The Blades remain unbeaten but it was another frustrating afternoon at Bramall Lane as a much improved performance still failed to herald all three points. United took the lead after dominating proceedings thanks to Dave Kitson’s first goal but after a series of chances were missed to kill off the game some awful defending from the home side led to a scrappy equaliser courtesy of Lee Hughes. United now find themselves in 8th position and continue to throw away opportunities to win games. Certainly three straight home draws against less than impressive opponents is not the sort of form that is going to see United contend for promotion. The Blades now have two games on the road and know they have to start finishing teams off.
The Blades brought back Michael Doyle and Ryan Flynn from suspension and opted to keep faith with the front two with Dave Kitson and Nick Blackman starting up front. David McAllister and Richard Cresswell dropped to the bench. County came with an impressive record lying second at the start of the day and were managed by former Blade Keith Curle.
The game began with County playing in an unusual pink shirt that seemed to clash somewhat with the home red and white! United began well with an early chance blazed over badly by Doyle and then the same man had a low shot straight at the keeper. Blackman then had a shot blocked and it was one way traffic. Gallagher had begun wide left but had switched with Flynn and it was the former Falkirk man who had the first really good effort on goal. After the flick from Kitson, it fell for the winger and he cut inside and shot goalwards but the keeper pushed the ball away. After Blackman played forward after County appealed for a foul Gallagher was in on goal but one on one with Bialkowski, he took too long and his shot was saved.
County had not been in the game for the opening fifteen minutes but broke out and a cross from the wide right was headed wide by Jeff Hughes with United’s marking slack. Maguire headed over at the other end from a corner when well-placed and United had been well on top in the game controlling the pace and possession. However, despite this superiority, United were nearly hit with a sucker punch. Judge arrived late from a Campbell Ryce cross and nearly converted before Regan shot off target as they suddenly found a foothold in the game. McDonald found some space and set up Blackman whose powerful shot was tipped over before Kitson was booked for a pull back after a number of earlier fouls had not been deemed worthy of a yellow card.
United had the final chance with a pulled back corner to Gallagher but his shot was somewhat scuffed but even then it hit a county man and was somehow scooped over by the keeper. The half time whistle came not long after and united will have been pleased with the performance if not that their superiority had not been rewarded with goals.
The second half saw United continued to assert their authority and they finally got in front after a series of chances and let offs from the visitors. Blackman went down the outside and hit a vicious shot that caromed off the angle of bar and post. The ball came out and was played forward into the path of Blackman again but he was thwarted at close range by Bialkowski and the ball span away. Finally at the third attempt the ball was in the net. Flynn made space and sent over an inviting cross but there was a great deal of work to be done from KITSON but his header had power and accuracy and nestled into the top corner. It was a deserved goal for the home side who had dominated much of the game.
United nearly doubled their lead when after good work from Flynn again, the cross fell to Gallagher but he really ought to have done better as his close range shot at the back post was blocked. Kitson appealed for a penalty but he was adjudged to have fouled before the alleged offence.
United needed that second goal and it so nearly was level when Campbell Ryce got away and put in a teasing cross that Zoko seemed certain to score with but Howard saved superbly at close range. Labadie and Lee Hughes came on for Kelly and Zoko soon after and it was not long after United made their first change. Kitson had committed a few more niggly fouls and was perhaps tiring too so it was perhaps the right call that Wilson replaced him with Porter.
On 76 minutes County were level and it was a ridiculous goal to concede. An innocuous ball forward should have been dealt with by McMahon but his horrible slice bounced wide for a corner on the other side of the pitch where he made the attempt! The corner came in and another awful slice, from Kevin McDonald, saw the ball spin up and United could not clear as first a header from Labadie looped onto the bar and came out. The ball was knocked goalwards rom Jeff Hughes with no challenge from United and from right on the line it was predictably that man LEE HUGHES who turned it home from barely a yard.
This goal seemed to stun the home side that tried to re-group and from a free kick Maguire’s header drifted into the far corner but was adjudged offside to cut short any celebrations. United kept plugging away but were running out of time. A series of bookings and fouls stopped the game having any kind of momentum Cofie replaced Gallagher and went wide on the right hand side as the game entered the final moments with 5 minutes of stoppage time to be played. In this period United had three chances alone with Maguire firing wide after a knock down from Collins; Flynn fire wildly over and then Cofie nod wide from a deep cross McMahon at the death. The final whistle came signalling another frustrating afternoon with a much improved performance but ultimately the same result so many other games had heralded this season.
United – I thought it was a much better performance than many of the other games I have seen. We should have won but we did not. Again. We missed chances, made the wrong decisions when in the final third and well placed and then finally gave away an awful goal. It seems to be happening most weeks.
