SOMETIMES, as Nicolas Colsaerts would say, you just have to go with what’s in your pants.
Saturday afternoon at Bramall Lane might not have crackled with the same electricity which hovered above Medinah during the opening rounds of the Ryder Cup.
But Sheffield United tore a page straight out of the swashbuckling Belgian’s handbook and approached the sternest test of their season so far with an air of carefree abandon.
That those tactics did not quite
pay off owed as much to a lack of composure in front of goal as it did Notts County’s prodigious work ethic.
Dave Kitson, whose first strike since joining Danny Wilson’s side appeared to have set them on the path to victory until Lee Hughes ensured the visitors remained second in the League One table, said their performance was a source of encouragement rather than pride.
Even fellow cen
tre-forward Nick Blackman, having fought and lost his own personal duel with County goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski, received a glowing testimony from the former Reading, Stoke City and Portsmouth marksman.
“Nick is a really exciting prospect,” Kitson, referring to Wilson’s summer signing from Blackburn Rovers, said. “And he looks like he could be the real deal.
“Nick has already scored goals, he likes to
have a go at people and he’s not afraid to try his luck.
“There were a couple of occasions when his shot didn’t quite match the run but that happens at times.”
“Those teams at the top can pick from the world so it can be difficult to break through,” Kitson added.
“Sometimes you’ve got to make your own way in the world and Nick is certainly out there doing that.
“If he carries on in the same vein then, who knows, he could be back there at the top in a couple of seasons.
“There are a lot of good players here but we had some good interplay together and it could be a re
ally fruitful partnership for the two of us.”
Yoann Arquin, dubbed the ‘Nicolas Anelka of Meadow Lane’ by teammates following a summer move from Hereford, arrived as the big noise in County’s camp.
But it was Bialkowski who departed with his reputation truly enhanced.
The Pole, inexplicably allowed to leave Southampton on a free transfer earlier this year, made a series of fine saves to thwart both Ryan Flynn and Blackman in particular.
Keith Curle, who has yet to lose an away game since taking charge of County seven months ago, acknowledged: “A lot of people questioned the decision to bring Bartosz in but he’s shown he’s one for the future.
“Lee is also a great weapon. He comes alive in the box and is a fitness fanatic who really looks after himself. A real goal threat.”
“Make no mistake, this is a tough place to come,” Curle continued. “That match had the intensity of a cup tie but we’ve got a real spirit in the dressing room and we don’t roll over.”
Curle, who made more than 60 appearances for United before entering the world of management, admitted beforehand that County would attempt to exploit the demanding temperament of a home crowd he believes can both help and hinder his former club.
True enough, County worked like Trojans, with spiky perform
ances from Neal Bishop and Alan Judge raising the hosts’ hackles.
But with the return of Flynn and captain Michael Doyle restoring their balance in midfield, United threatened to overwhelm their opponents during the opening stages, with Paul Gallagher also producing his best display after signing on loan from Leicester City.
Bialkowski, who had earlier produced a good block to deny Flynn, then frustrated the winger as United, still unbeaten in the competition this term, moved through the gears.
Blackman also went close before hitting the woodwork with a thunderous effort soon after the interval before Kitson capped a combative shift by heading home Flynn’s header following another near miss from his partner.
“In the context of the game the longer it went on the more it looked like we would do everything but score,” Kitson said.
“Then, you are always susceptible to conceding, as we did.
“There’s nothing more annoying when you’re a striker than thinking you’ve scored the winning goal for your club and then that turns out not to be the case.
“I was delighted to get off the mark because, even though I thought I was a bit of a nuisance to them, in this position you are judged on your goals.
“I like a tackle, as I think I showed, but you can play great and of you don’t score then the manager has to bring someone in who does.
“I try and contribute at both ends of the pitch, though.”
Not that United had everything their own way. County, who despite Curle’s efforts to persuade otherwise are clearly equipped to mount a promotion challenge, drew several impressive stops from Mark Howard.
The one which foiled Francois Zoko, before substitute Hughes eventually found the roof of his net after namesake Jeff and Joss Labadie had gone close from a corner, was the most memorable.
United, who slipped to eighth despite remaining unbeaten in the competition this term, return to action at Hartlepool tomorrow and Kitson said: “County will be hovering around the top two or the play-off places come the end of the season and, in a way, that makes it even more disappointing that we didn’t go on to win.
“But, overall, I thought we did well and created a lot of chances.
“There’s plenty to build and work on there.”