Cherry on the Cake

United had played with patience and control for the first hour and a driven finish from Ched Evans was added to by a scruffy Richard Cresswell finish just after the break. They seemed to be in complete control and were coasting to victory before the strange goal from Zavon Hines where he somehow managed to intercept Steve Simonsen’s attempted throw out and roll the ball into an empty net. After this United had to ensure some nervy moments but held on for the vital three points.

United had an unchanged starting line up but made changes on the bench with Porter and Flynn coming in for Beattie and the ill Hoskins.

The game began scrappily with the ball mired in midfield but the visitors had the first chance as Simonsen did not come for a through ball inside the right channel but then eventually came and had to half block the attempted finish by Thomas. United then had a decent spell of possession and McDonald was at the hub of most things United were doing well. From a corner Evans had a shot blocked by a defender as United called for handball.

They created an opening after clever build up when Lowton came inside played a neat ball that Cresswell cleverly flicked behind him right into the path of McDonald who blazed badly wide as a challenge came in. It was the best chance of the game and the midfielder ought to have made the keeper work. Quinn then was played in by Cresswell as United had a 2 on 1 break but the pass has been delayed and meant that the midfielder was flagged for offside as he hit the outside of the post.

Arter was booked for a deliberate hand ball and kicking the ball away and then was lucky not to see red after another handball and foul in quick succession. United were being patient in their build up and looked in control at the back but of course they wanted to get that crucial first goal and it came from more good work from Lowton down the right. Lowton’s cross did not fall right for Cresswell as it his chest and was half scrambled clear but only as far as EVANS who reacted first as the ball dropped and smashed in an emphatic finish that gave Flahavan no chance.

United had another chance from a corner but after a scramble Williamson wrongly opted to chip the keeper who saved comfortably. Evans pull back after good work down the left just evaded Cresswell. United were keeping the ball well and moving it from left to right and back moving the opposition about in what had been a professional performance as the half time whistle came.

At half time Fogden came on for Arter whom was perilously close to being sent off so it may have been in Paul Groves mind when he made the change. Bournemouth seemed to have more urgency and Collins did well to clear a dangerous cross but soon after the Blades made it 2-0 with their first real attack. Evans was the provider this time as he darted down the right and sent over an inviting low cross into the six yard box. CRESSWELL tried to finish but seemed to almost sit on the ball before eventually scooping it home from only 2 yards as he still lay on the floor. It broke a relatively long drought for the veteran striker and was a crucial goal giving the Blades breathing space.

McDermott came on for Pugh as Bournemouth tried to find a spark from a disappointing performance thus far. United had another chance when McDonald burst forward and had a fierce shot deflected just wide as United now looking in complete control. Cresswell was replaced by the on loan O’Halloran who went straight up front alongside Evans. The newcomer showed his pace on a couple of breaks and was almost in when Evans played a lovely ball inside for him to chase onto. However, the defender Cook got back to time an excellent tackle even though it seemed to be from behind which explained the calls for a spot kick.

United were moving the ball about well and McDonald was prompting from the centre of the park with Evans causing major problems every time he got on the ball. It seemed as if United would add more goals but suddenly with just over 20 minutes left the Cherries scored with a most bizarre goal. The ball was with Simonsen who was on the edge of his box and he looked to throw the ball out to kick start a United attack. HINES was still behind Simonsen and nipped in front of him as he went to throw it out. The ball had left the keepers hands but barely and it hit Hines in the chest. The striker took it forward and rolled it into the empty net. The referee had his back to the action but after looking at his linesmen opted to give the goal. United complained loudly and Simonsen spent what seemed like an age arguing with the keeper. Strangely they opted not to book the keeper and it did seem as if the officials had made a mistake as technically players cannot challenge the keeper when they have possession of the football. United’s players and fans were stunned by this as Bournemouth had rarely threatened all game and suddenly it was game on.

United did have an effort instantly to restore the two goal cushion but Evans header was cleared off the line by Fogden. It was definitely a more even game though and Maguire had to be alert to clear a half chance. At the other end Evans played in O’Halloran when the ball to Quinn may have been the better option and the on loan striker blazed badly wide.

The goal scorer Hines was replaced by Taylor as the Cherries were now throwing caution to the wind. McDermott hit a low shot that only just went wide and United’s defence was now sitting further and further back. Thomas toe poked wide with united appealing for offside in vain. Quinn’s errant back pass saw Simonsen smash the ball off the substitute Taylor but fortunately for the Blades it bounced behind for a goal kick. It was mostly the visitors on the ball now and they were getting beyond United even if they had not tested Simonsen. A rare break for United saw Evans driven shot from an acute angle saved by Flahavan but the play switched back to the other end and Malone sliced wide after beating Lowton too easily. Quinn came off for Flynn as United tried to shore up the flanks with fresh legs but they were hanging on now.

