Sheffield United 2 Preston North End 1

Last updated : 11 January 2015 By deadbat_db

Finally after almost 2 months United got back to winning ways in the league and recorded their first win in League One at the Lane since beating Yeovil way back in October. United beat high flying Preston North End thanks to two second half goals from Marc McNulty and Jamal Campbell Ryce. A late George Brownhill strike gave United a scare but they held on for the deserved win. 

The Blades finally found some form after some poor recent league performances and looked more akin to the side that has done so well in the cup competitions. Second half especially United played at a higher tempo and caused the visitors numerous problems with their football whilst Preston surprisingly looked rather limited relying on direct football to veteran front man Kevin Davies and a rather agricultural style of football.

United made one change with Jamie Murphy in for Louis Reed and Baxter playing more centrally. United had both Wallaces’ on the bench joining the returning Kieran Alcock. 

North End were without main threat Joe Garner but could include Blades fan Davies and also played with Bolton loan man Jermain Beckford in a forward thinking line up featuring two wide men Chris Humphrey and former Blades loanee Paul Gallagher.

The sides came out to Joe Cocker’s famous number; ‘With a little help from my friends’ as a tribute to the late Sheffield singer who had admitted to being of the red and white persuasion when growing up. 

The game itself started scrappily which was not really a surprise, considering the strong gale that was blowing around the Lane. It was hard for either side to have any momentum although Doyle’s strong tackling and Davies’ physical presence were significant for both sides. 

Murphy and Doyle shot wide from distance and Flynn did well to stop Gallagher but neither side had produced much football. Kennedy had a chance when he got in at the back post from a free kick but made a mess of it. 

Campbell Ryce was getting booed early on from the visiting fans due an incident in the past involving Preston’s Scott Laird which led to a broken leg for the defender. 

Preston had a spell with the ball but did little with it and were looking at the more direct approach despite having two talented wingers. United had another long range effort with McNulty’s weak effort squirting wide. Doyle and Scougall played neat football leading to McNulty shooting at the keeper, the first effort on goal by either side before Gallagher shot well wide at the other end; the first shot from the visitors just before half time.

Most of the frustration was around some of Preston’s strong arm tactics going without punishment with Welsh finally getting a card after several late tackles from visiting players.

The second half began with the weather taking a further turn for the worse with the lashing rain adding to the wind. Still United had their best spell at this stage as they upped the pace and started to knock the ball about. Murphy had one run to win a corner before Harris’s free kick was saved by Stuckmann. Doyle continued to control the loose balls and United were now well on top. Campbell Ryce’s run won another corner. From the subsequent delivery the shot from Doyle was blocked but MCNULTY was quickest to react to loop his effort over the keeper and into the net at the Kop end. It was not the cleanest of contacts but it was in the net and United had that all important lead.

United buoyed by this came again and Scougall came forward well before shooting wide as he got into the box. Soon after Murphy’s clever dink put the ball into the box
And Doyle was the man who found himself uncharacteristically as the nearest man to the goal but shot wide when he ought to have scored.

Beckford came off for another former Blade Kyel Reid and United will have been content to keep the dangerous front man quiet as he slinked off the field.

United had been in control and Preston had offered little as a riposte and the second goal came on 70 minutes. Murphy picked the ball up over on the left and drive across the field shrugging off a number of challenges before finding CAMPBELL RYCE who took a touch and then drilled it hard and low and through the keepers legs into the net. After getting the bird from the Preston fans all game it was the best way to silence them as the United players celebrated this crucial goal.

Preston had not offered much going forward but had a great chance straight after as Buchannan was in and Howard saved with his legs and sub Reid really ought to have scored but blazed it wide.

A series of yellow cards finally came to Preston and Scougall had another lung bursting run but run out of gas at the end. Doyle was then booked for a late challenge. 

