once when they nearly scored.
Flynn 5/10 – Not the best to say the least. His touch was ok in general play and he always gets it down and brings others into play but the number of times he had the ball one on one and he bottled even trying to go at his man. Seems to lack any kind of conviction he can beat his man. His corners and set plays were utterly appalling. He could not beat the first man and failed to get it more than 2 feet off the ground on 4 or 5 occasions. He then hit one straight over the top so conscious he was to not to hit the first man again. Not a good night overall like many others.
McDonald 5.5/10 – Another who is not hitting the heights of last season despite the unbeaten run. His passing is a real mixed bag and at times he still looks off the pace. Very slow to react to things and seems to think he has all the time in the world when in reality he needs to be stronger and quicker. His ability is better than nearly all of the other players in the division but at times he seems to have been coasting this season
Doyle 6/10 – Another who has had better nights. We had extra numbers in the middle of the field but at times it did not look like this. He broke play up ok but his passing to was mixed and we never really dictated the play like we should have done.
McAllister 4/10 – Cannot remember anything he did really. He did make one good header across the box that no one got on the end of but in general play he looks like a fish out of water. Clearly not a winger but even then he should try and exert himself more but the games just pass him by. Made it into the second half but could have been given the hook at half time.
Blackman 6.5/10 – Thought he did work hard and tried to chase the ball down but nothing really came off for him and the ball just keep ricocheting around. Just never really totally clicked for him and Kitson. He was not the worse player but had few chances on goal or even created anything (although had little service). Takes a good penalty even if at some stage the keeper will just stand up and make him look daft!
Kitson 6.5/10 – Like Blackman he did try and get hold of the ball and work across the front line but the ball never quite stuck. Still showed a few neat touches and you always felt like if we did anything it would come through him. Was quick to react to bad back pass to win the penalty. Committed numerous fouls before he was finally rightly booked.
Cofie – Brought on for McAllister to try and give us another outlet but as the game continued to be frustrating he never really got into it. The ball bounced off him in the same way it did many of the other players. Not sure how he fits in as we have 4 or 5 strikers in front of him (even Porter and Cresswell) and I don’t think he is a winger.
Porter - Held the ball up a few times and made a few flicks ons with his aerial strength that led to a few half chances to Miller.
Miller – Looked lively as he played on the shoulders of the defence. Had a few half chances with his quick feet as he linked up with Porter well. I would consider playing him on the right instead of McAllister as surely at home Miller can offer more?
Officials – The referee (George Eltringham) had a relatively easy game to officiate. He probably should have booked one of theirs for a poor, late tackle earlier in the game but chose to let it go. After this the sending off and penalty were easy decisions and nobody from Walsall complained. He rightly booked Kitson for persistent fouling and I cannot remember many other decisions that were particularly bad by the referee. I do think he was not helped by the linesman who basically never made a decision all night long. They may as well have been sat with me. The one on the South Stand side in particular in the first half seemed unable to make any decisions at all as he just kept shrugging his shoulders instead of making any decisions!
Crowd – Very quiet atmosphere. Walsall brought maybe 200 fans and it was a really flat crowd throughout. There was definite frustration as many expected we would score 3 or 4 goals after the penalty but it never really happened. As the game went on you could feel the fear as many felt instead of going on and winning comfortably, we could actually chuck away another 2 points. In the end we dominated possession but the crowd were right to be frustrated as we created little to nothing. There were even some boos at the end. That may be harsh but 75 minutes v 10 men and to barely have a shot of note on goal or even create any chances is poor really. The overall entertainment level was sorely lacking and fans could not say they got much value for money. I suppose a win is a win but performances like that and the crowds will dip even lower than the 15,744 of tonight.