The Blades squandered a two goal lead and a comfortable position to concede 3 goals in 5 minutes either side of half time before Nick Blackman restored parity. After this United huffed and puffed but never really did enough to win despite a clear penalty appeal being denied. Overall, a draw was probably a fair result as United were nowhere near the standards they had set of the previous game and generally were slower and less disciplined all over the field with few stand out performers. It was a frustrating 2 points to throw away when many of the teams around them also failed to win and if the Blades want to finish in the automatic performances they will have to play much better than they did tonight.
United began with an unchanged side from the one that saw off Stevenage and faced a Crewe side that had experienced a mixed bag of results
The game had only been a few minutes old when United won a corner. Nick Blackman’s first corner came back to him and from his second driven delivery the ball was glanced goalwards by the knee of Shaun MILLER and spiralled into the top corner. It was maybe a little fortunate but it was a perfect start for the home side. Miller did not celebrate acknowledging his former clubs role in his career. Soon after United were on the attack again and Porter swept over after good play from McMahon and Blackman down the right. United were in complete control and like Saturday seemed like they would blow the visitors away but gradually Crewe started to get a foothold in the game. Dalla Vale got away from Collins initially but managed to make a last ditch tackle. Crewe win 3 corners in quick succession and two shots fizzed over Long’s bar as the game became much more even.
However, as with the first goal, poor defending on set plays proved Crewe’s undoing. McDonald robbed Moore and won a corner. The delivery came over from the right from Blackman and MAGUIRE met it on the full to divert a header down and into the net. Once again it was poor marking as the home side exploited the weakness in the Alexandra backline but United now had clear breathing space. Soon after it was nearly 3 as Maguire and Miller were blocked out as United threatened to run away with the game.
However, despite the lead, Crewe were still moving forward with confidence and from a neat move they were back in the game. Crewe swept forward and after a series of slick passes the ball was pulled back and the initial shot from Murphy from just outside the box crashed against Long’s left hand post. However as United’s defence stood motionless, ELLIS reacted first and was able to steer his header into the top corner and put Crewe back into the game.
Almost immediately as United were still re-grouping the game was level. Murphy’s free kick came over and Long opted to punch but his effort to clear lacked any kind of conviction and barely went anywhere and seemed to strike a defender. The ball landed at the feet of POGBA who was first to react and turned and converted a simple chance with Long still grounded. It was a poor mistake from the keeper but to be truthful it completed a sorry spell for United who had completely fell apart after seemingly having complete control of the game. It was not long after that the half time whistle came with united trudging off stunned that they had thrown away a seemingly winning position to suddenly now be pegged back.
At the start of the second half, United had to make an immediate change and one could only guess that Flynn was injured as he was replaced by McAllister who went straight down the left hand side. However, the flow of the end of the first half continued and unbelievable within two minutes, the visitors had completely turned the game around. The ball was played inside the box and with the United backline once again all at sea, the ball was transferred to the left from Robertson and ANEKE curled in easily past the badly exposed Long. United had turned a comfortable two goal lead at 42 minutes into a 2-3 deficit by the 47 minute mark!
Not long after it was nearly 4-2 as Maguire appealed for a foul but the ball went forward and Long came and did not get there and Dalla Valle had an almost open goal but lifted it over as defenders raced back. It was a major let off and United buoyed by this went on the attack and were able to get back in the game soon after.
The ball was played into Miller who turned neatly and hit a powerful shot that struck the post. The rebound came out and BLACKMAN reacted first to strike a powerful shot into the net. United had responded immediately and were back in the game.
For the next 5-10 minutes the game resembled a basketball game as both teams came forward with shots from Aneke for Crewe and Blackman for the Blades off target. Porter then headed at Martin when well positioned from Williams looped cross as the game had a feel that either side could win it in a really open contest.
Blackman advanced into the box and seemed to be clearly tripped but both the referee and the linesman did not agree and play was waved on. It certainly seemed far more obvious than some of the awards that had gone in favour of the Blades this season. It summed up the night for the referee who had been to be frank, utterly awful for both sides.
Crewe then had a chance as from the right, the cross came over and Pogba’s point blank header was saved from Long. Dalla Valle then swept wide after Aneke got away from Westlake with the net gaping. United never really had got control but had the better of the final moments. Miller smartly turned and poked wide and as the game entered the final stages United seemed more intent on winning the game but Crewe remained dangerous on the break.
There was an additional three minutes of stoppage time adjudged to be played and Crewe made another change in an attempt to slow the game down. Porter tried to get in on a through ball but was denied by a last ditch challenge and then Blackman’s low shot was saved by the keeper in the final chance of the game. It had been a frustrating night for the Blades who had failed to build on the much improved performance of Saturday.