The game entered three additional minutes which was a relief for United as many in the ground maybe expected more with the timewasting from Bournemouth in the first half. United’s fans were very nervy and the tension heightened right at the end Doyle committed a daft foul right on the edge of the box and gave Bournemouth a final chance. Malone took it but it hit the wall and deflected over. From the resultant corner Cook looped his header over. From the goal kick, Evans then tried an audacious effort from nearly the half way line as he smashed a half volley goal wards in an attempt to catch Flahavan out but it went over the bar. From the goal kick the final whistle came and United could celebrate a hard earned three points.

United – Another odd game that echoed many of the game we have seen recently in that United play well for long spells and tend to control the game; especially the first half of games. We then do something daft like a red card or a stupid giveaway goal and then we suddenly start to panic. We sit back, toss the ball away and allow them to come onto us. It happened v Tranmere, v Oldham and it happened again today. I honestly felt we would throw it away and they had 2 or 3 good chances with the ball just going wide. Again we lacked leadership and no one seemed to take control and keep the ball. I looked at the likes of McDonald and Williamson and hoped they would get on the ball but it seemed like they tired and we lost the midfield for the closing stages. I did feel we had shown some sloppy stuff earlier in the second half but overall we had been in control. The goal was a stupid goal and although some officials I felt would have disallowed it; Simonsen made another stupid mistake and it could have cost us but fortunately did not.

For the first hour we were on top against a really poor Bournemouth side that looked a lot like many of the teams down here this year in that they tried to defend and play on the break but could not do this and invited pressure. We passed it well and moved it around. We did not create a ton of chances but you felt a goal would come and so it proved. I was impressed with the calmness on the ball and tenacity we showed off it with the likes of Doyle and Quinn working really hard. We looked sound at the back apart from the hesitancy from our goalkeeper and it seemed a routine win. When the second went in you felt it may be 4 or 5 but then of course the goal changed things. They went for it, got on the ball and players who had done nothing suddenly started to gain belief and they played some decent football and got one or two good crosses in and had a few shots just wide. We really started to panic and the crowd panicked too! It was a relief when the whistle went. We really do need to finish teams off and be more ruthless. I will say the first hour was really solid and professional though and hopefully is how we can play in the remaining games.

Of course Wednesday winning was a blow and they are in great form. Hopefully they will have a wobble but at the moment we may have to win 4 and draw 1 of our last 5 to go up. If they do lose one game then its win 3 and draw 1 which we should accomplish. I cannot see them dropping many points though at the moment and we need to keep winning. It is annoying we keep playing after them and I expect them will win comfortably on Monday and put the pressure back on us at Rochdale. They are virtually down but it will not be easy. We need to take 6 points from the next two before the tough one at MK Dons. It is going to the wire. I still think we may blow it but do hope I am wrong. Would love it if we can reel off 5 straight but think we may have a wobble before them lot. Just a gut feeling but at the moment we are responding to the pressure well. Maybe the potential court case may not help matters but we need to just focus on the next game now and get 3 points on Tuesday. With 5 games to go if we could somehow get more than 3 points ahead then that could be the crucial blow but think we have the tougher game of the two teams this week; after they did today. Huddersfield are now pretty much out of it and annoying Charlton won after they had 10 men (eventually 9) for long spells. It seems a straight fight between the two Sheffield clubs for second.

Bournemouth – For the first hour or so they looked really poor. They barely had an attack of note and looked all over the place at the back. We ought to have put them under more pressure as they looked poor when we did get it into the box. They gave the ball away constantly and looked a beaten side. They committed a lot of daft fouls and put pressure on themselves. The 2-0 was about right but then quick thinking from Hines (credit to him for sheer cheek and quickly reacting to create something out of nothing) led to a goal and they were suddenly a different side. They started to attack, got men forward, passed the ball into feet and got behind us. They had a few shots just wide and a couple of other good chances. I suppose I cannot recall an effort on goal despite them having most of the play and chances in the final 20 minutes. They did look a completely different side and I wondered why they had not been more positive and tried to get at us more. Like a lot of sides this season they caused us problems when they attacked but strangely opted just to defend and play on the break which has led to defeats for most of the teams. When teams have had a go Exeter, Oldham second half) they have created chances and with the uncertainty of our goalkeeper and the lack of leadership; teams know we have a tendency to crumble a bit if they get back into games. Bournemouth easily could have had a point for the late spell but that may have been a touch unmerited for what had gone before this.

