The Blades play their first league game since the 20th of December as they travel to Pride Park backed by around 2500 travelling supporters. Last time out United suffered a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Premier League Wolves in the FA cup. In their first game for nearly three weeks the Blades did look a fair way from their previous performances, especially the victory away at Fulham, before Christmas. The game started poorly for United as Daniel Podence cashed in on a Jack Robinson mistake in the 14th minute. United skipper Billy Sharp did have the ball in the back of the net just before the half time break but referee Paul Tierney , much to Sharp’s understandable frustration, decided to blow for a high foot without giving VAR the chance to look at the decision.
After the break the Premier League side showed their quality and really controlled the game. In the 72nd minute a brilliant counterattack from the home side led to the full backs combining as Nelson Semedo smashed home Romain Ait-Nouri’s low cross. Just 8 minutes later Wes Foderingham failed to gather a long ball forward, handing the ball to substitute Raul Jimenez who squared it for Daniel Podence’s second of the game.
On Saturday United will be hoping for a much-improved performance from the one shown at Molineux. The Blades were without 11 men for the FA cup clash with COVID problems and injuries leading to selection problems, especially defensively. Irish duo John Egan and Enda Stevens have both been back in training, whilst Jack Robinson has come through a slight knock sustained at Wolves to also be in full training. Forwards Oli McBurnie and Rhian Brewster, the latter who played 70 minutes for the under 23s during the week, also seem to be nearing full fitness which will be a huge boost to the overall strength of the squad travelling to Derby at the weekend. However, the Blades boss himself will not be in attendance this week after testing positive for COVID early in the week.
Derby are currently bottom of the league, however their position in the table is misleading as without the points deductions they suffered would be level on points with the Blades. Wayne Rooney’s side have won their last two games on home soil beating both West Brom and Blackpool 1-0 and have collected 10 points from a possible 12. Despite this The Rams are without a win in their last two outings losing to Coventry, in the cup, and drawing with Reading, after two late goals dragged them level. Derby have an experienced squad with 3 former Blades men within the ranks: centre half Richard Stearman, maverick midfielder Ravel Morrison and Colin Kazim- Richards, whose final appearance for the Blades came 15 years and 8 days ago. Phil Jagielka was also at Derby until this morning, when the club were unable to extend the veterans contract due to a fresh transfer embargo enforced by the EFL. Derby could be bolstered by the return of Nathan Byrne, Louie Sibley, Lee Buchanan and Krystian Bielik who have all trained this week following injuries.
United will be hoping to put their cup woes behind them and put on a strong performance, however with the restrictions imposed on Derby and Wayne Rooney’s obvious anger with the EFL, as shown in his pre match media, it is possible that the side will be very fired up and want to put on a show for their passionate home supporters. United will have to match their opponents work rate as well as showing the quality which they have in previous league games. My prediction is a 2-1 victory for the travelling Blades.
Finally, after their festive calendar was decimated by other team’s Covid problems the Blades finally have a game to look forward to. On Sunday, their attentions turn to the oldest national knockout competition in the world, the FA Cup, as they take on Wolves at Molineux.
Both sides have enjoyed previous success in the FA Cup, each winning the competition four times. The Blades last lifted the trophy in 1925 when 92,000 people watched captain George Utley lift the trophy after the Blades beat Cardiff 1-0 at the old Wembley. On the other hand, Wolves’ 4th and most recent came some 35 years after their opponents as they beat Blackburn 3-0 on the same ground. Interestingly, former Wigan owner Dave Whelan, who led the club to a famous FA cup victory in 2013, featured in the Blackburn starting eleven that day.
The Blades have had 4 of their last six games cancelled. Their last game being the win away at Fulham, where Iliman Ndiaye’s wonder goal in the 3rd minute was enough for United to secure the victory against the league leaders. Currently unbeaten Blades boss, Paul Heckingbottom has his own selection problems to deal with. Three confirmed Covid cases within the Blades squad have added to the unavailable list which now rises to 11, including star man Morgan Gibbs-White who is ineligible to play against his parent club, before the contest on Sunday. However, training ground shots on the club’s social media have shown that both Adlene Guedioura and Rhian Brewster are back training with the first team squad. The previously referred to pictures also show young full back Femi Seriki, who has recently returned from an unsuccessful loan spell with Blades sister club Fc Beerschot, possibly hinting first team involvement for the 18-year-old.
