United had been second best in the first half but improved in the second half and a clumsy challenge from a Portsmouth defender gave Blackman the chance to continue his expert penalty taking. It was another poor game with few chances created on goal by either side but United defended well once again and showed the organization and stubbornness that has served them well to continue their winning streak. It continued a long run without a win for Pompey at the Lane which now stretches back to 1955!
United began with the opportunity to go up to joint top with a victory against an inconsistent Pompey side; that none the less is scattered with talent and experience. United had to do without injured striker Dave Kitson who had injured his hamstring and faces 2-3 weeks on the side lines. In came Chris Porter up to partner Nick Blackman; with Neil Collins also returning allowing Matt Hill to move back to left back and Marcus Williams to play further forward.
Pompey had a number of ex Blades in their line up with Jon Harley, Johnny Ertl, Izale McLeod and Lee Williamson all starting. Brian Howard was suspended but the visitors still could field on loan players such as Akos Buszaky and Carl Dickinson.
The game started with United on the attack and had a great chance in the first minute. Porter flicked on the ball forward and Blackman was in the clear and shot first time but Anderson saved with his legs. United then forced a corner but Flynn’s delivery was poor. United had started well but the visitors had showed some decent touches with Buzsaky influential in their bets promptings. The same player advanced forward and hit a shot from 30 yards that beat Long and hit the cross bar. The ball came back out but McLeod was ruled offside on the rebound. It was a let off for United who now were losing most of the midfield battle with former Blade, Williamson, sitting deep and acting as a quarter back in most of their best attacks. Allan then had a shot cleared away and Collins had to head away as the visitors started to get on top.
However despite this United still created chances with Collins heading over and then a corner scrambled clear. It was end to end with McLeod firing over after Maguire had been put in trouble from McDonald. Porter then flicked wide from a deep cross from McMahon. Allan then ran fully 50 yards before pulling his shot wide and Buzsaky fired over when well placed. The game was probably a little open from United’s point of view and they were conceding too much possession in the central area of the pitch. A few niggly fouls both ways were not penalised with a booking as the referee tried to let things flow as United’s players became frustrated as they were a number of cynical fouls, with Flynn in particular coming in for some heavy challenge. The half time whistle came after another foul on Blackman had gone without a caution but overall United would feel they would need to do better if they were to chalk up another victory.
The second half began with Portsmouth winning a corner but Dickinson’s effort was palmed away by Long as the teenager once again showed his quick reactions. United went on the attack and forced Portsmouth back winning a corner that eventually led to Maguire firing over after a neat turn. United finally seemed to be on top and finally the likes of McDonald and Flynn were starting to become influential. A series of fouls were once again ignored before finally the referee realised he did bring his notebook as he cautioned Dickinson for going through the back of Flynn. On 66 minutes a moment of madness led the deadlock being broken. The ball was played down the inside channel and Porter got to the ball first as Michalik slid in and wildly chopped the United forward to the floor. The linesman signalled it was a foul and it was clearly inside the box as he put his flag across his chest. It was an obvious penalty award and there were little appeals from the Pompey players or management. BLACKMAN took the kick and followed his usual routine before after stopping in his run up as per normal, the keeper Anderson remained motionless but the striker actually put it into the opposite corner to score with ease.
Harley and McMahon had a series of confrontations with the ex Blade going in late on two separate occasions and McMahon also retaliating. Both men were fortunate not to be cautioned. The United man then was the saviour as a ball came across from Buzsaky and McMahon did superbly to turn the ball away from the awaiting striker. Rodgers and Harris came on for Ertl and Harley as Portsmouth tried to find more of an attacking edge but the game seemed to be petering out which was to United’s benefit of course. The game became scrappy and United were defending well but in truth the attacking threat from Pompey had died out and they seemed less threatening now than they had in the first half. United brought on Cresswell and Miller for Blackman and Williams as the game entered the additional three minutes of stoppage time. Little happened as United sensibly kept the ball and played it into the right areas to ensure that they hang on relatively comfortably as the final whistle came to signal another narrow win.
