Things haven't exactly been going according to plan at Bramall Lane of late, but there were some aspects of positivity to take from Sheffield United's point taken against Southend on Saturday.
Here are five things we learned from the 2-2 draw:
The team have balls
One of the things that has struck me about comments on twitter of late, regarding United, are the amount of people stating that the players don't care, that there's no pride in the shirt and any other number of cliches. I never believed that to be the case but if I needed proof I was right to disregard that kind of statement then the performance on Saturday was enough. At 2-0 down with results in the league poor recently it would have been easy for United to crumble. They didn't. They fought back and got level and on three occasions were the width of the upright away from winning the game. Lacking commitment is not something that can be thrown at them.
George Long can handle being number one
The young stopper, it's fair to say, had a nightmare at the start of the season. Since then he's been in and out of the team, coming in mostly for cup games. But having been one himself, Nigel Adkins knows a goalkeeper and Long showed on Saturday why the manager kept him in the team. The conditions were horrible for any keeper, but Long did well against the elements, showing a calmness with the ball at his feet and doing well to pluck a couple of crosses out of their air that must have been like trying to clutch a bar of soap. If he keeps playing like this, then Mark Howard will find it a big challenge to dislodge Long from the role.
The pitch is great...and that will take a bit of getting used to
It's November, so we shouldn't be surprised by a bit of rain. But what we found out on Saturday is that the pitch at Bramall Lane, newly laid in the summer, brings with it a different challenge. In the past the wet conditions would have saw the pitch cut up a little and the ball wouldn't move quite so quickly, but on Saturday we saw that it is that good it will take some getting used to. The ball skimmed off the surface where in the past it would have held up on the muddier ground. This could become a valuable asset to United when they find their footing as other teams could find it difficult to cope with quick movement in attack.
Jack inflicted Payne
On the opposition front, Southend have a star on their hands in Jack Payne. Just turned 21 last month, the midfielder was the star of the show in the first half with an almost perfect midfield display. He was hard-working, skillful, showed terrific passing, scored a great goal and was a general nuisance for United in the opening 45 minutes. As the Blades upped their game after the break his influence dipped, but Payne showed throughout that if he maintains that kind of form then League One won't see him for too long.
Nigel Adkins talks about small margins often deciding games and it was never more apparent than on Saturday with United hitting the woodwork three times. Jose Baxter struck the post, as did Chris Basham and Billy Sharp hit the bar with a great effort. Obviously if one of those goes in then the Blades weekend looks a lot rosier. Arguably, the same when Che Adams hit the woodwork when it was 0-0 against Millwall and when Stefan Scougall found the frame of the goal against Oldham. This type of thing brings cause for optimism, because at least the players are in those positions. If no chances were being created it really would be a problem. But, to look at it from a different perspective, United really have to tighten up, so that these examples of near misses can be mere footnotes in games.
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