Determination, character, passion and hard work. These are just a few of the words that have been used very infrequently in post-match comments regarding Sheffield United for some years. However the Chris Wilder revolution seems to be in full steam after his team ground out another 3 points against Gillingham, making it two wins on the bounce. The Blades have now come from behind to snatch the 3 points in two consecutive games, putting them just 3 points off the play offs.
Gillingham had the best chance early on. A ball from inside his own half from Paul Konchesky sent through striker Cody McDonald. His quick turn took him past Wright before he then skipped past O’Connell. It was left to the United keeper Simon Moore to race out and make a brilliant save one on one, keeping the game level.
It was then United’s turn to threaten. A one-two between Freeman and Done provided Freeman with time and space inside the box. However, he couldn’t get his shot away as Oshilaja put in a fantastic challenge. This was met by cries for a penalty, however the referee did not agree. Later, a neat ball by Duffy into Billy Sharp’s feet gave The Blades another golden opportunity inside the box. He tried to turn on the ball and place it to the keeper’s right. However, his decision not to hit the ball first time across the keeper allowed Gillingham to make the block.
Some time later, The Gills produced a threatening counter attack. A cynical foul by Lafferty on McDonald gifted Gillingham a free kick on the edge of the area. It was Bradley Dack who stepped up, swinging the ball over the wall and past Simon Moore. Gillingham led 1-0 against the run of play. The wall’s inability to jump and Moore’s decision to leave he right hand side of his goal completely exposed had backfired.
United then attempted to claw themselves back into the game. A Coutts corner was met by Basham, however his header was comfortably saved down low by the Gillingham keeper. The Blades had to wait until the second half before they could get themselves on he scoresheet. A great ball in by Lafferty was nodded down by Matt Done. It was Billy Sharp who met it, striking the ball across the face of goal for Kieron Freeman to slide the ball home. The match was now tied at 1-1.
The Blades however nearly gave Gillingham all 3 points. A free kick from the left hand side was aimed high, providing what should have been a routine catch for the United keeper Simon Moore. However his fumbled catch nearly gifted Gillingham a goal if it wasn’t for new signing Ebanks Landell who saved his blushes by hacking the ball away.
The Blades then snatched themselves all 3 points after being awarded a last minute penalty. A one-two between Basham and Coutts was rounded off by Basham’s looping cross. The ball was met by the hand of Gillingham defender Joshua Pask, gifting the Blades a penalty. Captain Billy Sharp stepped up and rifled the ball home, giving United their first 3 points on the road this season.
The major talking point was the fact that United again dug in and ground out a win after falling behind. The Gillingham goal came against the run of play, and will have been a massive blow to the players. It showed great character and fight to turn the game around and grind out the win. It is certainly a set of qualities that United have been lacking in recent years. Good teams win games and grind out results, even when the chips are down. Wilder will hope this is a trait he has managed to add to the side.
Although playing some good football, at times United struggled in the final third and had issues penetrating the Gillingham defence. The side is crying out for an attacking midfielder who can carve open defences. Although Duffy is an out-and-out winger, he played centrally in the new 3-5-2 system. He is a player who I believe has alot more to come after already showing glimpses of brilliance in his passing and crossing array. Him and Scougall will run at players and links up well with the strikers. They are the sort of player United need to accompany Coutts and Basham and make United a serious threat . However, I believe a more natural CAM would be a great addition to the squad if Wilder is to use this system in future, freeing Duffy up to play wide.
The new formation did change the dynamic of the United side, allowing certain players to excel. The wing backs were allowed to bomb on, meaning The Blades had could have more men surging forward and tucking in at the back 5 when necessary. The right wing back Freeman scored the first goal and left wing back Daniel Lafferty provided the crucial cross into the box that led to it. Freeman in particular worked tirelessly up and down the right hand side, creating chances and stopping Gillingham attacks. He more than deserved his man of the match award, and more-or-less backed up my view in last week’s article that he is more than good enough, if not better than Brayford.
Also at times the system gave centre back Jack O’Connell a license to bomb forward and get the ball moving. This drive from the back was crucial in allowing United to play at a high tempo and start attacks. Clearly it allowed United to throw men forward and create more chances, therefore it may be something that Wilder uses in weeks to come.
Billy Sharp showed more signs of being his usual self again. He came alive in the box when it mattered to create one goal and score another, showing why he is the most clinical striker in the league. Although lacking pace at times, if the ball falls to him in the box more than likely it will end up in the net. United fans need to be patient until he is at full sharpness and he will be the 20 goal a season man they need. Furthermore he will only flourish when played with a pacey striker such as Done or Lavery, something which Wilder himself seems to have realised.
Finally, there are also players to come back into the starting 11 such as Scougall, Clarke, Fleck and Lavery. All these will only give United more options and strength in depth. All these players will add a fast paced tempo to games and will look to be direct. This is something that United’s attack could have improved upon during Sunday afternoon’s game. Clearly, the squad looks very strong this season and can play a number of formations to match their opponents. I think this will be key in United’s success this season when the squad is fully fit.
image taken from – sufc.co.uk