Portuguese influenced Wolves are sitting just outside the European places in 8th and after beating Manchester United at Old Trafford last Monday will be high on confidence coming into this FA Cup fixture. However, despite their league position Wolves are the second lowest scorers in the top-flight this season, only Norwich below them in that respect. As you could probably guess, they didn’t get to 8th by chance and the 8 clean sheets that they have managed to keep has helped them enormously to get to where they are. Bruno Lage’s ‘Old Gold’ side are missing key players Pedro Neto and Jonny Otto to long term injuries, but the manager did give some positive news for both camps when he revealed that there was no new positive Covid cases within the squad.
This is undoubtedly going to be a tough test for The Blades who may struggle to cope with their Premier League opposition. It is however a great indicator for the Blades fans about the level that the current squad are at as they take on the side 24 places ahead of them within the Football pyramid. I can see the game being a cagey affair as both sides set up to be tough to beat, resulting in a 1-1 draw.
This weekend Sheffield United make the 4-hour trip to Cardiff looking to build upon their great performance and 2-0 win at home to Bristol City last Sunday.
At the weekend new management team Paul Heckingbottom, Stuart McCall and Jack Lester took charge of their first game and they couldn’t have asked for a much better start 2 goals a clean sheet and an overall dominant performance as the comfortably brushed Nigel Pearson’s Bristol aside. Heckingbottom reinstated the popular 5-3-2 shape used by Chris Wilder during his time at the Lane. This made the Blades look much more solid as well as creating overloads especially in the wide areas which helped them to create chances for the frontman. Morgan Gibbs-White was given a free roam in behind the strikers in the colloquially known “Duffy role” because of this he was able to drift into spaces in between the lines as well as dropping deep to claim the ball off the midfield and defensive players, because of this there was a real fluidity about United’s forward play. Strikers Rhian Brewster and Billy Sharp both profited from the good service with a goal apiece.
This week the Blades take on Steve Morisons Cardiff. The bluebirds have struggled at both ends of the pitch the season especially defensively, where they are statistically the second worst side in the division. Like the Blades Cardiff are also on their second manager this season with the former Millwall striker taking over on October the 29th, from former manager Mick McCarthy, the fortunes have picked up slightly after Morrisons appointment however with Cardiff winning three of his first six games in charge. Last time out Cardiff won 2-1 at Kenilworth Road, Rubin Colwill’s 10th minute strike is the first goal the bluebirds have scored in the first half in the Championship this season. The only player Cardiff are missing for the Blades’ visit is full back Sam Bowen, who is out until at least new year with a foot injury.
United are likely to be without John Fleck following his collapse a few weeks ago at the Madejski stadium but the Scottish midfielder could be back much sooner than originally expected with reports suggesting that he could be back this side of new year. Saturday saw Sander Berge return to action for the first tie since the 18th of September following a hamstring injury, the Norwegians return to action provides a huge boost to the Blades especially in Flecks’ absence. It is unclear whether either George Baldock or Robin Olsen are available for selection this weekend however, Olsen in particular may struggle to get straight back into the side as replacement stopper Wes Foderingham has been superb keeping three clean sheets on the bounce since being reinstated in the Blades goal.
This weekend I am predicting a 2-1 win for United with another strong performance from back to front allowing them to gain another three points.
So Slavisa Jokanović has gone and Paul Heckingbottom is in as his replacement, with the former under 23’s manager earning himself a five-year deal. I’ll start by doing what the club failed to do in the statement and thank the Serbian for his efforts in his short spell at the club, he was handed the hardest job in recent history at the club, replacing the extremely popular Chris Wilder. I feel that he was the right man to take the Blades back up but wasn’t given the time or investment to bring in the correct players to implement his style of play.