Alcock came on for Campbell Ryce who got a rousing reception from the home crowd as he departed and Flynn moved further up the field. Soon after James Wallace came on for Scougall as United tried to inject fresh energy to see out the job. Preston wasted a dangerous free kick as Gallagher hit the well and then Harris could have sealed the game when he robbed the full back who was looking to counter but he drilled across Stuckmann but just past the post.

Kieran Wallace replaced the struggling Baxter who had took a knock and had been down injured just before.

The game entered five minutes of stoppage time and a trip on the edge of the box gave Preston a chance soon after. This time substitute Brownhill took it and hit it firmly over the wall to the right. It was not quite in the corner and Howard got a hand on it but could only help it into the net. Preston quickly retrieved the ball and were soon back on the attack with still three minutes to play. A long diagonal cross saw Huntingdon, up as another attacker, head goal wards but it was straight at Howard. United were able to see out the final moments for that long awaited home win.

United – Pleased with United today. In difficult conditions and against a strong arm side and a weak referee, I felt United gradually finally wore PNE down and won deservedly. First half was scrappy and not a lot happened really. Preston maybe had more of the ball but we had more efforts but there was no clear chances either way really. It was hard as they were quite physical to say the least. The referee did not help us and we had to plug away and keep trying to get a way through. Of course having one up top did not help again but today against a side that had 2 direct striker and 2 wingers; it was maybe the way to go and paid off in the end as we eventually took over midfield.

Second half we had more of the ball and played higher up the field too. The tempo from us increased and we started to gradually create chances. We got a scrappy-ish goal but then scored a decent goal and could have had more. Overall, we looked in complete control and with Doyle controlling midfield and the wingers looking dangerous, Preston looked well beaten. They seemingly were more bothered about kicking us up in the air than trying to score a goal. Eventually after a daft free kick we gave away they got one and then had a late goal. They had another chance after this but it would have been ridiculous if they had got a point.

United overall competed well without going over the top (other than odd daft aforementioned foul and Doyle a few times) and kept the ball and played it well. It was decent stuff for 20 minutes second half and we maybe could have had a few more. I thought we looked the better footballing side and got the goals we deserved for being far better than them second half after a fairly even first half (where we still was only team who threatened).

Pleasing until late goal we did well at back with McEveley excellent against a strong presence and Kennedy steady enough. Two full backs were good too. I felt Murphy and Campbell Ryce were quiet-ish first half but second half they stepped up and were threats. Ditto for McNulty who became a threat. I felt we knocked it about fairly well and especially considering the wind and lashing rain. We did well to keep it on the floor and play it around when it may have been easier to just knock it forward and hope for the best (as Preston did for the most part).

Overall I felt Doyle was excellent and controlled midfield. Baxter and Scougall were a mixed bag but behind him Doyle did not miss a thing all game and was the outstanding player on the field.

Today though did show how frustrating this season has been as against a side that is higher up (points and placing) we looked better than them most of the game. However we have tossed away countless points (especially recently at home) and we are where are for a reason; as are Preston. We have been a soft touch and maybe physical sides and approaches like we have seen from PNE and MK is the way to get out of this division. It is frustrating as if we added a bit of that physical streak and spine to the side, I do believe we have enough ability to really compete for the top two. It is going to be tough to get anywhere near these places now unless we go on an incredible run and with some tough games coming up. However today proved that we have nothing to be scared of and if we add to the squad then we can hopefully go on a run and at least threaten (at the same time securing our play-off spot at the very least). 

Preston – Thought for the most part they were dreadful. Big, strong, dirty and limited. They played the percentage game (as Huddersfield did under Grayson and Leeds to some extent when he got them up). To be fair he has realised it has worked for him in the past and has took teams up and they are much better placed in points than us BUT it was awful to watch. They relied on the diagonal high ball and to get players amongst the flick ons and today it did not work. They had a late flurry and scored and then had another chance but it would have been a travesty if they had taken anything from the game. They were dire for the most part and fortunately the side trying to play football won it. They did have a few spells in the first half when they kept it but went nowhere with it and then inevitably just lumped it up to Davies. They have a lot of talent with Beckford, the two pacey wingers and you look at some of the options they have on the bench with Ebanks Blake etc and you think they could hurt teams but on today’s evidence you would have to reason that they have got to the top by playing a mostly physical style of football. Maybe I am wrong and today was a one off and with having Garner out they had to go up to Davies but surely with quick, skilful wingers and Beckford up there and some decent player at full back/central midfield they could have played it more but it never happened.

