It was a better performance from the Blades yet again and the effort and hear cannot be faulted but despite this it was a similar ending to many of the games this season and yet another defeat. Once again United players and fans alike blamed officials for their latest loss but the reality is two more sloppy goals were conceded and their inability to score goals at one end and stop them at the other end means that it is difficult to see where the next victory is coming from despite the improvements in application and tempo.
United began with a relatively attacking line up with Cresswell and Ward down the flanks supplanting second time debutant Marcus Bent and Evans up front. There were home debuts for Mattock and Lowry. Norwich began the game well with Holt’s aerial presence causing problems. Lowry did well to clear twice from the big front man showing his no nonsense approach and Mattock also showed well in the early stages. Holt had one header off target before Ward was off target for United at the other end. United began to get a hold of the game with a series of biting tackles from Montgomery and Quinn leading to the Blades getting the ball forward. Bent was showing his leadership qualities up front and combined well with Evans to give united territory and opportunities to test Ruddy. Evans was off target with a volleyed effort and then Ward again was able to get a shot away but it was a weak effort saved by Ruddy.
United were quicker to the ball and the crowd were appreciative of their efforts. The best chance came when after Ward’s free kick fell to Evans; the Welsh striker’s low shot was turned away by the feet of the Norwich keeper. Quinn was then brought down but Evans shot was wide of Ruddy’s left hand post. Cresswell ought to have done better when he headed over when well placed from another corner. United ought to have led but had spurned the chances they had created and it seemed Norwich were aware of this as they came back into the game just before the break. They forced a spell of corners and then won a free kick when Lowry was adjudged to have brought down Martin. The same man hit the set piece but it hit the top of Simonsen’s crossbar and it was a fortunate let off for the Blades who would have been mightily unlucky to have gone in behind.
The second half began with Cresswell’s shot over the bar and then Holt tested Simonsen as the game became more of an even contest. City were picking up more of the loose balls and forcing united further back. From one such opening the ball was turned forward and Bartley appealed for a foul when Jackson sprinted to evade him but as the united centre back hit the floor the referee signalled for a corner kick rather than a foul for the Blades. From the resulting corner from Fox, Simonsen failed to gather or get a convincing enough clearance on the ball and as the ball dropped CROFTS volleyed it into the corner of the net through a crowd of players. United’s goalkeeper was booked for his appeals after the goal but yet again United were behind.
Cresswell headed over again when well placed and then was moved to a central striking position when the tiring Bent was replaced by Yeates. It was not long before United were level and it came from Simonsen’s long free kick. Cresswell and Whitbread competed for the high ball and as it fell, EVANS was able to hold the ball up against Barnett and turned well before drilling the ball across Ruddy and into the corner. United were deservedly level and it was a well taken goal from the resurgent front man.
United looked determined to now try and win the game but it was city who had the next chance. Sloppy play from Yeates saw the ball transferred forward quickly and Lappin’s low shot was well saved from Simonsen. United were not able to get the ball into the last third and if anything City were looking more threatening but it was alarming how the second goal came about with just under ten minutes left to play and it came in identical fashion to the first. A corner from the left hand side was not dealt with by the keeper or the defence and as the ball dropped CROFTS once again was on hand to smash the ball home. United once again protested for a foul ; this time for a push on Evans but once again referee Haines waved away the appeals and this time cautioned Quinn for his remonstrations. United were stunned yet again and seemed unable to respond with City now controlling much of the play.
Kozluk came on for the Blades and was used immediately for his long throws but United were struggling to make much headway and the second goal seemed to have really knocked them and the fight they seemed almost resigned to their fate. Bogdanovic came on right at the death but United were unable to muster any real chance of note and Norwich killed time rather comfortably with the additional four minutes being played in United’s third of the field rather than the other end. United’s supporters applauded the side off but once again it was a rather too predictable result and ending for their side who are now right in the mire at the wrong end of the table.
Norwich – They were pretty poor for the most part but we have said this about so many sides; Scunthorpe, Ipswich, Watford, Hull etc and most have left with a win. We cannot keep saying this. The reality is that these sides put the ball in the net; we don’t. We make stupid mistakes; we don’t. I think in general possession, tackling, passing etc we have not been great but have not been bad; especially recently. We have matched teams but oh so often we just keep losing and almost in similar circumstances. It is happening more than often for it just to be unlucky or down to referees. Norwich was really ordinary. Holt tussled up front and was quite cynical with elbows and arms flailing everywhere. Jackson was lively up front alongside him and caused a few problems with his pace. I also felt Martin him looked a good footballer as evidence by a few decent efforts on goal. I felt we bossed the midfield in the first half but then Fox, Lappin and Hoolahan then got the better of us in the second half. At the back I felt the number 6, Whitbread looked really poor and that Evans and Bent caused him lots of problems. Indeed, I felt we could have got beyond them and caused them more problems but overall do not think we tested them enough in the second half.