The fans of the club were extremely shocked to see the news break on social media at around 10am this morning, with many seeing him as the best man to bring long term success to Bramall Lane with the correct investment in the first team squad. The former manager has a proven record at championship level, winning promotion with both Fulham and Watford but is notoriously a slow starter, however surely with the record that proceeds him he deserved longer than the 147 days he had at the helm. This morning the initial reports from trusted sources were that there was a dispute between the manager and the hierarchy about the January transfer window plans and the manager had walked out due to the lack of assurances about the window. However, as the day has developed the clubs statement revealed that the manager has in fact been sacked by the club due to both a “lacklustre start” and not fitting the clubs “strategic long-term plan”.
Even though Jokanović was sacked by the club the stories about rows over transfer budget do hold up especially as when the new boss was asked about potential January signings, he stated that he “is not expecting that. I believe in this group of players. Maybe outs more than ins” this clearly shows that there was no plan from the clubs superiors to provide the necessary players to carry out the overhaul the Serb had in mind.
Although the dismissal has come as a surprise it isn’t the first time that the board have intervened with Jovanović’s management. After the 0-0 draw away at Luton the manager openly criticised the top of the club about the lack of players brought in, which is perceived to have angered the board members, and an unofficial warning was supposedly handed out. In the post-match interview Jokanović claimed that he was “promised” signings, understood to be wanting 2 wingers and a holding midfielder including Rolando Viera and Alex Collado. The only summer signing that had materialised by the time of the trip to Kenilworth Road was centre half Ben Davies, more did of course follow in the form of Conor Hourihane, Robin Olsen, Morgan Gibbs-White and Adlene Guedioura, but none filled the winger role which the manager felt he needed to implement his system.
What next for the Blades? Well obviously we already know Paul Heckingbottom is the replacement with chairman Giansiracusa feeling that he “is the right fit” and going on to say that he is “enamoured by his intellect and maturity”. Despite Heckingbottom’s success with the youth sides and three positive results as interim manager last season the fans are certainly worried about his managerial ability. With a win percentage of just 28%, 25% and 29% at Barnsley, Leeds, and Hibs respectively, there is apprehension that he isn’t the right man to take the Blades back to the promised land of the Premier League. Stuart McCall and Jack Lester have also been brought in to assist the new man in charge and their experience and knowledge of the club could prove invaluable to the relatively inexperienced man in charge. Heckingbottom is a popular man within the squad and large sections of the fanbase and he, and they, will be hoping he can bring a more ‘United feel’ back to Bramall Lane.
Tonight, Sheffield United travel down South for an 8 o’clock kick off under the lights at Reading with both sides currently struggling, down at the foot of the table. On Saturday a 12:30 kick off saw the Blades take on high flying Coventry live on sky at Bramall Lane. Before the game 13 places separated the two teams with United sitting in lowly 17th and Coventry inside the play off places at 4th.
United manager Jokanović made four changes with Robin Olsen, Ollie Norwood, Ben Osborn and Rhian Brewster miss out, despite the young striker scoring his first league goal last week in the 3-1 loss away at Blackburn. The Serb also opted for an attacking looking 5-2-3 formation, the first time United had started with a back five this season.
Surprisingly, Coventry boss Mark Robins opted to leave striker Matt Godden on the bench despite scoring five goals in his last six games, instead opting to play an extra midfield player. The managers decision did pay off however as they managed to limit the home side to few shots without troubling former Blades stopper Simon Moore in the Coventry goal. The keeper probably got a better reception than his former team mates as again boos rang out at half time with fans clearly not happy with their sides rather poor efforts to get the breakthrough.
The second half started very similarly to the first, despite David McGoldrick’s introduction at half time. Many passes were played sidewards and backwards with attacks breaking down before a chance could be fashioned. The Blades did however lift their performance and dominated the final half an hour. David McGoldrick had the best chance of the game when Morgan Gibbs- White cut the ball back to the former Irish international but he blazed his shot over the bar. Shortly after Conor Hourihane flashed his long range left footed effort just wide of the post. The final chance of the game fell to Wolves loanee Morgan Gibbs-White who fired a strong volley which deflected and drew a wonderful reaction save from Simon Moore, an overall poor performance leaves the Blades without a win since Barnsley just under a month ago.
