Sheffield United 2-1 Reading

It was another game where United came roaring out of the blocks and for the first 70 minutes they were excellent dominating a side that had made the playoff final last season. An individual strike of quality from Paul Coutts was matched by an exquisite team goal finished off by Billy Sharp to see United in complete control but after Sharp had missed a chance to seal the game, the Royals came back into the game. A late Roy Beerens goal saw Reading given a lifeline and they put the home side under real late pressure but the Blades did enough to see out the game and make it back to back home wins since the international break. United’s rivals at the top won but they remain in third place and well set for consecutive away games at Leeds and QPR.

Manager Wilder made two changes with Paul Coutts back in for Jon Lundstram with George Baldock coming in for the injured Kieron Freeman. Reading had a mix of youth and experience but the fact they could feature a player who cost 7.5 million in Sonny Aluko showed their spending power.

The weather was markedly different to the previous Saturday with rain and wind accompanying the players as they came onto the field. Reading resplendent in a bright orange outfit were pinned back early as United made their customary powerful start kicking unusually towards the Kop first half. Clarke’s work rate was giving Reading problems and his play won a free kick in the right-hand corner. The ball came over and O’Connell headed wide when he maybe got up too early. The pressure continued on the Royals as Coutts and Fleck dictated midfield and United swarmed all over Reading. United won two corners and then Clarke and Baldock linked before Duffy had a shot blocked. More clever football nearly put Sharp in and then Stevens burst down the left but his cross was cleared. Another lovely move saw Stevens cross and Clarke poked wide via a deflection.

It seemed inevitable that the Blades would score and they did just before the 20-minute mark. Baldock and Duffy set up the cross and then Clarke wrestled the ball back from a defender and although it was half cleared, COUTTS came onto it and hit a beauty of a shot from the edge of the box that went into the top corner. It was a superb striker and gave the keeper no chance. The players ran to congratulate the scorer as he ran towards the Kop with cries of ‘Coooooouuuuuttttttssssss!’ echoing around the ground to accompany the goal.

United kept coming and Reading did not have an answer in a game that was being played almost exclusively in Reading’s half. A clever set play saw Coutts and Basham link up with a short free kick but Reading made a block at the last moment. United continued to press and harry with Clarke again chased down a defender to win another spell of possession. Duffy then nearly found another opening but the second goal was not long coming. It was a superb move and involved several players with the final part seeing Baldock feeding Duffy with a clever ball and then the cross was perfect for SHARP to finish easily at the back post.

It had been total domination and finally Reading came out and won a corner before Beerens had a shot that went not far wide but United were back onto it and forced Reading back again with more controlled football after some great pressing again. The half time whistle saw a huge ovation for a brilliant first half performance from the Blades.

The second half saw Reading have a different formation again. They had changed it twice already in the first half in an attempt to somehow get a foothold in the game! They seemed to now have a 4-3-3 formation and wanted to get Aluko more involved and early on he had one good run but was well stopped by Stevens.

McShane came on for Blackett who had struggled all afternoon and the shape changed again with a 4-3-2-1 now being employed by the visitors! United continued to keep the ball well and Coutts and Fleck were still influential. The third goal should have come on 54 minutes from Duffy’s in swinging free kick but Sharp from point blank range hit Mannone’s legs and O’Connell was crowded out on the rebound. Sharp and then Basham had half chances not long after as United sought the killer goal but the game went through a quiet spell after this with both teams struggling in difficult conditions.

Swift came on for Aluko and the formation seemed to change again! Reading were having more of the ball but had not created anything of note really. They did have a few half chances with a shot wide, McShane heading not far wide and then Gunter getting forward but being denied by Basham. The game was starting to open up and United were now not quite having the same control they had and was more even with 20 minutes to play.

Brooks came on for Duffy for United and then Reading made another change with Clement coming on for Bacuna and slowly Reading started to have more of the ball. United were looking a bit weary as maybe the efforts of the first 75 minutes were starting to take its toll.