I do not think they will go up and actually think they may struggle to get in the playoffs but then I have not seen many good sides this year so someone has to go up or get in the playoffs. The fact that they are third says it all about the division and the fine margins between success and failure. We have looked no worse than most sides but the basics of defending and attacking have been neglected and other teams are much more ruthless. I cannot remember many goals we have scored like the two Crofts did today. They were scrappy but they were taken well as they took advantage of sloppy keeping /defending.
United – It was another decent performance with good battling spirit in evidence. We fought hard and won a lot of tackles and loose balls. For the first 45 minutes I felt we were the better side and should have been winning at the break but then in the second half I felt we did not win as much of the loose balls and individual battles, Norwich squeezed up and they were the better team. Still we did not deserve to lose the game and on another day we would have got a point, or maybe three.
However, we keep saying this week in, week out. The reality is that despite the better efforts and application; we are still losing most game and giving away daft goals. We are struggling to create/score much at the other end and the net result is as I say; we just keep losing. I felt the newcomers; Mattock, Lowry and Bent were an improvement and gave us more solidity all over the team. We looked less of a soft touch and looked more solid. Sure, we did not play scintillating football but we still looked more like a side and I felt we were competing also winning a lot of battles. However, we failed to get a goal in the first half that maybe we deserved and then in the second half they were probably better in possession and won more of the loose balls. Still even after the daft goal we got level and I felt maybe we could go on and win it, but like so many other games we chuck away another goal and after this barely registered an attack of note as Norwich saw out the game comfortably for the final ten minutes. There is a real lack of leadership in the side and I feel we do not have anyone who can get hold of the side and will them forward.
Whilst there were improvements defensively and the whole back four did ok, silly mistakes led to stupid goals and it means if a player does well for a game; it matters little if a goal is tossed away. In midfield we had basically scrappers in the middle and little creativity from Ward and Cresswell who were both poor. Yeates was even worse when he came on. The team is crying out for creativity and pace in the final third as for all the improvements in the performance I cannot remember many clear cut chances despite us playing fairly well. We do not have the ability to dissect defences or players to go at them down the flanks, beat defenders for pace and get crosses in. Evans and Bent linked well but both of them are just honest workers and neither is dominating in the air nor have the pace to stretch defences making balls to them having to be precise to then bring others into play. I thought we mixed things up nicely in the first half and played some decent football along with some good direct football. In the second half we resorted to the most part to lumping it and relied on long throws and set plays. I cannot remember many moves of note outside the goal where we got through them and despite the goals being scrappy for City and the fact they were not exactly threatening, I just felt they had much more control of the game and we looked a bit clueless.
We have some tough games coming up and with the wretched home form too I cannot really see where the next win is coming from. Despite the changes of personal we keep tossing goals away and failing to score many at the other end. This basically leads to further defeats. It seems like the team has basically forgotten to win games and at the moment it just seems all too predictable how most of the games go. I cannot hammer the team nor the manager as they are clearly trying and certainly do not deserve to lose some of the games they are but the reality is they are losing most of the games and for all the commendable talk and honesty from Adams it has been a really poor start for him. You usually get at least 1 or 2 wins from a new manager off the back of a change but it is now 0 wins in 5 games since he came which is really poor however you dress it up. I am not blaming him in any way but things have got no better since the change of manager. If anything we are even more embroiled at the bottom of the table than we were before. I am really fearful and my gut feeling at the moment is that we will probably go down unless we can bring in 2 or 3 experienced players and some leaders who can get the team by the scruff of the necks. Quinn and Monty are sadly a long way from that. With the entire bottom three to play too it is going to be a real fight but if we do not get a win soon we are going to be trapped and it will be too late.
Simonsen 3/10 – From hero to zero. Last week he won us a point. This week he maybe cost us any chance of any. He made a few standard saves and missed a punch from a corner in the first half but had nothing to really unduly worry about until the second half. Then he failed to deal with a corner that led to a goal and after we got level repeated the trick from an identical situation. The appeals for fouls seemed a bit desperate. I just thought they were two bad goalkeeping mistakes and cost us the game. Sadly with Richard ‘I only can play one half’ Wright and a set of kids behind him we are stuck with him.
Parrino 7/10 – I think he had a solid game today. He was not spectacular and at times still was not tight enough for his man but he got stronger as the game went on and actually defended solidly and sensibly. He also got forward when he could. Still think he needs to adjust to the pace of the English game but when he does and if he tightens up defensively he might make a player.
Mattock 6.5/10 – Began the game well, winning two or three tackles and making solid clearances. He did not get forward much at all but did the basics of a full back I expect. Second half he made a few mistakes in possession of the ball and lost his man a few times but overall he was an improvement on what we have seen from most of our left backs this season.
Bartley 7/10 – Solid enough. He did not do anything wrong and won headers and clearances most of the game. Looked better alongside a centre back that actually attacked the ball which meant he could use his strengths of mopping up and covering in behind with his pace.