However tonight the Blades have a good chance to put some of their recent disappointments behind them as they take on 20th placed Reading. At the weekend the hosts put an end to their run of back-to-back home defeats as Scott Dann equalised for the Royals after Nottingham Forests Phillip Zinckernagel’s early opener. Reading were deducted 6 points last week for breaching financial fair play and because of this are now 3 points below the Blades in the table. Despite the financial problems at the club this weekend did see a debut for striker Andy Carroll who is a real presence upfront providing an areal threat as well as the experience of scoring at this level. Other notable names within the ranks at the Madejski include former premier league regulars Scott Dann and Danny Drinkwater as well as George Puscas, who is of no relation to the former Hungarian great Ferenc despite the similarity within the names.
In the pre match press this week the Blades boss gave an update about his squad stating that, “George Baldock is ill” Lys Mousset is yet to start working the squad after hip problems and keeper “Robin (Olsen) is still recovering from some ribs muscle problem, its one or two weeks” during the managers interview their was no mention of 20 million pound man Sander Berge possibly meaning that he will return to the squad tonight, despite his lack of appearances there is rumours circulating that he could be on the move in January. Another piece of team news coming out Bramall Lane is that both Iliman N’diaye and Rhys Norrington- Davies have travelled with the Blades development side so are therefore both unavailable for selection, N’diaye in particular seems a strange decision as he has been a regular starter and a key player for the Blades this season however after he was taken off at half time at the weekend it is possible that the Frenchman has picked up a slight knock which has forced him to drop to the youth side.
Tonight, is a huge game for both sides involved as they need to pick up points to ensure that they are not dragged into a relegation fight with both sides floundering near the bottom of the table. I can see a low scoring encounter ending 1-0 either way but both the travelling Blades fans and manager will certainly be hoping for more after making the long journey down.
Bradford City had the potential to move within one point of the play-off places with a victory against fourth place Northampton this afternoon, could they spark a positive performance in ambition to gain some momentum? Read below to find out.
Callum Cooke returned to the starting 11 following his short-term absence and nearly marked his comeback with a goal. The attacking-midfielder struck the ball from range which forced Liam Roberts to make a crucial diving save towards the bottom-right corner.
The clash was extremely close matched in the early stages, both teams were holding firm and was very difficult for any sort of breakthroughs.
Paudie O’Connor was forced to make a vital interception moments later, Kion Etete was played into a dangerous position but the central-defender did brilliantly to clear any danger.
Today’s visitors started the second half strongly and pinned back Bradford. The home side struggled to gather any spells of possession in the early stages.
The Cobblers took the advantage on the hour mark, Mitch Pinnock carried the ball from the half-way line into the penalty area where he slotted close-range strike into the bottom corner.
City equalised moments later after a moment of magic from Caolan Lavery, the recent substitute won possession in a dangerous position and slipped Vernam into the 18-yard box. The composed and powerful effort was sent into the near post.
Derek Adams’ side was close to snatching all three points in the final stages but Lavery miss kicked his opportunity at the back post.
The game finished in a 1-1 draw, not a flattering performance from the hosts but secured a strong point against a good side. Man of the match was Paudie O’Connor personally, very solid performance and held firm for a large majority of the clash.
Fourth place Northampton Town are set to travel up to the Utilita Energy Stadium in anticipation for their clash against 11th placed Bradford City.
Derek Adams’ side had a strong performance against in-form Port Vale last weekend which resulted in a 1-1 draw courtesy of Lee Angol’s well aimed header which rattled in the top-left corner. The “ghost game” involving Exeter on Tuesday night ended in a 3-0 loss in extra-time, due to the home side making an extra sub the fixture which wasn’t appreciated amongst the Bradford fan base. To add salt to the wound Angol’s suspension still stands and forces him to be out of tomorrows fixture. The Cobblers have won four out of their last five, but most recently were defeated by Joey Barton’s Bristol Rovers.
One of the most historic encounters between these two sides was the 2012/13 Sky Bet League Two play-off final, this concluded with Bradford claiming promotion after a comfortable 3-0 victory following goals from Nahki Wells, Rory Mcardle and Nathan Doyle.
