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Tuesday night’s 3-0 loss to Southend was one which lifted the veil on a series of issues that the Blades have been masking for a number of years. It was a wretched display that saw United concede 3 within the first 15 minutes, thus effectively killing the game and the Blades chances of salvaging anything from the game. It is a result and performance that has left many Blades fans scratching their heads about the club’s direction and how this season will end, however I believe they must remain calm.
Southend took the lead after just 6 minutes after a cross from the right hand side by Luke O’Neill hit Blades centre back Jack O’Connell to send the ball looping over George Long’s head. Just 8 minutes later O’Connell’s partner James Wilson could only clear the ball to the feet of Adam King who sent Simon Cox through on goal. After an awful piece of communication between United keeper George Long and left back Chris Hussey, Cox was able to waltz around the keeper and square the ball to Stephen McLaughlin who poked the ball home into an empty net. Cox then got himself on the scoresheet after an awful touch from Jack O’Connell allowed Nile Ranger to burst through on goal. He then layed the ball off to the unmarked Cox who arrived at the back stick 6 yards out to tap the ball home.
Clearly, Sheffield United completely capitulated in the first fifteen minutes of the game. A combination of George Long’s lack of communication and command of the box, as well as some individual errors by the Blades defence gifted Southend the game. The football which then followed this in response was woeful. The ball spent much of its time in the air, with United persistently pumping long balls into Leon Clarke. I am sure Clarke is not the only one frustrated with the lack of runs in behind to meet his flick ons.
The second half performance was mildly improved by the introduction of Paul Coutts and Harry Chapman at half time. Coutts provided a more composed head in the midfield and got the ball moving. Brayford also turned up for the second half after a disingenuous and disinterested first half. He linked up with Chapman well, bombing forward and executing smart one-twos to prise open the Southend defence. However this did little in terms of chance creation. Other than Billy Sharp’s left footed effort in the second half which was dragged wide despite the time and space he was afforded, the Blades didn’t manage to register any meaningful efforts on goal.
Obviously, Wilder will be very disappointed with him team. There are areas which there are deep rooted issues for United and have been left unresolved for quite some time. His signings already have tried to fix these, however there is still a lot of hard work to be done at the Lane.
Goalkeeper George Long simply is not good enough at this moment in time. He doesn’t command his defence or balls that come into his box. His lack of communication and tentativeness to deal with balls he should be collecting is an issue that has plagued United for quite a while. It instills a fear across the whole defence which makes the team very frail defensively. Furthermore his positioning is awful and often leads to him conceding long range goals that simply trickle into the corner. The club never really replaced Paddy Kenny and has had a string of inconsistent goalkeepers ever since. However, Wilder is no fool. He has already addressed the situation with the signing of Simon Moore, who I am sure will end this rot. The former Brentford man is someone who will command his box and defence and already has a promotion from this division on his CV, again an astute signing by Wilder.
Another issue which needs addressing is the fact the club has reverted to ‘hoof-ball’ since the arrival of Leon Clarke. I am not criticising Clarke, as his performance has been excellent. He has given 100% in every performance and has won the majority of long balls directed his way. However, the issue is that the team is not built to play in this way. Billy Sharp is not the pacey striker who will play on the shoulder and make dashing runs in behind. This is not his skillset. United need to utilise the qualities that have on the floor. If we are not to change the system, we must change the personnel. Left wing or left back it makes no difference, Matt Done is not a wide man. 5 goals in his first 6 games in a Blades shirt surely showed that he is an outright centre forward. He looks for runs in behind, he has pace, he gambles and most of all, he can finish. In my opinion or Marc McNulty would suit the current system more than Billy Sharp. Done is a goalscorer, but the club must play him in goalscoring positions to get the performances they demand of him.
As a result of the failure of this long ball football, one individual who has to go be dropped the side is Chris Basham. The signing of someone in the mould of Morsy would be ideal. United need to be physical and strong, agreed. However Basham severe lack of quality on the football restricts United, despite his enthusiasm. With players such as Louis Reed, Paul Coutts, Ben Whiteman and Stefan Scougall who enjoy playing on the floor, United would have great strength in depth in these positions if Wilder was to slightly change his style. If we are to ‘overload’ teams as he says, United need good footballers in the centre of the park who will link up and create chances with the likes of Duffy and Chapman.
One other thing we learnt from the game was the disinterest John Brayford had in being at the club. The man has not put in a willing performance since the departure of Nigel Clough, and his move back to Burton today on a season long loan signifies this. For me, his cult status at Bramall Lane was always undeserved. Yes he often embodied the passion we wanted to see, shown through his bursting runs forward. However for me, the quality was never there. They marauding runs often masked his defensive frailties and often resulted in a cross being drilled at the opposition’s full back for a throw in. It was criminal that Kieron Freeman was dropped from the side last season, as until that point he was one of the only players who put in a genuine performance each and every week. Defensively he is a better player than Brayford and also likes to get forward. He is a full back more than worthy of playing in league one and the money freed up by the Brayford deal will only mean Wilder can finish his rebuilding project.
To conclude, I believe that Wilder will get it right. However it will take time to strip back all the issues at the club. The players he has brought in already have made us stronger. Players such as Moore, Duffy, Fleck and Clarke do not hold the reputations they do for no reason, they are top league one players. However it will take time for them to become accustomed to his footballing philosophy. The club is in a rut and there is no quick solution like the board believes with its persistent sacking of managers. Give him time, he will get this right. Just maybe not straight away, Rome wasn’t built in a day.