Lundstram replaced the skipper Sharp as the game entered the final ten minutes and United seemed to have done enough to stem any possible comeback but then out of nothing came a goal with just under 5 minutes left.

Carter Vickers header lacked purchase and Barrow drove down the left and played a nice ball across and BEERENS managed to get between his men and finish easily at the far post in similar fashion to Sharp in the first half. The Reading players scooped up the ball and knew they had 5 minutes plus stoppage time to steal something from the game. They put McShane up front and were now pressing United back and twice O’Connell had to clear. It was now all hands-on deck and Basham then made a smart interception to deny Swift. The game entered five minutes of stoppage time and Reading were now piling bodies forward and a game that United had controlled for so long, looked in some doubt.

United then broke though with Brooks playing in Clarke and beating the offside trap. He was in on goal but maybe took too long and his shot was saved by Mannone. Soon after Clarke returned the compliment and sent Brooks through but he also took too long and was crowded out. Still as the ball was cleared by United soon after, they won a free kick and the final whistle went not long after this and it was another victory for the Blades.

United – For most of the game we were superb again. We controlled the game on and off the ball. It was relentless from the off with the ball being zinged about, players bombing forward from all over the place and us pinning back Reading. We played some super stuff and it was a joy to watch. As a team we pressured and harried and won the ball back and chased in packs. Reading could not keep the ball and it seemed like most of the game was played in their half, so dominant we were. When we had it, we played as a team also, getting men close to the ball and playing lovely little triangles.

We scored two superb goals, of different types admittedly but both special goals. The only complaint is we did not create tons of chances in the game despite the domination and maybe even overplayed a bit in the last third! Still it was all United and the first half was as good as anything we saw last season or this. It reminded me of the Scunny/Bolton games last year where the opponent was just out footballed into submission.

The effort players put in when they did not have it was phenomenal with Clarke leading the way in terms of sheer toil. Reading had no answer and they just kept coughing up possession. United’s intensity of play was a joy. The defence came onto the ball and were surging out, Coutts and Fleck controlled midfield, Duffy was buzzing around, Sharp was busy and the two wing backs were effectively extra strikers playing as wingers. Despite tricky conditions, United played great football and were picking off Reading all over the pitch and then turning defence into attack very quickly. For sheer weight of play and possession, United should have been out of sight at half time but as I say did not maybe create the chances to match their domination.

Second half we were still on top and if Sharp scores it goes onto to be maybe 4 or 5 but we still worked hard and knocked it around well. A few players tired and we made changes but Reading slowly came back into it and started to force United back in the last 15 minutes. They were always going to have a spell and United became a bit sloppy but as a I say I think they had just put so much effort in that they started to flag somewhat. Reading got a sloppy goal from United’s point of view and then threw men forward and had a lot of the ball and pressed us back. You feared for all the domination that they may nick a ridiculously undeserved point but despite lots of balls into the box, United held firm and managed to prevent any clear chances. Indeed, Brooks and Clarke had chances on the break to make it more comfortable. You can nit-pick the last 10-15 minutes and say we gave it away too much or sat back but credit to Reading for finally having a go after being completely second best for most of the game.

It was another well-deserved win for United. Currently watching the side is really enjoyable. You cannot wait for the games to come and that is testament to how Wilder has got them playing. They are beating sides and outplaying them for long spells. There is no let up at all and if they keep this level of intensity up (a challenge I will admit) then United will remain up near the top. I think the key is to get to 50 points and see where we are in January and then there may be some pressure on the board to add 2 or 3 real quality players (I don’t mean Devante Cole) in key areas, centre back and centre forward for me despite how well the players are doing in this area. Some may say you would leave it if they are doing well and don’t change things that are working but some real pace and goal scoring up top would make us even better for me. That is for further down the line though; the current attitude must be just to think about the next game. Leeds in front of a big crowd, on TV and under the lights will be tough but I have seen Leeds a few times and they are a real mixed bag and can be very good or very bad. If United play like they have been doing, I have no fear we can go there and get a result. We then have games against mid to lower sides in QPR, Hull and Burton. All games where if the performance levels carry on we can get more points.