Former Bantam loanee Dylan Connolly is likely to be involved in Northampton's side tomorrow. The lightning-fast forward recorded 29 appearances for Bradford, he also scored one goal which was a screamer against Plymouth at the Utilita Energy Stadium.
City’s injury list seems to be very narrow currently as Andy Cook is the only one out, Angol, Abo Eisa, Liam Ridehalgh and Caolan Lavery have all returned.
A home win for Bradford gives you 12 points and an away win for the Cobblers claims another 25 points.
Darren Moore’s side will be hoping they can extend their unbeaten run to 10 games in all competitions as they face 19th place Gillingham tomorrow afternoon.
Wednesday come into this one on the back of two big midweek wins over Harrogate Town and Sunderland separated by a goalless tie with Plymouth in the FA cup last Sunday. The Owls last league game saw them smash the Black Cats 3-0 at Hillsborough in a shock result thanks to a goal from Theo Corbeanu on his first league start in blue and white, with Florian Kamberi and Lee Gregory also on the scoresheet. The Canadian winger also chipped in with an assist on his full debut and will be looking to continue his form should Darren Moore reinstall the Wolves loanee back into the XI.
Wednesdayites received two more boosts this week with long-standing servant Liam Palmer signing a new two-year deal with his boyhood club. The Owls fans were also happy to see images of Josh Windass seemingly back in full first team training this week, with the highly anticipated return of last season’s top scorer bound to give Hillsborough that lift it’s needed for a while.
The weekend’s visitors are winless in four games in all competitions following a draw with Cheltenham in the FA cup as well as a point against Accrington Stanley and Bolton Wanderers in the most recent league fixtures.
The Gillingham manager, Steve Evans, is a familiar face around Yorkshire having been promoted from this level in 2014 with Rotherham United as well as having a stint at Elland Road. Also a promotion winner with Crawley, Evans boasted one of the highest performing goalkeepers in league one within his ranks. Jamie Cumming, on loan from Chelsea, was recently named in the ‘whoscored.com’ team of the season so far having the highest save percentage (77.6 per cent) in the third tier. The 22-year-old is thought to be the busiest shot-stopper in League One so far, making more saves per game than any other goalkeeper.
From the back to the front, Gillingham’s highest scorer this season on four league goals is former Wednesday academy graduate Vadaine Oliver. The Sheffield-born striker failed to make an appearance at S6 before joining Lincoln City in 2012. The 30-year-old is no stranger to the back of the net, bagging 17 times last season and will be eager to get one over his old club.
Sheffield Wednesday come into this one as strong favourites with just 6 points available for a home victory but a whopping 45 should Steve Evans’ men pull off the upset. Can Wednesday make it back-to-back home league wins or will Gillingham end The Owls unbeaten run?
Kyle Walker stepped up for media duties before Man City’s Champions League match against Brugges. An awkward question was put to him:
“Just wondering what the competition is like for you going up against Bernard Mendy for the right-back spot, and does Bernard push you all the way? I hear he’s a character as well?”
Benjamin Mendy has recently been suspended from Manchester City’s squad on allegations made against him regarding rape and sexual assault. In fact, he is currently in prison, with a trial to be held next year.
As it turns out, it’s probably not the case that the reporter simply thought Real Madrid’s left back played for Manchester City. Kyle Walker was left baffled, stunned, making it seem as though he did not know of any Mendy. So, not only was this double fault an extreme mistake on the behalf of the reporter, but the nature of the question put to Manchester City’s right back left him in a deeply uncomfortable position, one which you wouldn’t blame him for simply walking out and never coming back to a press conference again.
Jurgen Klopp and other have equally become increasingly irate at reporters’ methods, twisting and turning what they suggest into soundbites and clickbait articles. In relation to the his “anger” at not getting a handshake from Simeone:
“Have a look. You want to make a story out of that I can imagine. I want to shake his hand, he doesn’t want it. In that moment, I can understand that he was running inside. He’s emotional, I’m emotional and you are not a nice person because you want to make a story of that. You said I’m angry. When was I angry? I’m now angry because of your question.”