Davies looked a player at the end of his days and resorted to fouling all game. Sure there are days with weak refs (like today) where he can be effective but today he offered nothing. I felt we did well against other rated (at least this level) forwards and won midfield against some decent, experienced players. Though the two lanky centre backs looked there to be turned as it proved when we got on top. Overall they may be missing best player but felt they looked a poor side. If they somehow go up, then it shows what a poor division it is. Have a feeling regardless of cups we may see them again down the line in May. Just an inkling. 

Howard 7/10 – Solid enough. Can’t think of much he had to. First half he did not have a save to make and only one shot past the post. Second half it was the same for the most part other than one save with his legs. He stayed on his line a few times when maybe he could have come but the weather made it hard to totally judge it when it was knocked forward. For the goal, maybe he could have done a bit better. It was well hit but he got his hand to it. Then made a solid save at the end from the late header.

Flynn 7.5/10 – He played well again at right back. Getting up and down when he could and using the ball sensibly. He had a few runs where he nearly led to chances and was able to do well against a tough opponent in Gallagher who was barely a threat. Ended up wide right in the end as Alcock came on.

Harris 7/10 – Thought he was decent and recovered from mistake at Port Vale. He too was faced with a difficult opponent in Humphrey too but he kept him fairly quiet other than one good run he held him in check. Won tackles and kept it simple. He nearly got a goal at the end when he won a tackle and shot across the goal and just wide.

McEveley 7.5/10 – He was excellent and a rock all game. Faced with the difficult Davies who backs in and then at times the quick Beckford he and Kennedy restricted both of them to barely a chance. Made key blocks, put his foot in and just defended intelligently and bravely. He has been an excellent signing and most weeks he has been one of our consistent players. 

Kennedy 7/10 – Solid enough defensively. He cleared it and headed it when he had to and made blocks. Sliced one wide which in a way was a positive as there was a man behind him. He had two chances the other end but miskicked both sadly. Does not look comfortable on the ball but he is there to defend and he did that well today. A decent lad to have around in case of injuries etc and has never really let us down (never lost when he has started).

Doyle 8/10 – Thought he was United’s best player today. He won tackles, covered an awful lot of ground and was non stop. He broke up play, used it well and also got into forward positons (missed a good chance at the end). He had to mark Davies at times but did not let that deter him. Very good and a huge part of the win.

Scougall 7/10 – At times he was quiet again but also to be fair to him he showed flashes of last season too. He had a few bursts forward although at times he got out muscled when it came to the final moment of such runs. He did at least get them on the back foot at times. Still not quite at consistent level of last season and I feel he may be better as an impact player off the bench but today he did ok.

Baxter 7/10 – As with above, he flitted in and out of the game. Some neat touches and passes mixed in with spells where he was not involved. He did work harder at times sometimes to detriment as gave away two key free kicks but did seem to put more of a shift in today (sure some may say otherwise) and he did not hide as much. For all criticism he is still a good footballer but maddeningly inconsistent and lacks mobility to be that consistent threat.

Murphy 7/10 – First half he was quiet and did not influence the game much really. He was crowded out or made to come inside and neshed a few too but then second half he got involved and became more of a threat. He made the second goal with a brilliant run as players hacked at him and he kept on going across the field before supplying Campbell Ryce. After this he had a few more decent runs and became more for a worry. Up and down still but as he showed on the run he has enough ability to turn a game in one moment.

Campbell Ryce 7.5/10 – As with Murphy he was quiet first half with one run where he was baulked and a few other moments where it came to nothing. Second half we managed to isolate him more against the full back. As a result he got at him, drove past him and nearly led to one goal, before he eventually scored. He had a few other cross shots after this too. Like McEveley been a surprisingly good signing from someone in the Autumn of his career.