They sacked their manager, Lee Bradbury which seemed harsh as they were around the middle of the league and been nearer the top than bottom most of the season. They now have Paul Groves in charge that has been around a bit in coaching circles. They also seemed to have spent a bit of money signing the likes of Thomas and Tubbs up front. No-one in particular stood out for them today but they had a few neat and tidy players in the middle of the park. The defence looked a little slow and cumbersome and do feel we could have scored more if we had gone at them more. The left back looked poor defensively but then when he went forward near the end caused a few problems. Francis was as I remembered him and does not seem to have progressed from the potential he showed at Bradford and in some performances at the Lane. He is decent on the ball but gives too much space defensively and tries to do too much but he is decent going forward. Up front Zines was lively and of course scored a clever, if debatable goal. Thomas did not really get into the game and was played well by our defence.

Simonsen 5/10 – He was at fault for the goal even though I feel it was technically a foul. He should have looked around him and was a daft thing to do regardless of whether it should have counted or not. Aside from this he was his usual maddening self where he simply would not come off his line. The one in the first half when he had to dive and block after he dithered for an age was appalling and he repeated this on a few other occasions. He had little to do in general play as most of their other efforts went wide but his inability to get off his line is really frustrating as it is obviously his ball but he just won’t come to take it!

Lowton 7/10 – Decent without anything spectacular. Got down the flank in the first half and put in 2 or 3 good crosses and was involved in some of our better attacks. Did not get forward as much in the second half especially when they started to attack more. He overplayed on a couple of times that nearly let them in and tries to be too clever occasionally. Defended pretty well for the most part though.

Hill 4/10 – Thought he was the same as he was most of the other games I have seen and was pretty abject from start to finish. He won a few tackles and headers to give him some credit but mostly he did not get tight enough to his man; let his man get away from him too much and his actual touch/passing on the ball was horrific. He mixed numerous slices out with balls off his shins and at times it seemed like he had got his boots on the wrong feet! I think I would prefer Williams or Taylor and they are quite poor!

Maguire 7.5/10 – Thought he was very good today and our best defender. Kept it nice and simple, used the ball well and made good solid contact on his headers and clearances. Had played well since the turn of the year and has been quite consistent and not made many mistakes (maybe Oldham game of course with the haul down of the striker).

Collins 7/10 – Like Maguire he was solid enough and used the ball well and kept things simple and tried not to overplay. He won the aerial battle and also was often first to the ball. The only criticism I would give about the defence is that they were sitting way too deep in the second half and inviting pressure on and needed to get out more. Collins as the experienced one should be getting them out but also would expect Simonsen to be yelling at them too. Suppose it is natural when you are defending a lead but felt we started to sit back even before they scored.

Doyle 8/10 – Thought he played well and was really combative as he got stuck in and was able to win lots of tackles and loose balls. He covered a lot of the pitch and often blocked the through ball or picked up the loose pieces. He used the ball well too and rarely gave it away. He actually was a tad fortunate not to be booked for a series of fouls and also gave away a daft one at the end that could have cost us when they had the free kick.

McDonald 7.5/10 – He gave away a few balls but for the most part his touch and passing was excellent. He always seemed to make a yard of space and shows good patience and never seems rushed. He of course ought to have scored with a good chance well made by Lowton and Evans. Second half he had a good run and shot deflected wide but when they scored he was not as involved and really faded towards the end. I felt he may have come off and we may have put Quinn inside as they were starting to dominate midfield. We seemed to get passed through way too easily and at times we started to get overrun. Hopefully he will stay and we can re-sign him in the summer but he does need to work on his fitness as if he did that and could run more/cover more ground he could be a top midfielder at a higher level.

Williamson 7/10 – Thought he played quite well today in a workmanlike kind of fashion. He was not scintillating but used the ball well, worked back to defend and was able to be neat and tidy when give the ball. His corners and set plays were a mixed bag today and it was annoying we took too many short ones and often never got the ball in the box when we did this. I do like us too mix it up on set plays though and now and again the short one or the rolled free kick (like one to Evans v Chesterfield) has been effective.

Quinn 7/10 – He did better today and used the ball fairly well, worked up and down the flank and played some neat balls into feet. His crossing and final ball was a bit mixed but he did not hide and kept going. Frustrating that he will hardly ever use his right foot. He had a spell in the middle when McDonald switched to the left which was odd as this only lasted 10 minutes and then when O’Halloran came on, he went back out wide left. I thought he worked harder today and after he made a shocking back pass to Simonsen he actually seemed to want to make up for the mistake and started harrying and pressing. He did show more for me today and actually got more involved.

