Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Blades blunted

Sheffield Utd 0 - 1 Newcastle Utd

Back at the start of the season, we thought Sheffield Utd would be challenging at the top of the league. Recent form would, however, suggest that we were wrong, and the disgruntlement of fans towards manager Kevin Blackwell was plain to see last night as we somewhat fortuitously left the Steel City with all three points.

The victory owed a fair amount to luck, with Kevin Nolan's robust tackle on Kyle Walker allowed to go unpunished by referee Keith Friend, only for Ryan Taylor's ensuing shot to take a big deflection off home defender Chris Morgan into the net, with 'keeper Ian Bennett stranded.

However, regardless of our good fortune in front of goal, the margin of victory owed more to the excellent performance of Steve Harper in our goal, who produced a number of fine saves, particularly during the five minutes which were added on at the end of the match, to ensure our miserly defensive record continued.

The relative novelty of being the most defensive sound team in the league is something which we should take a great deal of satisfaction in, and the sterling efforts of Harper in particular are deserving of much praise. In front of him, Jose Enrique in particular looks to be enjoying a fine season, and we can only hope that his marauding runs and defensive solidity continue throughout the campaign. With Coloccini returning to the side last night (and lucky to get away with twice leaving his studmarks on Blades forward Darius Henderson), and Steven Taylor on the road to recovery, Chris Hughton may once again be able to field his first choice back four.

In front of him, last night's game was one for the workers, with Smith and Butt together in the centre of the park and Kevin Nolan initially employed to support lone striker Bigger Lad, who struck the post with a superb header early in the second period. As the game wore on, Hughton opted to introduce Homer and Nile Ranger to form an attacking triumvirate. By that stage, however, Taylor's deflected shot had given us a lead, and it was as much about having some additional height in defensive situations as it was about hoping to add a second that saw their appearance from the bench.

If we can continue to grind out results even when not quite playing at our best, as we did last night, then we might be able to open up a bit more of a lead at the top of the table in recent weeks. However, to do that we need to continue to apply ourselves properly as, without that work ethic, the whole enterprise still threatens to come crashing down.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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