Lowry 7/10 – Quite impressed. A no nonsense Morgan type centre back that chucks him at the ball to head/kick it clear. He often took the man out as well as the ball and did not mind the physical contact at all! Was harshly booked when the man appeared to dive near the end of the first half but then I thought he could have been booked earlier for a few rash tackles that went unpunished. He is not much of a ball player but probably what we need at the back at the moment in that he was just interested in clearing the ball and meant we looked less of a soft touch.
Cresswell 4/10 – Thought he was poor from start to finish. He began wide left and finished up front but other than 2 or 3 terrible headers way off target when well placed; I felt the game just passed him by. He is so slow and immobile and looks every inch a lower league player who is yards behind the pace and the speed of the rest of the players on the pitch. How he lasted until right near the death was beyond me.
Ward 5.5/10 – Another one who was not really a threat. He began on the right side where he has been a real success only a season or so ago but he did not really do anything of note all game. His touch and passing was poor and often he gave possession to a yellow shirt. He does not look a goal scoring threat at all and when he was wide he rarely got a decent ball in all afternoon. Ended up just sort of floating about around the middle of the field; behind the front two but the game just seemed to pass him by.
Quinn 6/10 –Inconsistent despite battling well especially first half. He tried hard again but his passing and distribution was pretty poor. Battled hard in the first half and it meant we won a lot of balls to effectively boss much of the half but after the break Norwich’s midfield won nearly the entire ball and controlled the game. He petered out badly and just seemed to be chasing shadows.
Montgomery 6/10 – Like Quinn battled tremendously hard and won a lot of tackles and loose balls as we swarmed all over them early and took control of the game but second half he faded and was chasing. However, his passing and retention of the ball was worse than ever. He played 6 or 7 aimless balls to no one and did not even try to play it to a red and white shirt with directionless punts becoming commonplace. I counted one occasion in the second half whether he gave the ball away 5 times in under a minute! I kid you not. I felt along with Quinn and the rest of our midfield he faded badly and he was not really a factor second half.
Bent 6.5/10 – Started the game well; holding the ball up on more than one occasion with clever touches or good physical strength. He linked well with Evans and finally we had a pairing that the centre halves looked worried about. He led the line well and also covered a lot of the frontline. He also looked a threat aerially. After the break his lack of fitness seemed obvious and he faded quite badly. He did not really do much at all in the second half and it was no surprise when he was taken off. Still if we can get him fit he can be a real asset.
Evans 7.5/10 – Another improved performance and probably our best player. Put him about, actually ran at defenders and caused problems with this willing running. Also showed more tenacity in challenges and did not shirk physical contact. Linked well with Bent and had a few half chances in the first half before taking his goal really well; a proper old fashioned centre forward goal where he held the ball up, rolled his man and then tucked away a lovely finish.
Yeates – Terrible when he came on. I was crying out for him too but everything he did when he came on went wrong from sliced shots to poor touches to dreadful crosses. A player that is just unbelievably inconsistent and the reason why he probably never will be a regular.
Kozluk – Unsure where he was meant to be playing? Seemed to be like a special team in American Football (although was used as a thrower rather than a kicker) and was just going all over the field to take long throws. He was playing right wing I think but I reckon he was told just to go out and make a nuisance of himself?
Bogdanovic – Should have been brought on much earlier but he was given little chance to impress when he came on when the game entered stoppage time.
Officials – It seemed like the referee was blamed for a lot of today but I did not see clear fouls for either goal. That is my honest reaction taking off my red and white tinted spectacles. Maybe I am wrong and just maybe it was hard to tell from my vantage point at the Kop end but the first it just seemed Simonsen flapped at the ball and there seemed minimal contact. There was an appeal for a trip before the corner on Bartley but not many appealed then and after the corner came in I felt it just pretty poor goalkeeping and was surprised our players surrounded the referee. The second he did not even get near it and I could a foul at all despite the so called appeals for a push on Evans. It seemed a bit desperate from our players again in their appeals instead of just defending the set play and once again united’s defenders and goalkeeper in particular needed to be stronger/more dominant. If the goals had been at the other end I think the united fans would have gone mad if they had been disallowed. As for the rest of the game; I cannot recall much else he did wrong despite the cry of being wronged from most of the home fans. There was a dive in the first half that I felt was suckered into an award when Lowry was booked and I felt Holt showed what a nasty so and so he could be when he left the elbow in a few times but equally I saw both Quinn and Lowry make a few naughty late challenges which could have led to sterner action. Maybe a few 50/50 went to them rather than us but I certainly did not see a performance from the officials that was so biased against us that many around me did. I have felt we have been badly wronged this season in quite a few games but did not see that today. We need to stop moaning and get on with winning games. To see 7 or 8 players around the referee after the second goal today was embarrassing I felt and was an attempt to cover up for our defensive deficiencies.
Crowd – The home fans were once again pretty positive as they saw another battling performance with good effort and heart shown. They saw the side were doing their best but I have never known so many home defeats in one season and it is not surprising the home attendances have dropped. The crowd was swelled by a decent couple of thousand following from Norwich added to the atmosphere. At the end there was a mixture of disbelief we had lost but almost resignation that another improved battling performance had seen another defeat.