United – Once again we were far from scintillating and for the most part were very ordinary against a decent Pompey side that in the first half were as good as anything we have faced this season. We rode out luck in the first half and they had a few decent chances despite United probably having the best chance (Blackman effort very early on) and I felt they played the better football and looked more incisive. I was pleased to get to the break level and I did feel we won more balls/second balls in the second half and started to show more urgency finally. We had more of the football and started to at least get into the last third with some intent. We maybe shaded things but again neither side looking like creating much. Long made a good reaction save and we had a few half chances too with Maguire firing over. Still it seemed like neither side looked likely when an awful tackle led to an obvious penalty. After this I expected us to defend deeper and deeper and for them to have a real go but it never really happened. They did not have any real chances of note and despite us being less than assured in possession, we actually rode things out and held on quite comfortably. The last 20 minutes we kept the ball better and whilst we did not create much more or really go for the second we still controlled things better after the goal. They seemed a bit clueless in the closing spells and ended up a bit desperate.
For United it was again far from great and we gave the ball away too much. At least we started to get amongst them in the second half and McDonald and Doyle started to win more balls in the middle for the field. Flynn got on the ball more and also Blackman and Porter got closer together. It was a relatively even game with a few chances either way and united again suffered for lack of pace and penetration in the final third. We missed Kitson a lot and whilst Porter worked hard, the difference between his touch and control and Kitsons was obvious to see. Blackman tried hard but he too had a mixed night. I felt at the back we let them run at us too much and we gave ourselves problems and they easily could have got one but we did get better in the second half and the three areas of our team played closer together. In the first half they were big gaps between these respective areas. We got tighter, better organised and doubled up on key men to ensure they ended up being bottled up. They became the clueless side and after we got the goal at a crucial side, we did enough to win. It easily could have been a draw and maybe they would have been the right result but overall it was a repeat of many of the games of this season where we have been quite average but got the goal and then defended well and kept our shape. Of course it is a mile off from last season but we have far lesser personnel and we have to adapt accordingly.
We now face 2 very tough away games at Swindon and MK Dons. I seriously expect a defeat in at least one of these two games; against maybe the top 2 teams in the league. If we can nick a win at one of these two teams then we are in great shape with 2 more home games to come but we will have to improve from recent performances if we want to continue to remain unbeaten. It is great we are unbeaten and the table looks good but we do not look a side full of confidence that looks like going on and on without a defeat. We have given ourselves a really solid base and now need to show more creativity and attacking threat the other way.
Portsmouth – Firstly I have got to say that it is annoying to say the least when teams all over the country are struggling and having to cut their cloth accordingly and Pompey have spent above their means on numerous occasions. Sure they have been docked points but what is happening with the point deduction this year? Is it because technically they have not left administration? Surely the deduction will still occur, if and when, they finally get taken over. What irks me most is the fact they have signed numerous players (many of which many in this league would love to sign) and must be paying them reasonable amounts (albeit on short term contracts or loans). United would have loved to keep Williamson but Pompey offered more even though they are in administration?
How can they sign so many players and this continues with Buzsaky and Dickinson both coming in recently? It stinks when the likes of United (unofficially) and Swindon (officially) have transfer embargos as they are close or over the amount they can use on wages with the new FFP rulings. The teams near the bottom who could go down must also be wondering what is going on? I am not saying they should have a team of kids or be completely embarrassed but the mess they got themselves into through numerous years of mismanagement should mean they have to suffer accordingly. They should at best be signing lower league players or certainly players on insignificant wages; at least in football terms. However players like Howard, Williamson, Ertl, Harley and ones mentioned will surely command some of the best salaries in the division? It stinks.
Their fans are tremendous; some of the best in the land and this is no dig at them. They may say that they have suffered enough but I have seen nothing to suggest they have masses of money all of a sudden to afford such players and to try and rebuild so quickly. Where is the money coming from when they effectively had to sack/release so many players in the summer as they could not afford their wages? I have no axe to grind with Pompey and there are many more clubs up and down the land I dislike more but it is annoying when teams seem to effectively disregard rules on ownership/debts and then can suddenly be competitive so quickly?
As for their side they ought to be doing much better than they are. They have a wealth of experience and probably stronger squad than most at this level; albeit a lot of teams cast offs but still strong players at this level. You would expect them to be in and around the playoffs and despite being thrown together so to speak, the team has enough quality to beat most in this division on any given day.
