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Sheffield United 1 Watford 1 (26/12/2019) 27/12/2019

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- Four days since Manchester United but a very different challenge… the two United’s might occupy similar areas of the table but there’s a world of difference between a vaunted side that’s less than the sum of its parts and a less glamorous opponent fully exploiting theirs, even if it leaves them in the same place.

“I wonder what João Pedro makes of this“, my brother murmurs.  It’s cold.  And it’s wet.  Three rows from the front at virtually pitch level behind the goal we are fully exposed to the fog of drizzle that wraps itself around all exposed faces, necks, its fingers massaging your scalp, reaching down your back.  Nige is on the pitch during the warm-up, prowling. Re-enforcing the intensity, we agree.  Behind him there are very small children with very large flags who look exhausted long before a ten minute delay to kick-off is announced.  Eventually, we’re off.

2- I like Sheffield United.  I like games at Bramall Lane,  this one of several motivating considerations in deciding to gamble the requisite number of brownie points on Boxing Day.  There was a time when we seemed to play the Blades three or four times a season, getting promoted and relegated together but it’s nine years since our last visit, suddenly.  That’s what happens when you stop paying attention.

A “proper” club too.  There aren’t many glory Blades fans, after all and Adam and his mates in the pub beforehand are perfectly affable (a lower key pre-match pub than some of history and legend). This tends to be The Way.  Inside the ground there’s the Leicester/Brighton charm offensive;  welcomes to the stadium, lads in the kiosks all in Watford kits.  If we’re squashed into narrow rows of seats at the front of the stand then at least there’s a bloke handing out chocolate to the kids.  The flat capped steward makes a point of sitting on a low stool beneath the hoardings to prevent making a difficult viewing position impossible.

The side is likeable enough too;  greater than the sum of their parts, as above, direct and aggressive and threatening without being unnecessarily provocative.  As an aside there’s a lot to be said for championing a striker (David McGoldrick) who has yet score in fourteen Premier League starts rather than, you know, the opposite.

3- So.  Two thunks without mentioning the actual football.  You’ll have to forgive me, our angle didn’t lend itself to profound insight (if you were watching the game at the ground or on TV you’ll surely have had a more instructive view) and it wasn’t the most rip-roaring of encounters.  The Blades had the best of it for the most part, much of their threat coming from crosses from well-stocked wide positions;  the mobile and combative Oli McBurnie is the first to threaten, a header towards the bottom corner that requires the first of a catalogue of Ben Foster stops.

But we’re coping.  Kabs is magnificent, not just an accomplished defender now, not just consistently reliable but increasingly the dominant partner in the defence.  Kiko, also.  No mere run of form this;  Nige has resisted the temptation to exploit the attacking instincts of a former winger and curtailed them instead.  The result has been some defensive displays of unprecedented reliability and tenacity.

We’re having to work hard.  There’s an overlap on the right;  a flag goes up, the ball across anyway and John Fleck prods it in at the near post, within touching distance of us.  We’re debating whether the referee had blown and why everyone would have stopped if he hadn’t but VAR confirms the flag and spares everyone the debate.  Fine margins though, we’re a bit stretched.

Ben Foster is already a significant actor in proceedings.  It’s wet, it’s slippery, he’s taking chances in allowing himself to be closed down and since he gets away with it every time we praise his judgement rather than bemoaning his recklessness.  Most significantly a fine long clearance under pressure from McBurnie finds a flick on from Chalobah, and Gerry scampers clear to finish neatly.  It could have been a tap in or a thirty yard daisy cutter from our angle, we celebrate all the same.

4- It’s a shame that it was Will Hughes, so dominant in our last two fixtures.  Less imposing all round today his lack of concentration, his one error of judgement was enough.  In reality George Baldock wasn’t going anywhere;  his run cut across the corner of the area and his touch had been heavy and away from the goal.  I didn’t realise that the penalty had been given, there wasn’t the obvious roar of vindication above the hubbub that greeted the attack; as my brother pointed out though, Hughes’ utter lack of protest betrayed the validity of the call.  Foster went the right way, but not quickly enough.

The half ended with treatment for both Kabs, who recovered, and Sarr, who didn’t.  What looked like a concussion saw the winger, who had again suggested that he was about to explode a couple of times without quite doing so, continue slightly surprisingly only to be hooked at half time.  We discussed the Craig Dawson three-at-the-back option, mimicking Quique’s approach so effective at nullifying United at Vicarage Road but instead we retained the same formation bringing on Bobby Pereyra, with a sensible haircut of all things.