McNulty 7.5/10 – First half fed off scraps and was playing two giant centre backs and the ball did not always stick albeit the game was a bit of a midfield battle. Second half he got much more involved, held it up better, drew fouls and was able to score a goal in a scramble in the box. After this linked better with others and was a threat in terms of nuisance value. Would like to see him get some help up there but today the formation did work as we ended up having more of the ball second half. 

Subs –

Alcock – Brought on for Campbell Ryce. He was able to help see out a few attacks toward the end. 

Wallace. J – Replaced Scougall. Had a few passes but did not get massively involved.

Wallace. K – Came on for Baxter who took a knock but he too was not massively involved in limited time. 

Clough rating : 8/10 – Tactically he got it right in the fact that after a first half where little happened we eventually wore a rather one dimensional Preston down. We had more of the ball, passed it better and created more chances. Over the course of the game we had a lot more efforts on and off goal (regardless of what the stats say – most of the Preston efforts were wayward). He was right to let Kennedy carry on and we would have kept a clean sheet but for the free kick at the death. The side competed well amidst quite a lot of physical challenges but stuck to it. We did pass it well and clearly at the break he had spoken to the side about playing higher up and raising the tempo. We also got the wingers involved more and became a real threat. I felt the goal was coming when it came and then we doubled the lead. He would have been going berserk if they had snatched a point. However fair play it has been a good week with the cup win and then a win against a high flying opponent at League One level (not beat many/any top sides). His job now is to try and kick on with another win next week at MK. We still for me need to get 2 or 3 quality players in right down the spine of the side so we will wait and see what happens next week.

Officials – He let way too much go early and should have got the yellow card out a lot earlier. As he didn’t he ensured Preston got away (and United with a few too to be fair) with numerous fouls and it got a bit silly. Whilst the fouls were shared around; he needed to book one just to stamp it out (might be harsh on that one player but was needed). It went on and on and then finally he booked Welch, that needed Doyle to do a bit of a Michael Brown over reaction to get him booked. Suddenly after this the flood gates opened and bookings finally started to happen. Preston shared it around with bot centre backs booked and then Beckford (ought to have gone for several instances after; of out and out dissent). Preston were fortunate to escape the Lane with all eleven on. Welsh was fortunate after another two fouls after his card and then was taken off before he was sent off. The centre back was also lucky to stay on after he committed another regulation yellow near the dug out but the ref just hard a word. 

Doyle did a few bad ones for us too and we were fortunate the two trips on the edge of the box did not get cautions but overall there was only one dirty/cynical side out there and it was not us. They were big and were very dirty. If a player went past their players, then they just took them down. The referee was too slow to penalise so they carried on doing it. I felt he just lost control for much of the game and let them get away with way too much. How Kevin Davies escaped a booking was beyond me. I kid you not I counted 13 fouls he was penalised for and he somehow escaped a yellow card. The irony of their fans shouting abuse at the referee was quite remarkable (‘2-0 to the referee’ / ‘you are not fit to referee’) was incredible. I am unsure what he did to upset them, other than let a team of physical, niggly players foul and kick the opposition all game. How they only got 4 yellow cards was beyond me? Maybe they get away with it most week and will explain why they are so high up the league.

Crowd – Decent crowd of nearly 20,000 helped by a few thousand from Preston. They were a noisy bunch most of the game and United’s fans were quiet first half. The Blades fans did come to life second half and obviously the goals helped. We then kicked on and the noise levels increased. A lot of the frustration came due to the poor officiating and the overly physical tactics from Preston which stopped the game having any kind of flow. As an aside went in the bar in John Street before the game. Beer is overpriced and in plastic glasses but it did save time scurrying across town and the entertaining Derek French compares in there with a favourite ex Blade apparently there to support (today was Curtis Woodhouse). Was packed and good to see United actually making some money out of that space.