Having decreed that results are the only thing that matter between now and the end of the season, Nigel Adkins will have no qualms about his team’s performance against Blackpool.
But, from the Sheffield United manager’s perspective, the final outcome left something to be desired.
This was a match full of industry and, on a notoriolusly difficult surface, little end product. It was also a game which, perhaps understandably, neither club dared to lose and never quite did enough to win.
There were some glimpses of flair, as these two League One rivals battled to seize control, plenty of perseverence. Ultimately, though, it represented a missed opportunity for both with the hosts failing to put daylight between themselves and the relegation zone while the vistors, who knew a victory would have seen them regain a top six place, must instead be satisfied with climbing to seventh.
Of greater concern to Adkins, however, will be the fitness of leading scorer Billy Sharp who, after volunteering to push himself through the pain barrier, departed midway through the second-half.
United found themselves battling a resurgent Blackpool and the remnants of Storm Jonas at Bloomfield Road. It was a combination which did not lend itself to pretty, intricate football. Although, to their credit, Adkins’ players refused to adopt a route one approach with Conor Sammon, Paul Coutts and predictably Jose Baxter producing some delicate touches during a keenly contested first-half.
Clear-cut opportunties, however, were at a premium until the final quarter as these two rivals also pressed and chased with real relish. Substitute Uche Ikpeazu twice went close for Blackpool who improved as the evening progressed while, at the other end, Jamal Campbell-Ryce saw a low attempt parried away to safety.
Ultimately, though, this rearranged fixture was destined to end all square.
It does not take the detective skills of DCI Henry Christie to discover the flaws which have undermined United’s campaign en route to the North-West. Despite entering this game having hit the target more times than all but three of their divisional rivals, Adkins’ squad crossed the Pennines with only its 15th best defence. Even Blackpool, 11 places below the visitors before kick-off, are more effective at protecting their own goal. However, set-pieces apart, Neil McDonald’s team rarely threatened to expose that fragility. Until Ikpeazu’s introduction at least. The centre-forward, on loan from Watford, is well known to Adkins having been a member of Reading’s youth academy during his spell at the Madejski Stadium. That insider knowledge, however, did not prevent Ikpeazu from terrorising United’s back four when they travelled to Port Vale earlier this term and the youngster, then towards the end of another temporary agreement, proved a real handful again.
His presence equipped Blackpool’s frontline with a physical presence it had previously lacked and, while Ikpeazu still possesses plenty of rough edges, it also means he can be dangerously unpredictable to read.
United’s rearguard coped. But still endured some anxious moments. Likewise, though, Blackpool, who could have conceded a penalty when Sammon was hauled down during an impressive first-half display together with Campbell-Ryce.
Adkins, the ninth person to take charge of United since their last visit to this stadium seven years ago, has spoken repeatedly about the importance of establishing a settled starting eleven but was forced to make three changes. Sammon’s return compensated for the loss of height caused by Chris Basham’s absence through injury while Matt Done also failed to appear after being diagnosed with a hamstring complaint.
With Campbell-Ryce and Baxter recalled, United began in positive fashion with Sammon shooting just wide on the half volley after being picked-out by Coutts. Baxter also dragged past the upright soon after before Sharp was inches away from handing United a 18th minute lead. Campbell-Ryce saw a long-range effort gathered by Colin Doyle as it threatened to sneak under the crossbar but it was not until Sammon’s superb attempt on the turn midway through the opening period that his fellow Irishman was truly tested. Cue an equally impressive save.
Blackpool are a club in a seemingly perpeutal state of warfare as its supporters continue to express their opposition to the Oyston regime. On the pitch, however, McDonald has introduced a sense of calm with the hosts entering this fixture following positive results against Walsall and Scunthorpe. A much more cohesive and confident unit that the one dispatched at Bramall Lane five months ago. George Long made a good save during the early skirmishes to prevent Brad Potts’ deflected drive ricocheting into the net before the midfielder tried his luck again, this time from a considerable distance, soon after the interval.
Jim McAlister’s poor touch allowed first Neill Collins and then Long to intervene as Blackpool enjoyed their best period of the match so far.
Ikpeazu sent an angled shot past Long’s upright before nearly barging his way through from the edge of the penalty box. As the action became increasingly stretched, Campbell-Ryce saw similar attempt parried by Doyle while Collins headed over from a corner awarded when John Brayford saw a first-time effort turned behind. But neither United nor Blackpool could force the breakthrough.
Blackpool: Doyle, White, Ferguson, McAlister (Ikpeazu 62), Potts, Redshaw (Cullen 73), Aldred, Philliskirk, Norris, Aimson (Robertson 75), Yeates. Not used: Letheren, Cullen, Herron, Boyce, Osayi-Samuel.
Sheffield United: Long, Brayford, Coutts (Flynn 88), Sharp (Adams 69), Baxter (Woolford 85), Collins, Sammon, McEveley, Campbell-Ryce, Edgar, Hammond. Not used: Howard, Reed, Calvert-Lewin, McGahey.
Referee: Ross Joyce (Cleveland).