United – Totally different from Saturday. We never had control of the game from start to finish and even when we had 2-0 lead we had hardly dominated but just benefitted from poor defending from set plays and good delivery from Blackman. Our midfield did not have control and our defence did not get on top and win individual battles. McDonald had to do too much all game and with Doyle not as effective we conceded too much ball and play in the vital middle area of the pitch. Porter was given a tougher game and did not win the aerial battle and Miller did not quite have same impact. We did not have anything down the left and even though Blackman was a threat he too was given too much to do. We lacked cohesion on the ball, did not have the same chances due to poor ball retention, trying to do too much too quickly or not keeping the ball up top but more than this it was losing the ball all over the field. In short I felt they were sharper, quicker and hungrier. For long spells they seemed to want it more which was disappointing as we did not allow our supposed superior players to take over as we could not win enough first or second balls. The middle third of the game saw us lose control and even though the attack could have done more and the defence was hesitant and backed off all night; I felt we lacked shape and organisation. The three compartments were too far apart and their was a lack of leadership (Collins? Doyle?) that saw the team re-group instead of simply capitulate. To lose 3 goals in 5 minutes exposes this lack of leadership and ability to regroup. We keep tossing goals away just before half (and full) time every week and this does not seem to change. We cannot concentrate and the team seems incapable of heeding these warnings and is a clear weakness. Worryingly teams watching us tonight will now come to the Lane and show no fear and attack us knowing our defence is not as good as many may think (granted we need to get Hill back who gives us much more solidity.)
We got in front thanks to a scrappy goal and then got control of the game and when the second came you felt we had done enough in a way but I was never totally convinced and we got scrappy as seemed like we thought we would just walk the game. The first goal came from them and you thought that would be the warning side but suddenly more slack play and it was level. We just fell apart after this and the third goal was not a surprise. We seemed to think it would be easy but we stopped doing the little things and lost 50/50 balls all over the field. This led to chances and goals. Crewe showed how east it was to get in behind us. We made mistakes but they actually had other chances as they exposed our weak links and got behind us relatively easily.
A team actually had a go at us and showed how poor we can be at the back. Our midfield got overrun for the 10-15 minutes up to half time and as good as McDonald and Doyle had been on Saturday, they were as poor tonight as we invited pressure on. Williams was really struggling and Collins also was ridden with mistakes. You could see Crewe becoming more and more confident and growing into the game. You sensed they realised in essence we were just not that good. They actually could have had more goals and missed a golden chance to make it 4-2 when Long came and missed after the ball went forward and the Crewe man. After this we got level but then we had one penalty appeal (a good one) and another excellent cross from Blackman what Porter should have got on the end of but I can’t remember that many other clear chances and we hardly piled on the pressure. Indeed Crewe had a few chances of their own. Blackman did well and McDonald showed flashes but he was often double marked and with Doyle so poor this made it hard with little options on the left.
Maguire played well again but the rest of the defence were not the best to say the least with Long having his first iffy game. A draw was a fair result in reality despite the topsy turvy nature of the game both ways. It should give United a big kick up the back side. Saturday I felt at last we were showing we could go up and the sort of potential the team has and then today it was back to much of the scrappy, poor play we have seen much of the season. Sadly Saturday seems to have the exception to a lot of very ordinary performances. Make no mistake there are better sides than Crewe and if we show same kind of attitude, sloppiness and lack of fight (that was the worry more than the football) to win the first ball, it will be a play off season at best again I am afraid.
Crewe – They are the sort of side you would expect United to beat but then they are always the sort of team that surprises you. They play neat and tidy football but today more than that they got stuck in and won many of the first and second balls. It was not the sort of Crewe side you expect and even though they did play some decent stuff, they actually had real power and pace. Pogba down the right looked good and Dalla Valle (blond haired lad) was lively. Aneke also showed some real pace and trickery. They conceded two goals from set plays and looked susceptible to crosses but once they settled down they came back into it and exploited our slow back line. They got back in it and after this grew in confidence. Fair play to them as right from the start they played 4-4-2 and did attack (teams who do this generally have success at the Lane rather than play 1 up top and play for a draw). They actually sensed more goals and had chances even after they scored a third. They competed all game and won the key midfield battle for a long period of the game. They actually were better than many teams we have played so far and despite a sloppy start and seemingly being out of it; they kept going and never looked like getting hammered like Stevenage did. They gave it a real go. For the final 20 minutes they did not attack as much and kind of accepted what they had got which was fair enough but we hardly looked like battering them and they defended well stopping crosses into the box and bottling us up. Without Blackman we did not look a threat really and they saw us off relatively comfortably (penalty award notwithstanding).
Long 6/10 – He had a real mixed performance tonight but one that maybe mirrored the rest of the side. He had little chance with the first goal and up to this point had made a good claim and a decent punch but then he made a bad mistake when he did not get enough on a punch (should have caught) and they scored. After this he had a sticky spell and rushed out in an incident reminiscent to Exeter last season and they could have made it 4-2. He did make a decent save from point blank range at 3-3. Generally I thought he looked a bit indecisive at times. I suppose there was always going to be a mistake at some point and it will be interesting to see how he recovers.
Westlake 6.5/10 – Not quite as solid as Saturday and the winger did get away from him a few times. He did ok with the ball and generally to me looks no worse than McMahon and at least does get forward but must have been frustrated as Blackman barely released him all game. He was not the worst defender though and at least kept plugging away and showed good energy but tonight maybe showed up some of his defensive weaknesses.