We generally knocked it around well and showed greater urgency in building attacks with a better tempo. We got beyond them and created a number of chances. The returning Flynn and Doyle improved our play and we maybe had our strongest eleven out today and it showed. With a bit more fortune and steady finishing it was a game we would have won 2 or 3-0 to be honest. We actually did ok for long spells and kept the ball well and caused all sorts of problems. I thought Blackman and Kitson looked lively and we were first to many balls all over the field. Defensively other than a few moments of poor marking from crosses (that could have led to a goal) we were fairly comfortable but then the goal when it came was courtesy of a mistake from Blackman shooting, McMahon with an awful slice, McDonald with an awful slice, a missed header and then not reacting. It was shocking. After this we still have chances to win but it was just not to be but then that seems to be the story of the season as so many games we have drawn 1-1 and ought to have won. The current series of draws and results will see us around mid table. We are no better off winning 1 and losing 2 than drawing 3 in terms of results and our form at home is not good enough. We have to finish chances and then at the other end shocking mistakes keep leading to stupid give away goals. McMahon at the moment seems to be making a lot of errors for instance.
It really is a poor division as our high flying opposition today were pretty abject but then if we can’t beat teams like this then I fear and expect us to stay in this division for a long, long time. Certainly the lack of ruthlessness so far this season will see us mid table if things carry on. It is frustrating but the drop off in players in key positions with Lowton, Quinn, Evans and Williamson all replaced by much inferior players. I have been disappointed in Gallagher who is not really showing he is a player that has played much higher and the strikers continue to miss too many chances. Blackman shows a lot of promise but is so selfish it is getting ridiculous and McDonald sadly is not quite showing the consistency of performances of last year and I thought his passing was quite poor today. Despite these negatives we still are better than most teams we play but sadly it counts for nothing if you can’t get the wins and at the moment we are not showing professionalism to finish games off.
Notts County – Thought they were no better than last season and if anything looked even worse despite their high position. They had a few chances in either half but United controlled most of the game and they were very fortunate to take anything from the game. I had expected them to be an attacking side that could get at us and create chances with their pace and power but they did very little. The highly ranked Judge rolled around most of the game and Arquin and Zoko were never really in the game. Their main threat came from set plays or crosses into the United box and despite a few missed headers; they only came really close when Howard saved a header at point blank range. After this we seemed to see off the threat but some shocking defending gifted them a goal.
They were clearly happy with a point and time wasted cynically after this. County did not play a great deal of football and often were very physical and adopted somewhat alehouse tactics. They had a number booked and it could have been more. They also committed some horrendous attempts to feign injury and win free kicks. The one from Mahon at the end was a casing point but before this Judge rolled around looking for free kicks continually. Ironically after Curle had said how physical we were and a side that were very much in teams faces; it was County that adhered to such an approach. They were niggly and sneaky, much like Curle was when he played at the Lane. They will say it was a great point but I was less than impressed by them and United should have finished them off. They might be in and around the playoffs but if United do not finish higher than them in the league then we have had a poor season.
In terms of players, the keeper played well making some good saves but they looked quite slow and ponderous at the back and their so called ball players like Judge and Hughes never really controlled things at all. Campbell Ryce actually had a few moments but even he did little. Everyone was also clambering for us to sign Zoko but on that performance (both out wide and up front) he is no better than anything we have. Hughes is always likely to nick a goal and so it proved even if it was a tap in after a scramble.
Howard 7.5/10 – He made one superb save from a point blank header (and then saved the follow up not long after even though they were offside) and caught most crosses/balls he should have. His handling and overall play was really solid today. He had little chance with the goal as Fred Karno’s circus in front of him took centre stage.
Hill 7/10 – Thought he was steady enough again and despite his critics he is quite consistent. Yes he plays some poor long balls forward and can sometimes knock the ball out but his defending for the most part is solid. Campbell Ryce did not do very much.
McMahon 5.5/10 – He was ok and made a few tackles and blocks but he made a few misplaced passes in the second half and then made a dreadful error when under no pressure whatsoever he sliced a ball from around 30 yards out in front of his own goal, out for a corner. This led to the goal. It was an appalling piece of play and whilst others could have prevented it; the mistake led to the panic. Thought as someone who had played Prem/Champ most of his career he would be a steady replacement for Lowton but boy do we realise how good Matty was or is it a case of how poor McMahon is? He really has been a big disappointment and is making mistakes every game. Time to try Westlake?
Maguire 7/10 – Thought he defended well today and made tackles, blocks when he had to and restricted the County forwards. He read the game well and tried to bring it out when he could (had one burst forward in the first half). He maybe could have got more on the header when it seemed to be him that was out jumped on the corner for the goal and then also worryingly in another moment he was almost outpaced by Lee Hughes! He maybe could have done a bit better with a chance right near the end but snatched at it.
Collins 7/10 – Solid enough game where he also headed and cleared things when he had to. Do not recall many mistakes he made but once he did lose his man in the middle in the first half when they headed off target and really ought to have done better. His performance was improved from other games and he was more like the standards of last season.