Evans 8/10 – Probably the outstanding player on the pitch again. Working so hard at the moment and getting his rewards. He is not only our best striker but our best winger as he gets wide and puts in so many driven low crosses which lead to chances or goals. Took his goal really well and his technique in shooting is first class as he rarely hits it over/wide and invariably seems to get the ball on target. He looks strong, powerful and quick. The Bournemouth players tried to double up on him at times and still could not handle him. Had a few other efforts including one the keeper saved from the angle and also he had an audacious effort from 45 yards at the end which was not far over when he spotted the keeper off his line

Cresswell 6.5/10 – It was another so-so performance where he covered a lot of ground and tried to link with Evans but felt the ball did not stick with him enough and he did not win that many headers. He did work hard again and of course scored finally after a long spell without a goal. It was a scruffy effort that he did his best to miss initially but at least got it over the line! I the first half felt he was a bit off the pace and a few times his man should never have got to the ball before him. Evans also worked hard to fashion two crosses and he was nowhere near them in the first half. In the second of course he got there for his goal which was pleasing to see the two link up. Seems to be absolutely shattered all the time even early on in the game and he struggles to last 70 minutes these days let alone 90.


O’Halloran – Very quick and showed this on a few occasions. He looks a good footballer and used the ball well. He got away twice for clear openings and once was tackled by the last man (we appealed for a penalty which would have been harsh as he got the ball but was from behind) and then on another occasion he lost his head and blazed wide. Certainly does look rapid over a few yards and does have a good touch. He may be useful in the last few games with his speed although Flynn – Not sure why he has not been in the match day squad in recent weeks as I do not think he was injured? Brought on to try and help Hill and this was probably because Quinn was tired too. Francis was getting forward at every opportunity so his job for final stages was to try and stop this which he did to a degree as Bournemouth started attacking more down the left.

Officials – Really poor from start to finish. I am sure we have had Mr Woolmer before and remember him wanting to be the star of the show and it was the same again today. He wanted to stop the game constantly and was incredibly fussy. I felt he was poor for both sides but can’t totally blame him for the goal as he was running back to the middle and did not see it. He looked at his linesman who did see it and he bottled it. I thought the ruling is clear that a player cannot be right in front/behind of the goalkeeper or even challenge him when he has the ball in his hands (different when he puts it down on the floor) and also that until the ball leaves the goalkeepers hands it is his possession. The player broke both rules and technically was a foul. It was a stupid mistake by Simonsen.

Of course you could argue the ball just about left Simonsen’s hands as he threw it but it had not properly left his possession and the fact remains you cannot challenge the keeper or even stand near him when he has the ball and the player also made contact. Why the linesman did not disallow it is beyond me. He seemed to just bottle it. The referee went to blow even though he did not see it but then seemingly just wanted confirmation to disallow it but the linesman did nothing and seemingly dodged it. Maybe he thought that the referee had seen it. What should have happened is they should have got together and properly conferred on what happened as they then may have realised (or the ref may have) what had happened and that it was illegal but they barely even got together; he just looked at him and the linesman just stood there. Worrying that he saw it but obviously does not know the rules. I do think most sets of officials would have given a free kick but saying all this that does not escape Simonsen from another error. I am sure some thought it was ok and just a keeping mistake (it was) but these days if the keeper has it in his hands you cannot actually even stand or move near him. He also seemed to barge him in the back. I was surprised it was not given and am surprised Wilson thinks it was fair.

Going back to the officials I felt there were some poor offsides from both sides and a few hideous foul throws (Francis throwing them from his waist by the time it left his hands!) and that Woolmer was just very inconsistent. The lad Arber was lucky to stay on the pitch for committing 4 or 5 offences (2 after he has been booked) but then also Doyle was lucky not to be booked. He gave fouls for a few tackles from behind where they won the ball. Fair enough if he was consistent but then on the penalty appeal maybe that was the same?

He kept stopping the game and talking to people but not doing anything but making it very stop-start. At times he let teams take free kicks from where they wanted and then at others wanted it in just the right spot. He also seemingly did not bother making players retreat more than 5 or 6 yards at free kicks. A few in the first half were ridiculous. A game where the officials never seemed to have proper control but also we noticed them far too much which is never a good sign.

Crowd/Atmosphere – To sum it up in one word it would be: nervous. Once again at times the crowd maybe did become a bit impatient and also a few moan and groans as the game started to change after they scored but it is understandable as nerves do creep in on and off the field. I think the crowd tried to keep behind them and did give them a last push with a bit of noise to help them hang on. Strangely I think it may be easier away than at home due to pressure and that is not a criticism of the fans as it happens up and down the country at this time of the year. It was relatively quiet as most fans were quite apprehensive but I think they appreciated we passed the ball well for the first hour. After the goal for them it became even edgier and they had 2 or 3 decent chances and you felt ‘here we go again’ but we hung on in there and got the win we needed. Hopefully we can get 20,000+ for the final two home games as it has slightly disappointed me that not more fans have come for the final run in. Good to hear we will probably be sold out for the 3 final away games and with all 3 not getting particularly big crowds will hopefully spur us on.