The Williamson situation amuses me somewhat as it is clear he thought he was going to get better offers than us and waited and waited and guess what none came. A short term month by month deal at a club as far away from his home as could be nearly; is surely not what he was waiting for? Still that is his fault. I heard some criticise United for effectively low balling him with a new contract but come on he had maybe 1 good season in 3 at the Lane; was injured or suspended for most of the first 2 seasons and then when the going got tough in the big games even at lowly League One; he bottled it (Stevenage home in league – gifted them first goal and was shocking and then anonymous in the Play Off Final and scuffed a crucial penalty). Do not get me wrong at this level he is better than most but United were right not to offer daft wages and whatever they offered was probably still better than anything else at this level (where he has played most of his career). I can see why fans gave him the bird tonight as he decided the grass was greener elsewhere and after years of patience and loyalty (how much on medical fees/suspension fines etc!) he bolted.
As for them today, they showed what I expected with some really talented technical players in the likes of Buzsaky and Allan who were two of the better players on display today; if not the best two players on the park outside of maybe Maguire for us. The former; Buzsaky was very good on the ball but then he always impressed me at QPR and so the fact he dictated play at such a low level was not surprising. He was the best player on the pitch in the first half but then his influence lessened in the second half as Doyle got closer. Allan (another on loan – from WBA) also looked good and had a few good runs and we seemed to struggle with McMahon in particular giving him way too much time. As for the rest of their team McLeod looked lively and caused a few problems and Dumbuya the right wing back showed some good skill and pace but could not cross a ball! At the back Michalik and Gyepes were big, slow and clumsy and I felt they were always there for the taking but we struggled to get behind such slow and immobile defenders. Harley was quite sly and dirty tonight and was not the player I remembered. As for the other ex Blades Williamson played in a deeper lying position and often picked the ball up and tried to create/prompt from deep. He did not really have a major influence but did see a lot of the ball and showed some neat and tidy touches without really cutting us open. It seemed a strange position for him and he did not seem comfortable but was restricted getting forward as they operated an unusual 4-5-1 formation that saw the wing backs pushing on and two deep lying midfielders and then another two more advanced. Ertl was utterly appalling. He looked exactly the same player that disappointed so much at the Lane, playing in central midfield where he was so ineffective (always better at centre back). He gave the ball away constantly, miscontrolled it and looked clumsy in possession. I was disappointed when he was taken off! A truly appalling player.
They will argue they did enough to take a point as they did play well in the first half but they were quite poor after the break and never really responded after we scored. They do have some real talent even if it rankles as my rant above confirms and I cannot see them finishing anywhere below the top 7 or 8 and will be in and around the playoffs if they keep the same squad together. They were better than many of the teams I have seen at the Lane and at least had a go making it a bit more entertaining than some of the shocking games we have seen. They got it down and passed it and showed some invention and with a better final product could have got something. I would argue that for all their pretty football (in the first half mainly) I can only recall one save from Long all game. they may argue it was the same the other way and it was always going to be one goal that probably settled it but a moment of madness from their defender settled it.
Long 7/10 – Did not have much to do. Well beaten with the shot that hit the bar and saw a few other shots pulled wide of goal. In the second half he did make a good reaction save from the corner when it easily could have gone in. His general handling and command of his area was good again and it was another clean sheet for him.
Hill 7/10 – Put back to left back. Not sure I would have changed the defence that had done so well but then again Pompey have a big side and maybe he put Collins back to compensate for this. He did ok from a defensive point of view even though Dumbuya got down the right and was threatening on a few occasions. Going the other way he often just played the same clipped ball down the wing but he knows his limitations from an attacking point of view and so does not step out of his comfort zone. Been very consistent this season.
McMahon 6.5/10 – Another so so game where he made some poor telegraphed balls and also was quite sloppy in possession. However, whilst his overall performance as not the best he made a tremendous last ditch tackle that may have saved a goal and this raises his mark somewhat. Do think he needs to do much better and can do better.
Maguire 7.5/10 – Solid game. He got some awful passes played to him and had to deal with some short balls from teammates. He defended with authority and passed it well when he had it. Nearly scored with a decent turn and shot in the second half. Felt he was the strongest defender on the field and the one who seemed to make the game look easy as he read the play well and was first to most things.
Collins 7/10 – Back in the side and after a few hesitant moments in the first half when they got behind us (when Allan ran deep at him) but he got stronger as the game went on and began to win most things that came at him. Hopefully he can settle down with Maguire again and form an effective partnership that makes us continue to be hard to beat and can continue to protect our keeper.