The second half is harder work still.  Ben Foster is called upon to make a number of stops, most startlingly when the warmly welcomed Lys Mousset comes off the bench, screams down the right and pulls over a cross;  Fleck connects, Foster has no right to stop it but does, somehow.  Ben has had a couple of wobbles this season, but on his day has earned us points on his own.  He earned this one.

We’re not completely impotent.  Pereyra adds a sense of mischief and twice creates something from nothing down the right.  He wins a free kick that Gerry curls narrowly wide of the top corner in front of us.  Troy has been throwing himself at everything and winning a lot in the air but is exhausted not long after the hour mark.  When he’s withdrawn it’s for Andre Gray rather than Isaac Success, a little disappointingly – the lone striker is surely Isaac’s game and very much isn’t Andre’s.  Chalobah, at the apex of the midfield, also looks a little bit out of place;  he works hard, and wins the flick on with the goal, but you’d rather see him spraying passes from further back.

After a goalmouth scramble at the far end that we can’t really see but looks a bit hairy, the game ends with a set piece at our end.  Craig Dawson trundles forward and we entertain visions of a last minute mugging, Dawson scoring the header he might have scored in the return fixture.  Instead Hughes’ delivery floats too high and the game ends.

5- This is a less impressive performance than Sunday’s in many ways, certainly a less eye-catching result.  We need wins of course, but in reality this wasn’t points dropped much as any draw is only a lucky break away from a victory.  This is a good, solid away point earned in challenging circumstances from a doughty defensive performance.

Halfway through the season and we’re six points from safety, but being halfway through the season it’s still all about us and our form.  On the way through the Eyre Street Car Park, wearily looking for my carelessly discarded vehicle, someone comments that it’s difficult to find the relegation rivals beyond Norwich and Villa.  Who else are we going to catch, was the implication.  But if we develop a habit of winning games against the weak or the unfocused and digging in to win points in other circumstances we’ll be OK.  That’s the thing about a division like this, with no particularly appalling teams.  Someone will get unlucky, someone will lose form or players.  We just need to hang in there.

We hung in there today.

Big game tomorrow (yikes)


*Foster 5*, Mariappa 3, Femenía 4, Cathcart 3, Kabasele 5, Capoue 4, Hughes 3, Chalobah 3, Deulofeu 3, Sarr 3, Deeney 3
Subs: Pereyra (for Sarr, 45) 3, Gray (for Deeney, 80) NA, Dawson (for Chalobah, 89) NA, Masina, Dele-Bashiru, Success, Gomes



1. paullbaxter - 27/12/2019

I didn’t have enough brownie points to go so watched on tv. We gave the ball away cheaply often in the second half which is worrying and continue to be remarkably poor at retaining possession from our own throw-ins but we dug in well at the back again.

I think you might have featured in close-up before the game. Were you wearing a red, yellow and black banded scarf? It looked like the one I won in one of your competitions a few years ago.

Matt Rowson - 27/12/2019

Yes that was me I suspect. I received a deluge of messages shortly after…

2. K Endean - 27/12/2019

Only my second game of the season fortunately better then Brighton and also within walking distance of my house. It seems we have played well but not got results. Yesterday we looked good and then a needless penalty giveaway. Two draws against Sheffield United is looking like good results and we’ve taken points from the top teams, just need to do better against the rest. A Leicester supporting friend said similar about their great escape season under Pearson

3. Mike Smith - 27/12/2019

God report Matt as ever thanks. I had to listen on 3CR (don’t ask) & watch MOTD. My only comment is why on earth didn’t you move away from the front? It looked like there was tons of room in the away end.

Matt Rowson - 27/12/2019

Complex. With a large group of family in a congested area… it wasn’t at all obvious or visible that there was so much space from our congested position. Couldn’t quite believe the tv shot of the away end

4. PEDantic - 27/12/2019

Credit to you and the other fans who made it ‘oop North’ yesterday but, watching on Amazon, I enjoyed the barely deserved point and your own starring appearance before kick-off more than the game itself.
I thought Kabasele gave his best display in a Watford shirt, looking a real international player. Unlike you, though, I was pleased Success didn’t make an appearance because I think his attitude has been awful for the last year and a bit.
Anyway, on to the ‘big one’ tomorrow. But they’re all big now, aren’t they?

Matt Rowson - 27/12/2019

Success… then why have him on the bench at all?

paullbaxter - 27/12/2019

Totally agree that Success is more suited to lone striker role than Gray. However, I can’t understand how the player I saw come off the bench against Man City a couple of years ago and completely terrorise Zabaleta a couple of years ago has turned into the player of the last year.

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