Sheffield United match verdict and reaction: Crewe Alexandra 1 Blades 0

The Blades go behind
The Blades go behind
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No points and, from inside the Sheffield United dressing room, no excuses either.

Nigel Adkins’ players did not expect to find themselves being forced to explain yet another League One defeat when they arrived at Gresty Alexandra on Saturday afternoon.

Disappointment at the end

Disappointment at the end

But that was the fate which befell Bob Harris as Crewe Alexandra, bottom of the table and previously without a home win since March, condemned the visitors to their most excruciating result of the season so far.

“The result is massively disappointing,” Harris admitted. “Yes, we should have come here and won, especially the way we started. If it was a boxing match it would have been stopped.

“We hemmed them in, created chances but didn’t take them and ultimately got punished. That’s the fine lines, the fine margins, we have to deal with right now.”

Fine margins were the last thing Harris, returning to action after injury, should have been discussing following this contest against Steve Davis’ relegation-threatened side.

Neill Collins goes for goal

Neill Collins goes for goal

United, as the defender acknowledged, did not want for effort, moments of quality or territorial advantage, particularly during a fast and furious opening which saw Matt Done, Che Adams and Jose Baxter all go close.

What they did lack, as the contest unfolded, however, was the tempo, swagger and sheer force of personality a team which is still quick to talk up its Championship credentials should possess.

Perhaps, as Harris conceded after Ryan Colclough’s goal left United eight points behind second-placed Burton Albion, a period of introspection rather than pretension is required.

“As a group of players, we know this outcome isn’t good enough,” he added. “We’ll have a meeting among ourselves and talk it through with the gaffer. We’ll express an opinion, which is what he likes us to do. We’ll work out what went wrong. It’s the small things. We dominated the first half and it didn’t seem to fall for us. If we get a wee bit of luck then I’m sure we’ll be fine.”

Stefan Scougall is denied

Stefan Scougall is denied

“The gaffer’s open and honest and he likes our feedback. It’s very important as a group of players, very important, that you’ve got a manager who will listen.

“Don’t get me wrong, at the end of the day it’s his opinion that matters, he always has the final say. But if there is something, for example, that the staff can’t see, then they let us point it out. And that’s really healthy. They do listen and it creates a good environment to work in.”

Adkins, who guided both Scunthorpe and Southampton out of the division before being appointed Blades manager in June, has stressed throughout his tenure that reputations count for little at this level.

The 50-year-old’s decision to recite the mantra again during a frank post-match inquest suggests coaching staff suspect, in some cases, the message is not getting through.

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Adkins, refusing to divest himself of ultimate responsibility for the scoreline, nevertheless urged some members of his squad to consider “why they are still competiting at this level” five seasons after being relegated from the second tier.

“I don’t dig people out,” he said afterwards, “Not publicly anyway.”

But Adkins’ words suggest, behind the scenes, patience with some of United’s longest-serving performers is beginning to wear thin.

The January transfer window, financial legislation permitting, could see him undertake root-and-branch reform unless their potential is quickly fulfilled.

“Eight points off the top two isn’t what we want but it’s not a huge gap and we’re still more than in there,” Harris said.

“Hopefully we can get all the lads fit and healthy, get that competition for places and give the gaffer a headache.”

United, recalling Harris following a five-month absence, appeared destined to enjoy a profitable afternoon when referee Fred Graham, who later refused to award what Adkins believed was a certain penalty when Adams tangled with Oliver Turton in the box, got the game under way.

Done saw an attempt blocked and Baxter suffered the same fate before watching Ben Garratt palm his long-distance drive away.

But Crewe, defensively disciplined and keeping a solid shape, did not allow United to translate possession in to a welter of golden opportunities, although Dean Hammond, delivering a composed midfield performance, tested Garratt’s handling again.

The midfielder, signed on loan from Leicester City, impressed with a lovely first-time pass to release Baxter but, like Billy Sharp soon after, Baxter he was crowde out.

Done was inches away from turning home an inviting centre before Colclough pounced when a clearance fell into his path.

“Football is a very funny game,” Harris said. “We’re frustrated, the fans are frustrated, but we can’t afford to dwell.”

Crewe Alexandra: Garratt 7, Turton 6, Guthrie 6, Ray 6, Nugent 6, Haber 6, Inman 7 (Kingsley 81), Saunders 7 (Atkinson 85), King 6, Jones 6, Colclough 7 (Dalla Valle 88). Not used: Zizic, Cooper, Bingham, Wilson.

Sheffield United: Howard 6, Flynn 6, Basham 7, Collins 6, Harris 6, Coutts 6 (Scougall 77), Hammond 7, Baxter 7, Adams 6, Sharp 6, Done 6 (Sammon 77). Not used: Long, Freeman, K Wallace, McGahey, Campbell-Ryce.

Referee: Fred Graham (Essex).

Attendance: 5,227.