The rising tensions between managers/footballers and reporters at press conferences are seriously grave. Since Naomi Osaka’s mental health break due to the gruelling pressures of media, press conferences are in an increasingly fragile state; reporters are under greater pressure than ever to strike the impossible balance between hands-on scrutiny of sports people and hands-off respect.
While mistakes are common and forgivable, there should also be a far better level of standards. Putting Kyle Walker in that kind of awkward position in relation to such a delicate matter risks the integrity of fellow journalists and reporters. Similarly, reporters have a duty to not exhaust the fuelling of speculation, which equally ruptures trust between the free press and those in power in football.
Football clubs are actively finding ways of drowning out the press, selling media content to fans themselves. Chelsea’s “The Fifth Stand” app, for example, covers all Chelsea related news, provides inside media footage of training, “exclusive” interviews with players, and archive footage of older games which may not be so easily accessible to other media companies. The existence of the free press in football, at least, is of little convenience to powerful football clubs, whose own marketing strategies seem to encourage self-sufficiency.
The free press in football is critical to the inquisitive reporting of modern issues such as sportswashing, the dealings of owners in top hats, racism, inclusivity, as well as issues on results, performance, and a club’s trajectory- which are, as everyone knows anyway, crucial to fans’ engagement with the game. Press conferences are a key opportunity to ask managers, players, and sometimes owners or directors, important questions on such matters, broadening our perspectives, letting them have their own say in various issues.
At a press conference, reporters who ask footballers or managers about various issues must actively feel a deep sense of responsibility. Ironically, not only should they extensively scrutinise and question players and managers, but they should always self-scrutinise and self-question. Should certain aspects of the free press continue to fail at upholding the trust by asking the wrong questions or by reporting in a deliberately twisted way, then football clubs will be able to direct the narrative of it all themselves, suiting their own agendas and PR machines.
A £23.5 million goal put the Blades ahead in the first minute as Rhian Brewster smashed home a thumping volley. Dismal defending is however becoming a theme, and again individual mistakes, poor positioning, and, disgracefully, an overall lack of effort from certain players has cost the Blades again.
The one change to United’s line up, following the 1-1 draw at Forest during the week, saw Billy Sharp replace Lys Mousset up front. Blackburn, on the other hand, made four changes after their 0-7 drubbing at the hands of league leaders Fulham on Tuesday with Wharton, Poveda, Davenport and Khadra coming into the starting 11.
United started brilliantly, Billy Sharp hurdled away from the challenge of his defender, chipped in a cross towards his strike partner Rhian Brewster who acrobatically volleyed home into the roof of the net with both feet off the ground, the delight and relief on the face a refreshing sight after his struggles since moving to United. The host’s fans could be forgiven for the sense of worry which probably came over them after watching their side fold to a 7-0 loss during the week. However, Blackburn unlike the Blades, showed great character to pick themselves up and fight back and they deservedly levelled the game through Reda Khadra’s dancing feet in the 32nd minute. The German turned Chris Basham inside and out before his deflected shot wrongfooted Robin Olsen.
For much of the rest of the first half Blackburn dominated, Ben Brereton-Diaz a constant thorn in the Blades side. With the shrill of the whistle that started the second half there was an air of inevitability amongst the traveling support. A squandered chance from Billy Sharp and the all too familiar concession of a goal, Brereton- Diaz allowed to cruise into the box unmarked and convert Ian Poveda’s drilled cross into the goal just two yards away. Then the provider turned scorer, Robin Olsen poorly spilled Poveda’s first effort back to him allowing the winger to round the keeper and finish past Chris Basham’s despairing attempt to block.
The atmosphere in the Bryan Douglas Darwen end told the story, with frustrated fans left bewildered by their teams (lack of) performance. The fans made their anger known with boos ringing round and verbal onslaughts being heard throughout the 5,000 travelling Blades. Slavisa Jokanović acknowledged the need to improve “Today was our poorest performance. 5k fans and this poor level isn’t good enough”. United will certainly have to improve their performances and begin to pick up points if they want to get anywhere near the pre-season ambitions for the club.
The upcoming international break will give the Blades a chance to re-evaluate their plans and hopefully create a more positive environment around the club from top to bottom. After the break United take on Coventry in a 12:30 kick off at Bramall Lane.