The Blades FA Cup adventure is over for another season as they could not win their 4th consecutive home tie at Bramall Lane as Birmingham City advanced to the 5th round. Better opposition and a poor performance from United saw a comfortable away victory for the in form Blues who advanced thanks to goals from Nathan Redmond, Wade Elliott and Adam Rooney at the double. United did begin the game well but struggled to create much and after Birmingham scored from a set play the verdict was never in doubt. When the second goal went in, the home side’s heads dropped and despite a brief flurry at the beginning of the second half; they could not get back in the game. The visitors scored two excellent goals towards the end of the game as the Blades found themselves on the wrong end of a hammering.
United began the game with an unchanged line up for the fourth successive game and started the game well with an early spell of possession in the Birmingham half. McDonald has a shot blocked before Quinn was crowded out as United looked to continue their excellent football of recent weeks. They had their first effort on goal of significance when Doyle saved from Evans before Birmingham came out and had a chance of their own as Francois errored letting Spector in who skewed wide at the near post.
United had been the better side but from a corner from Burke they took the lead. The ball was hit across low and REDMOND got across his defender to fire a firm finish under Simonsen. It was a good finish but really sloppy defending. The dangerous Redmond then cut in and fired wide as United began to look stretched as Birmingham started to get hold of midfield.
United did have an effort on goal after Cresswell was felled but Doyle saved Evans free kick and dived on the loose ball after he failed to gather initially. Birmingham were now looking to get Burke in at every opportunity and he skipped away from Francois twice in quick succession before balls were cleared. Elliott then fed Burke who again got down the right hand side and his low cross was superbly finished at the near post by ROONEY who got in front of his man to turn home high into Simonsen’s left hand corner.
This was a real blow to United and put the Blues firmly in control and after this they completely controlled proceedings up to half time winning the loose balls in midfield and in turn getting the ball wide and looking to get at the United defence. Burke who had been the stand out player then cut in and fired just wide with Simonsen groping at thin air. The game was now looking as if it would get away from United and they were probably glad to get to half time before more damage could be done.
The second half began with United having a real go and in the ascendancy which was a repeat of the first half. They had a chance when Quinn played a lovely ball across the box but Cresswell strangely waited and when he did move onto the ball he was too late and the cross evaded him. How United did not score soon after is a mystery as the ball pinballed around the area and somehow stayed out. A nice ball from McDonald saw Williamson in but his firm shot hit the body of Doyle and came out. From the rebound Lowton hit a shot that hit the angle of post and bar and came out before the ball was cleared. It was a crucial moment and after this the belief seemed to disappear from United somewhat. Birmingham came out and had another effort with Burke’s cross being turned behind and then Redmond’s trickery almost led to a third. A mistake by Lowton giving the ball away saw the Blues break soon after and ELLIOTT the scourge of United in the play off final 3 years ago, took the ball on, advanced beyond Maguire and hit a sweet shot beyond Simonsen to effectively seal the game.
Francois’s miserable afternoon was brought to a premature end by manager Wilson as Williams replaced him before the ineffective Cresswell and Quinn were also taken off for Flynn and Porter. The game now was up and many fans had seen enough streaming out of the Lane as the fourth goal went in. This was the best goal of the game and although United’s inability to get a tackle/foot in was inexcusable; this did not take away the quality of the football in the lead up to the goal. Several passes and touches led to Murphy advancing down the left and played in a cross that was flicked delightfully past Simonsen in to the far corner by ROONEY.
United were now well beaten and looked a sorry crew as the Ole’s rang out from the Birmingham fans as they too made changes towards the end of the game. Late bookings from former teammates McDonald and Elliott seemed avoidable before Birmingham saw out the game very comfortably.
United – Maybe it was not quite a 4-0 and the scoreline flattered them a little but we were well beaten I felt. Sure we had a decent spell for first 5-10 minutes and same in the second half for the same amount of time and had 1 or 2 decent efforts on goal. If we had gone ahead or maybe made it 1-2 then maybe it could have been different but we said that so many times last year. Teams are generally much more clinical and effective at both end and that proved this afternoon. That is what we would be up against a lot of the time at a higher level and we created maybe 3 or 4 chances all game and only had maybe 2-3 decent efforts on goal all game. More than this though our general play was slow, plodding and we looked a bit clueless. They often waited till we ran out of ideas, picked us off and then attacked us on the break with numbers and pace.
