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Sheffield United 0 Rovers 0


Alan75
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Match Report by Scotty

Anyone who, before the game, thought "oh, it's only Sheffield United - we should be easily beating this lot" clearly know nothing about football. It was always going to be a tough game against a fully-committed team played in a hostile atmosphere, and so it proved.

The first half was just a battle. Both teams worked hard to close their opponents down, both were physical (without being over-physical), both defended reasonably well and, as a result, both created little. In fact each team only had one real chance each. United's came from (yet another) long ball through the middle of our defence that found Hulse free inside our area. Fortunately he went for power rather than finesse and blasted the ball wide on the half volley. He really should have scored. Our chance came after a neat bit of passing on the left that found the on-rushing Neill clear on the edge of the area. His curled right-foot shot floated wide when he really should have hit the target at least.

So 0-0 at half-time which was a pretty fair reflection on the what had taken place.

I thought we started the second half well and took the game to United. With Bentley and Emerton in particular playing well we started to string some passes together, found some space at last, and genuinely exerted some pressure for the first time in the match. Bentley put some great crosses over during this period, at least one of which should have been converted - Jeffers heading narrowly wide. Jeffers could also have had a penalty when it looked like he was brought down just inside the area.

Eventually though our pressure was rewarded when McCarthy "won" a penalty. Neill and McCarthy had what looked like a bit of a heated debate over who'd be taking the spot-kick, Neill won, and then hit a poor penalty that was comfortably saved by Kenny. The Sheffield crowd, who had been totally silent for most of the second half, suddenly went beserk and reacted as if they'd just scored the winner in a cup final. And you could just see their team lift and Rovers' confidence wilt.

Suddenly it was all United. Playing direct, pacey football they poured up field and took their turn to put us under pressure. And again, their pressure was rewarded with a penalty. I haven't seen the incident on TV yet, and I was sat at the other end of the ground so couldn't tell whether it should have been a penalty or not, but what I did see was the ref warning Zurab about holding before the corner took place. And I also saw that the ref never took his eyes off Zurab as the ball came in. So you'd think that Zurab might have had the sense not to hold on to his attacker. Anyway, the penalty was given, Unsworth stepped up to take it, and Friedel saved it magnificently.

The game then became a bit frantic. Both teams took turns to attack, both looked as capable as the other of getting a winner, and neither seemed happy to settle for a draw. However, it was a total surprise when Sheffield were awarded a second penalty five minutes from time. A long, misdirected ball was seemingly controlled by Neill on his chest at the edge of our area. He wasn't under any pressure and I didn't see any of the United players appeal for anything. So quite why the linesman was manically waving his flag and signalling a penalty was anyone's guess. Unsurprisingly the Rovers players couldn't believe it but their protests were in vain. Up stepped Hulse this time and Friedel pulled off another fantastic save.

Finally, in what was the last move of the match, United created another gilt-edged opportunity and Friedel, once again, made a point-blank save to preserve the point.

Friedel was just a collosus. The man just gets better and better. Man of the match by a mile.

Our full-backs played well again. Emerton linked well with Bentley going forward and defended well when he had to. His pace helped us out on a couple of occasions. Neill looks comfortable at left-back and again roamed forward well. If he'd have scored his penalty he'd have been a contender for man of the match.

Ooijer looked much more assured than he did against Chelsea. He won most things in the air (he's good in the air) and stood up well to United's physical strikers. Zurab again looked composed but gave away what looked to be a stupid penalty. And it's worrying how often we get caught out by a simple long ball through the centre of our defence. We're just not commanding enough at the back at times.

Our midfield improved with the addition of Tugay. Although he wasn't anywhere near his best (United didn't allow him the time and space he likes) he still helped us to pass the ball better than we have so far this season, certainly in the second half anyway. Savage did his job well but picked up a stupid booking in the dying minutes of the game - you have to wonder what goes through his head sometimes.

Out wide we had two completely contrasting performances. On the left, Pedersen did little right. He frequently gave the ball away, his set-pieces were woeful, and it's hard to understand why he wasn't replaced early in the second half. On the right I thought Bentley was our (outfield) man of the match. He linked well with Emerton (we're a real threat down the right now) and whipped in some great crosses. He also worked his socks off defensively.

We were found lacking up front. McCarthy did nothing and didn't work hard enopugh imo. He continues to try fancy flicks and back-heels as well that, more often than not, only serve to break down our attacks and allow the opposition to break at us. Jeffers worked hard and was easily our best attacker. He got into good positions, frequently finding space, sadly though his finishing wasn't clinical enough. He looked sharp though. Nonda came on for McCarthy with about 20 minutes to go and, but for one piece of classy control, didn't really have the service to impress. It's a shame that Roberts was injured as I think it was his sort of game. He'd have held the ball up better and would have had more chance to get on the end of Benley's crosses.

You have to say that it was a good point in the end. When you go away from home, conceed two penalties, and our keeper is man of the match you have to be happy to gain a point. But that doesn't tell the whole story. We battled well in the first half and looked the better team in the second half until we missed our penalty. I'm sure if we'd scored it we'd have gone on to win the game fairly comfortably.

However, it's worrying that we're not creating enough chances, or taking enough of the one's we do create. It's a bit like the last year of Souness's reign when we frequently outplayed opponents but created little. The difference though is that, back then, our forwards were just not good enough. Now I feel that we have real quality up front but it's just taking time for the team to click and work out how best to supply them.

I'm still not worried about our league position, we're much better than where we currently find ourselves. I think it's unrealistic, after losing Bellamy, to expect us to finish as high as we did last season, but I'm sure we'll be comfortably mid-table at least by the end of the season. But we definately have some problems to sort out, specifically in central defence and sorting out our forward combination - and how best to feed them.

Final Score 0 - 0

Sheff Utd: Kenny, Armstrong, Leigertwood, Morgan, Unsworth, Tonge (Alan Quinn 82), Jagielka, Sommeil, Ifill (Kazim-Richards 64), Hulse, Webber (Nade 17).

Subs Not Used: Akinbiyi, Kozluk.

Booked: Hulse, Tonge.

Rovers: Friedel, Emerton, Khizanishvili, Ooijer, Neill, Bentley, Tugay, Savage, Pedersen, Jeffers, McCarthy (Nonda 72).

Subs Not Used: Brown, Mokoena, Gallagher, Peter.

Booked: Khizanishvili, Savage.

Att: 29,876

Ref: M Dean

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