Gallagher 5/10 – Really disappointed with him again. I would say he is flattering to deceive but he is not even flattering! He drifts in and out of games and despite his good touch and ability on the ball, he is not really influencing anything at the moment and the chances he had he missed. Missed a real sitter when one on one in the first half and then scuffed another shot from a corner. He then missed from point blank range just after we went 1-0 up. His dead ball delivery is also poor and he hits the first man too often. He has a tendency to pull out of 50/50 challenges and when we lost it he will not always get back (he did do this once which shocked me in the first half). I would not extend his loan and think there must be other loan options. We need some out and outpace out wide for me.
Flynn 8/10 – Had a very good game and assisted on the goal and involved in most good things we did. He showed some neat and tidy touches and had an excellent shot in the first half beaten away. Caused the full back a number of problems with some strong running and neat touches and drew numerous fouls. He is a neat and tidy player but now seems to be adding some aggression and drive and seems to have stepped up his game this season. Needs to play like that every week and can be a real asset.
McDonald 5.5/10 – He did some neat things bit overall he disappointed me today. He actually did better in the tackling and covering aspects than the passing today which was generally off. He did not keep the ball well enough and played some balls straight to County players which put them on the attack. He has had a few games where his touch and passing has been off and he was not sure enough in most things he did today.
Doyle 6.5/10 – Pleasing to have him back and he helped us recover possession more than we have done. He did a good job on Judge who sat just behind the striking role and helped nullify any kind of threat into the visitors attacking players and just picked up loose balls and kept is simple. His other moments going forward were not as impressive with a few wild shots and some poor balls when in good positions.
Blackman 7/10 – He had a few great efforts on goal including one saved in the first half and also another that hit the post just before the goal. Clearly possesses a great shot on him but he really has to get his head up at times. His selfishness was bordering on arrogance at times and he reminded me of Marcus Bent (first spell) showing some lovely touches, strength and strong running but obsessed with having a shot or going for goal. The one where he danced around two players and then should have rolled it across for a potential easy goal and he tamely shot summed him up. He has real ability but is so frustrating and if he wants to go on and not just be a journeyman (as he is threatening to turn into – played for 7 clubs at 22!) he needs to more of a team player. He will get plenty of chances to shoot and show his powerful shot but he needs to vary it.
Kitson 7/10 – He did well with his link play and won a lot of free kicks with his experience. He held the ball up well and showed his aerial prowess with some good flicks and chests down. He did not have that many clear chances and will have been annoyed that his partner did not bring him into play more often. He took his goal really well as it was not an easy header but he exerted good power and precision on it. One weak link was a few daft fouls and the way he was going he had to be taken off before he did another silly foul and got sent off.
Porter – Surprised he got the call rather than Cofie, Cresswell or even Miller but against a physical County team who were relying on set plays it was hard to reduce the height. Did little when he came on and seemed to be hopelessly unfit as numerous balls forward both in the air and on the ground he was slow to get to or even jump for.
Cofie – He came on and played wide left towards the end. He had a chance with a header that flashed wide right at the death.
Officials – Neil Swarbrick. He did not start the game well with an appalling decision to allow one team to wear pink as a change strip against the home side in red and white stripes. It was baffling that none of the officials saw this clear clash as most fans in the crowd were probably struggling to distinguish one player from another and I saw a number of misplaced passes (or was that just poor league one players!). I thought they may change it at half time but no it stayed the same. Maybe my eyesight is worse than many but it was bordering on ridiculous.
As for the officials handling of the game; they were pretty inept from start to finish. They let some things go early and then suddenly after being lenient both ways (let a shocking late challenge on Hill go and Flynn was fouled all afternoon) he started booking people left, right and centre. It started with the Kitson booking which was innocuous enough and then he was brandishing cards like confetti. There were some strong fouls from County and some cynical play that was not stamped down on and overall I felt there rough house tactics were never really stopped.
He should have booked Judge for some appalling cheating. He did this three times and rolled around on each occasion. I like him as a player and think he can play higher but he did himself no favours today and was embarrassing to watch. County’s keeper was allowed to timewaste with barely even a word and he was just very weak in all aspects of his officiating.
A few of the awards and non-awards (both ways to be fair) were comical. The one where the player just pushed it in front of him and fell over and got the award was really quite ridiculous and there were other bizarre awards throughout the second half as he seemed to just lose control. He was not helped by the linesman who may as well have been sat with me; particularly the one on the South Stand side who did not seem to want to give a decision.
Crowd/Atmosphere – A better noise in the ground helped by the Notts County fans. They had a decent following (although why so many decided to turn up at 2.45pm onwards without tickets was beyond me – surely if you go to an away game and have not got a ticket and need to buy one – no pay on the day, then you get there a little earlier!). The United fans finally found their voice in the second half after previously been quiet and it had a bit more edge to it due to some poor fouls from the visitors and some equally poor refereeing. Sadly another draw and another day of frustration and the home form and inability to win will frustrate the fans moving forward and the longer the winless run goes on the harder it will get.