Williams 4/10 – Really poor. I have defended him in recent weeks but felt tonight he struggled all game. Pogba was too skilful, too strong and too fast. He did not receive much help from either wing man. They clearly saw him as a weakness and played on it all night. They often just played the ball up to that area knowing their man had the beating of him. I do not think it was for the lack of effort but basic control, defending and decision making he looked inadequate tonight. He has done ok most of this season in a few positions but tonight had you hoping Hill would be back soon.
Maguire 7/10 – Not as good as Saturday but the general mayhem around him in that crazy 5 minute spell was as much about the whole team as the rest of the defence. I felt we had no protection in front of the back line and generally looked slow. He at least tried to get to the ball first and also use it better than many of the rest of the defence/midfield. Felt a little sorry for him as he seemed to be covering for other mistakes.
Collins 5.5/10 – Won a few headers and clearances but he looked tonight like the guy I remembered from the ill-fated Adams area. Got skinned a few times and made a few poor clearances or decisions with the ball.
Flynn 6/10 – Not great first half but still put a few decent crosses in but made a few telegraphed balls and a few poor decisions. Obsessed with stopping and coming back inside or back towards his own goal which is really frustrating! He did go at his man once and won a free kick. Still despite a so-so game, when he went off you knew we would struggle down this side as basically had nothing from his replacement.
Doyle 5/10 – Really poor tonight. We completely controlled midfield Saturday and he won first and second balls. Tonight he not only lost first balls but barely got a foot in all night and I felt they controlled this area for long spells. I can barely remember him second half as we struggled mightily to get a proper foothold in the game. His passing and decision making was also poor.
McDonald 6/10 – His passing was up and down but he always looked to get on the ball and at least try and switch it and move it from left to right and vice versa. He misplaced a few passed and did try and overplay but he was one of few still trying to make things happen. Seemed frustrated with the lack of options in front of him and was crying out for people to come short but often reduced to trying difficult long balls/diagonal passes.
Blackman 7.5/10 – Thought has our stand out played tonight. Yes he remains quite selfish and he does hang onto the ball too much but he still looked our main threat. He got down the wing, cut it and had a few shots or efforts. He made two goals and scored another. He makes things happen no matter how frustrating he can be and defenders do not like playing against him due to his pace and trickery and also his unpredictability. He also got tripped for a penalty and was unlucky not to get this award.
Miller 6.5/10 – Started the game well with a scrappy but another poacher’s type goal but then flitted in and out of the game. Showed a few glimpses but ball came of him and Porter too much and they did not link up the same as they did on Saturday and were often too far apart or did not control the ball properly. He had a good shot that led to the third goal but after this things did not happen despite his attempts to try and get on the ball. Should stay in the team though.
Porter 6/10 – Surprisingly he did not win as many headers tonight and the centre back actually got on top of him and he faded badly in the second half. Had a few half chances but overall I cannot remember him contributing to many clear headers, knock downs or hold ups that led to chances and felt we maybe should have changed him for another forward and that we looked a little stale in this area.
McAllister 3/10 – Came on and basically did nothing. Made two simple square balls, flicked a ball to the wing and then basically jogged around, looked like he did not want the ball or seemed unable to grasp the concept he was on the wing (he may not be a winger but he was on the wing!) and kept coming inside and thus compressing the play. Also he did not cover for Williams when they attacked. He looks completely out of his depth and I cannot see why McFadzean or another cannot be given a go in this area. Don’t know why we are keeping players like him, Tonne, Philliskirk etc when clearly none look anywhere near first team regulars or capable of contributing even at this level. With the recent financial results and restructure of staff at all other levels, giving such ordinary (being kind) players like this longer contracts is mind baffling.
Officials – Mr Adcock was utterly dreadful. Fussy on some free kicks (where they were taken and how they were taken – moving ball etc) but on others he allowed players to take it from anywhere with the ball moving. He also missed some obvious fouls but then gave some of the pickiest fouls you could imagine. He wanted everyone to know he was there when really no one needed to know there even was a referee as nothing needed stopping and no players needed talking to. He had no control of the game from start to finish and that was in a game where there was not a bad tackle all night. To cap it all missed a clear trip on Blackman (linesman should have seen it also) that ultimately could have decided the game. Awful referee that basically looked like he could not control a game on the park on a Sunday.
Crowd – Utterly flat atmosphere. Some noise when the goals went in but even at 2-0 United fans were quiet and for a 6 goal game it was pretty dead. The crowd was of course slightly down and Crewe only brought a few hundred (including one next to me in the South Stand who celebrated wildly every Crewe goal – amusing as if he as a younger man would have been seen as a troublemaker but as he was fairly senior he was ignored; I did politely tell him it was not the done thing to jump up and down in a home stand and asked why he was not in the empty seats in the away end – he said he came with a friend who was a neutral – all very bizarre!). Anyway generally things have been dead at the Lane this year and most fans just a little disinterested waiting for a controversial incident or something really out of the ordinary to happen to make any kind of noise. Looking forward to some away games when there may be some sort of, or any kind of atmosphere amongst Blades as most fans at the Lane these days don’t sing or show any kind of emotions (for or against ) at all. That sounds harsh but most seem like zombies!