Today was probably a huge wake up call for many of the players and supporters. It was a chance to see if we were much better than the team that struggled so badly in the division above and if the players could actually compete at such a level. Sadly, the answer is probably not as many of the players who fared so badly last season fared equally badly today. Birmingham are a decent side but there are probably 6-10 sides as good at their level and they beat us easily. Yes, they may only have had 7 or 8 shots but they clinical finishing and the ease they saw off most of our attacks showed how far we are off. If we somehow did get promotion then we would play teams like that every other week and we were nowhere near them in terms of fitness, ability and speed today. It really was startling how much better they were than us and did shock me. They were sharper to the ball, quicker, more athletic and just better footballers. We were a long way off them and they probably did not have their strongest team. We did not win the first or second balls much of the game and if we lose the fight/battle then we were always going to struggle as better players would expose us. We had no control of the midfield outside of the early stages of the game and I felt we looked stretched all over the game.
Many of the players we have lauded this season such as Collins, Doyle and Francois were poor and those who seem to think they could play at a higher level such as Quinn, Williamson and Evans were simply not good enough (as they were not much of last season) and probably have secured another half a season at the third tier of the football pyramid as any watching scouts would have been completely put off. The only three players that came out of the game with any credit was probably McDonald for a smattering of decent football and maybe Lowton and Maguire who did well in patches.
I know there is a lot of could of been different type moments about today but I was really disappointed with us today. I wanted us to really have a go and even if we went behind show some resolution and compete but we kind of folded like a pack of cards and we were well beaten in the end. There was little fight and we kind of just accepted we were not as good at them and just limped to a pretty routine defeat. Where was the pride and leadership? It all looked a bit rudderless as the game came to an end. Today showed where we are; a team probably not good enough for the league above and struggling to get out of the one below. If we went up we would meet teams like this most weeks and it shows that if we did get up we would have to make major changes to the side or would struggle again; as the players once again proved they could not handle better players/teams.
We have now lost 3 in 6 and need to really to get back into form and quickly. Next Saturday is crucial and a must win for me as we have some really tough games to come but obviously we have the obstacle of the transfer window to come before that. On today’s evidence not many clubs will be queuing up for our players but then you never know; knowing United we will somehow contrive to lose a few of our better players and bring no one in to replace them.
Birmingham –They won the game at a canter. They looked a side full of confidence and were comfortable on the ball and looked like they would create things whenever they went forward. They handled us all too easily. They only had maybe 3 or 4 other efforts (wide or over) on goal but they were ruthless in front of goal and their finishing in the final third was a cut above. They never looked in danger at the other end save for a brief spell at the start of the game and the start of the second half. If Lowton had scored then maybe it had been a different game at 1-2 but it did not go in and I felt our threat just faded after that.
Impressed with the two centre backs who were a better quality of Collins and Maguire – not very fast, but big strong and organised and they coped with Evans and Cresswell easily. Redmond and Rooney showed good movement and excellent finishing and the midfield three of Gomis, Mutch and Elliott ran the game for me. Gomis was very good and looked so composed and very strong too. Their weak link was the keeper who could not catch the ball and we should have made him pay for several drops. Of course they have players like King, Zikic etc that they can play too. I think they will make the playoffs and then it really is a lottery but they have games in hand and may still fancy an automatic spot. They looked confident and assured today but we really did not give them much of a game.
Simonsen 5.5/10 – Did not have many saves to make and the goals hit past him were clinically taken but the fact that 4 shots went at him and all 4 went in is a bit disappointing. On one hand you expect him to maybe have saved one of them (first went straight through him, second went in at the near post) but on the other he was woefully exposed. Once again like last season better finishing and strikers manage to score past him very easily but then that comment goes for the whole defence. His kicking was also awful and he sliced several out.
Lowton 6.5/10 – He was one of our better players and at least looked composed in possession and tried to keep the ball. However, he also was guilty of overplaying at times (probably frustrated with rest of his teammates) and when he tried to make things happen sometimes lost it or got in the wrong position by advancing forward. I felt he was the guilty person on the third goal when his error led to the break and the goal. Think he could comfortably handle the step up to the higher level though.
Francois 3/10 – Wretched performance. Led a merry dance by Burke all afternoon. From minute one he looked at full stretch and was beaten at least 6 or 7 times for pace and skill. Birmingham clearly recognised him as a weakness and went at him. He really had a nightmare with his touch, passing off but more than this the biggest fault was his complete inability to close off the winger or drop crosses/shots coming in from his area. Taken off in the second half but in truth it should have been much earlier. The only slight defence is he was given no protection whatsoever from Quinn and the rest in front of him
Maguire 6.5/10 – Did ok much of the game and at least attacked the ball and competed unlike many of the rest of his teammates. He began the game well and won headers/blocks and tackles and was ok on the ball. However as the game got stretched he too started to have a period where he struggled and his lack of pace/footwork began to be exposed and on the third when he backed off and backed off, he failed to affect a challenge as Elliott scored way too easily. After this he made a few mistakes and started to get sucked into the general malaise of the rest of the performance.
