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A sold out Cherry Red Records Stadium set the scene for a 5 goal thriller between AFC Wimbledon and Sheffield United last Saturday. It was however the away team who took all 3 points away from South West London, giving the Blades 3 consecutive wins in League one; a feat they have not achieved since December of last season. It moves Chris Wilder’s side upto 12th place in League One, just one point behind next week’s opponent Peterborough who occupy the all important 6th position.
It was The Blades who took the lead for the first time this season on the 20 minute mark. Freeman’s pass into Duffy provided him with an opportunity in the box. His quick feet and the drop of a shoulder was enough take both the Wimbledon defender and goalkeeper out of the game. He then calmly slotted the ball home to make it 1-0 to United. It was a great individual goal that showcased the sort of match winning qualities the winger will add to the side.
United then doubled their lead just over 5 minutes later. A ball from Basham inside the Blades half released Matt Done down the left wing. He put over an excellent ball that was met by the head of Billy Sharp, giving the away team a comfortable 2 goal cushion. It is this sort of clinicality and desire to get inside the 6 yard box that makes Sharp one of the best strikers in League One.
However, the 38th minute saw The Dons claw themselves back into the game. After a period of some pressure, Barcham was able to skip past the challenge of Freeman. His cross towards the front post was met by Dominic Poleon, a former United player himself. He was able to head the ball past Simon Moore, putting Wimbledon were back in the game with the score at 2-1.
Despite this, United came out for the second half enthused. They had 3 very good chances within the first 10 minutes of the half., Mark Duffy’s shot wide from 6 yards and Matt Done had a volley saved and later missed an open net from an acute angle after rounding the keeper. However on the hour mark some great vision by Fleck allowed him to pick out the run of Done, who this time rounded the keeper to tuck the ball home. With a 2 goal cushion restored, United looked comfortable.
However 12 minutes later, Wimbledon again got themselves a lifeline. Dean Parrett’s clever chipped delivery into Tom Elliot gave him the time and space needed to instinctively slot the ball past Simon Moore in the United goal. It led to a very tense last 20 minutes for the Blades, however they were able to hang on and grind out the 3 points.
The front 2 of Done and Sharp, accompanied by the creativity and directness of Duffy seems like a winning combination. There were chances galore for the Blades Saturday afternoon, with them producing a number of clear goalscoring opportunities. On another day if Done had converted his chance after rounding the keeper and Duffy hadn’t of squandered a golden opportunity unmarked 6 yards out, United could have easily scored 5. In weeks to come the sharpness and clinicality required will come. However, more importantly all 3 players worked tirelessly to create chances, which is half of the hard work. Done chased down lost causes and allowed our midfield to play balls in behind to stretch times. Sharp was also great, holding the ball up, pressing defenders and providing the all important finish when the ball landed in the box. And finally, Duffy run at players, threaded some great passes, created chances and linked up the play between the midfield and the strikers. This little trio will be very important this season and will only improve as they find their feet and confidence. With Lavery, Clarke and Scougall also fighting for these attacking positions, United look to be in a very strong position.
The more defensive midfielders, Coutts and Basham, were also very important in helping United to gain all 3 points. Coutts was strong on the ball and was key in retaining possession with his cool and accurate passing. He got United on the front foot, turning defence into attack. Basham was also key in providing energy in front of the back 4, something which was missed in the second half. Although his distribution has been poor since going the Blades, he seems to be transformed in the last few games, playing the ball much simpler. Furthermore, Fleck also looked positive when he come on. He has the vision to cut open defences and would walk into most League One teams. Strength in depth is key, and it is definitely something United have in the midfield areas. With youngsters Louis Reed and Ben Whiteman also fighting for places, it is an area where United look very competent.
However issues do still exist amongst United’s defensive ranks. The Blades have not kept a clean sheet this season and conceded a further 2 on Saturday. Despite this, it is hard to pin down where the issues lay. Jake Wright was once again dominant. Although lacking pace, he is in the right place at the right time to nullify attacks and provides a presence in the air. Ebanks Landell was also relatively impressive on his full debut. He was commanding in the air and seemed to track the Wimbledon forwards quite well. However he was at fault for heading the ball backwards on some occasions, something many centre forwards will be looking to punish him for. O’Connell was also impressive. He made some big challenges and again got the ball moving forward with some surging runs. The Blades need to stamp out conceding from free kicks if they are to progress and must learn to track runners into the box. However when Wilder finds a settled back 3 and each player has acclimatised and built a working relationship with their counterparts, I believe the defence has the potential to be a very solid unit.
United have a lot to be positive about. Agreed there are some areas, particularly the defence, that could do with brushing up. But once United get a settled side, they will flourish. Wilder has instilled belief, passion and a team ethic that is there for all to see. With the strength in depth the team possesses, I can see them quite easily being within the top 6 if not the top 2. The foundations for success are being laid, Wilder just needs to be given the time.
Image taken from – sufc.co.uk