Williams 6.5/10 – Not a natural winger by any stretch but United were concerned about some of the pace they had down the right hand side and so opted for Williams. To be truthful he is better than McAllister in this position as he at least offers some running down the flank and some defensive protection. Sure he did not do much from an attacking sense but he kept plugging away and was solid enough without being spectacular.
Flynn 6.5/10 – Thought he came in for some rough house play from Pompey and got kicked 3 or 4 times before Dickinson (who had committed a few of them) was finally booked. He tried to keep the ball and showed some better close control and touches than many and linked well with McMahon a few times. His corners and set plays were quite woeful again. He is an enigma in that he crosses the ball better in open play under pressure than from dead situations!
Doyle 6/10 – Thought he was slow early on and the game seemed to pass him by as Buzsaky, Williamson and co controlled this area. He committed a few fouls and was fortunate not to be booked for a couple of late tackles. After the break he started to win more loose balls and seemed quicker and more determined. We started to get a foothold in this area and we saw more of the ball. Still think he can do better though and at home. Doyle and McDonald need to be controlling things from the start and not allowing opponents to dictate to us.
McDonald 6/10 – At times it looks almost too effortless as he shows he can switch things from one area of the pitch to the other with lovely touch and passing but also he can let the game pass him by and can also be quite sloppy in possession. He gave the ball away quite a bit tonight and often tried to do too much. When he gets the ball and looks to link with others then we look at our best but when his passing is off or he is behind the play we struggle. He is that important but I think he will admit he could do much better than he has at times.
Blackman 6.5/10 – He tried hard and I felt kept working across the front line but once again it was hard for him as he was living off scraps and I felt he was too far away from Porter (and vice versa). He did show a few neat touches and got clobbered quite badly twice but most of his work was well away from goal. He did have that one early chance where maybe he ought to have scored and then took his penalty very well again.
Porter 6.5/10 – He won quite a few headers and flick ons; considering he was up against two absolute giants at the back but his touch and link up is a considerable drop off from Kitson. A few times the ball caromed back off him and went 5 or 6 yards and often did not stick like it should have. He lacks pace and mobility but to be fair even he looked quite nimble against those two and got away once in the first half when he was brought down and then got the vital touch to take the ball away from Michalik which led to the penalty.
Miller – Brought on right at the end. Charged down one clearance and nearly got in but never really given time to impress as his introduction was really just to eat up some extra time.
Cresswell – Like the above he came on right at the end and was probably just to give us some more size in case they won set plays to lump it in our box but they never did really.
Officials – Mr Russell certainly wanted the game to flow and it seemed as if he would never book anyone! Quite a few rash challenges came in and he often opted just to warn players. One or two cynical fouls on Flynn and Blackman were left with just a word here and there. He even played advantage when Williamson clearly pulled back a United man but then opted to just have a word again. The foul by Dickinson saw him actually win the ball even though he went in dangerously and this was ironically the first yellow card. A few times the Pompey players kind of took the mickey as once Harley refused to move after committing a foul, argued with the referee, stood over it and stopped the free kick and then tossed it in his direction and still did not get booked! Buszaky then did the same and chucked it down to the deck in dissent but the referee seemed disinterested. There were some quite meaty tackles and to see just one yellow card was a little odd. As I say I am all for the game being let go and there being some flow but I felt he could have carded a few in that game. The penalty was an obvious decision even though he had to wait for the assistant to give it.
Odd to hear the Pompey fans chant; ‘You’re not fit to referee!’ when the penalty was obvious and indeed they could and should have had 3 or 4 more booked and most of the poor challenges came from a Pompey shirt. I felt Doyle should have been carded for us but they could have had no complaints if they had 3 or 4 more booked. I certainly cannot recall one clear incident he ruled in our favour that would have massively affected the game?
Crowd – Decent crowd to get to nearly 19,000 in spite of Sky TV being there. There was an offer on for some areas with ‘Kid a Quid’ boosting numbers in the Bramall Lane ground but overall on a wet and miserable night to get such a crowd when it was on TV was good. As has been the norm United fans were quiet and probably were waiting for something to happen and until the penalty it never really did. It has been sombre for the most part at the Lane but so many narrow wins or draws has made it quite nervy and thus the crowd have found it hard to really get behind their team in such mundane and incident free contests. Pompey brought maybe 3-400 fans (including the bell waving, tattooed man) and got behind their team well. They do have great fans that always make a racket and the criticism I aimed at them as a club is not at them who deserve better.