Collins 5/10 – Thought he was poor and maybe his worst game of the season against much better opposition. Sadly he would play forward like this and even better at this level every week and today he struggled as badly as he did last season. Thought he was slow to react on a couple of goals to balls into his man/general vicinity and he looked slow and ponderous as quicker and more mobile forwards darted in and around him. I do fear if we got promoted he would be like this most weeks as he is certainly a player that looks fine against league one opponents most weeks but is probably not good enough against the speed/better ability of players above.
Doyle 5/10 – Like Collins had a decent season but today he looked like the Doyle of last season rather than this year. Again he was playing much better players and the speed and fitness of such opponents meant the game often passed him by. When he did have the ball he gave it away when pressurised and his passing and touch was very sloppy at times.
McDonald 7/10 – He looked our best midfielder (and probably best player) and did a few really nice things by making space, creating a yard and finding a shirt. Sadly, they had 8 or 9 players who could do the same but to us he was a standout! He too struggled with fitness, tenacity and athleticism of their midfield and often we gave the ball away for long periods in this area. When he got the ball he did ok and showed his usual array of passing and did not give it away much and was one of few players that showed some adventure. However, often we did not have possession and thus he was forced to defend or chase and his lack of fitness/pace sadly came to the fore in the second half. For long spell of the first half and then the later stages of the second we got completely overran in this area of the field.
Quinn 5/10 – Another poor performance. I can almost cope with his wasteful passing and inability to go forward and go at men (why is he always turning back inside and losing momentum when we attack?) but his complete lack of understanding defensively is beyond irritating. He could see Francois was struggling with Burke and others but he made no attempt whatsoever to help stem the threat down this side and often made it worse by losing his full back meaning we had 2 men coming at us down this side. He made a few flicks, nice balls (one across box too Cresswell should have been converted) and was not awful but overall he is not doing enough and is simply coasting through games. He may think he can play at a higher level but most weeks he is struggling to stand out at League One level at the moment and I honestly cannot see any teams coming in for him.
Williamson 5/10 – A bit of a non performance. He was involved in some of our better attacks in the first 5 mins of the first and second half but in between these times he did very little, his passing and crossing was poor and he often made stupid fouls or wrong decisions when he had the ball. Did not get back and help Lowton in the second half when they attacked down this side and another player who at times has gone through the motions. If he thinks he is better than us then today was a golden chance to prove it a few days before the window, but like Quinn and one or two others he blew it.
Evans 5/10 – Not his day and sadly in the least 2 or 3 games his performance levels have dropped off. He had little to no service but other than a free kick at Doyle and a few chases down channels he had little impact all game and his control, hold up play and work ethic also was not at levels he has been. Looked more like the player from last season then this year against better centre backs such as Curtis Davies.
Cresswell 5/10 – Really poor. Against a so called slow centre back in Caldwell; he actually made him look fast! He huffed and puffed but was unable to really do anything other than look helplessly for free kicks (goes to the ground way too easily) and looks shattered only 20 mins into the game. Should have scored when a ball came across the box in the early stages of the second half. Looks a player that does ok against your Bury’s and Yeovil’s but against the better teams he does not have pace, strength and stamina to impact games anymore and really is your pen pic of a lower league journeyman striker.
Williams – Replaced the dire Francois but when he came on he did not cover himself in glory with a few wild hacks at the ball and positional mistakes. It is not as if he has covered himself in glory when he has played to demand being a starter but by default after Francois’ display will probably be restored next week.
Flynn – Came on but did very little as the game was over. Dithered over putting a few crosses in and ultimately lost the opportunity.
Porter – As above. Game was over by time he was on. He had one chance when put through by McDonald but was offside.
Officials – Thought the ref was quite poor and was inconsistent. He let a lot go early on and then it was strange when he booked McDonald near the end and then had to book a Birmingham player for an equally innocuous challenge soon after as the crowd reacted. It was a nothing game and was quite one sided but the Lee Mason was still infuriating at times and you never knew quite what he would do; sometimes letting play go when tackles were flying in and then at others stopping things for very little.
Crowd/Atmosphere – Excellent support from Birmingham who brought around 4,000 fans+. Untied fans don’t seem to bother much about the Cup anymore and it was no surprise not many came; I was surprised we got the crowd we did (just over 18,000). The atmosphere was awful and although United were 2-0 down at half time; even before this it had been embarrassingly quiet it had been around the ground with the Brum fans completely outshouting us. I heard a few on the way out saying it was the worst home support they had ever seen (in terms of noise/encouragement) and they had a point. The performance and the ease with which we got beat did not help but it really was a dire environment today and the away fans were the only ones making noise/interested.