Sheffield United match verdict: Crewe 0 Blades 1 as Stefans Scougall scores first goal of season

Stefan Scougall celebrates
Stefan Scougall celebrates
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Stefan Scougall denied Sheffield United had travelled to Gresty Road motivated by a desire for revenge.

At times it was tempting to think otherwise as, despite the narrow scoreline, they teased and tormented Crewe Alexandra for long periods of this League One match.

That the winning margin failed to reflect the visitors’ superiority could be attributed to a combination of their profligate finishing and the opposition’s stoic resolve.

After having seen George Ray dismissed following a second-half confrontation with referee Peter Bankes, Crewe forced Nigel Clough’s side on to the back foot during the closing stages of a tetchy but never tawdry contest.

Scougall, whose goal saw United climb to fifth in the table ahead of Saturday’s South Yorkshire derby against Barnsley, said: “It’s a good result for us and it was definitely deserved. But it could, probably should, have been by a few more.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that, if we carry on working like that and creating the same amount of chances, someone is going to get a hiding pretty soon.”

Scougall made his league debut for United when they were beaten 3-0 in the corresponding fixture last season.

Clough, who celebrated his first anniversary in charge of the South Yorkshire club 24 hours before boarding the coach to Cheshire, has since acknowledged that result represented probably the lowest point of his 12-month reign.

Forty-one matches and 27 victories later, they returned to Bramall Lane in far better shape than when a fractious, insipid display left them 21st in the table and staring relegation in the face.

“I can remember sitting in the dressing room after that match and it was a very, very quiet,” Scougall said. “We were just looking at each other thinking ‘this isn’t what is meant to be happening’. Not with the quality we had and the stature of the place.

“We dusted ourselves down, though, and, as everyone knows, went on a brilliant run after that; got out of trouble, up to seventh and also into the semi-finals of the FA Cup.

“There was a lot of change over the summer and it always takes time for things to gel, especially in football.

“But we’re a much better team than when we last came here. I definitely think that.”

“The biggest difference is probably the squad,” Scougall continued. “There are 20 or 22 players here who could quite easily start matches and yet some of them can’t get in the team.

“What that does is ensure everyone who is out there, in the starting 11, knows they have to stay on their toes and deliver every time, or at least give their absolute best.

“We’re changing and getting better all the time.”

Despite the transformation in terms of points gained and personnel, some enduring problems still remain.

United’s attack, spearheaded in recent weeks by either Jose Baxter or Marc McNulty, is a much more formidable proposition than the one which averaged just over a goal per game during the previous campaign.

Nevertheless, even though only seven teams, including tomorrow’s Capital One Cup opponents MK Dons, possess a more productive frontline at this stage, the sight of numerous chances going begging before Scougall pounced underlines why Clough has approached Blackpool in an attempt to sign Steven Davies.

Persuading Paddy McCarthy to extend his loan from Crystal Palace must also be another priority given the Irish centre-half’s classy display here as United recorded a third consecutive win and clean sheet.

“It was a dominant performance from the first minute and to be hanging on just for even 30 seconds at the end didn’t do it justice,” Clough said. “It’s brilliant because it shows progress.

“That’s how we’re trying to develop playing away from home as well as at home. We came here nearly nine months ago and lost 3-0.”

With United already in the ascendancy, Ray’s dismissal did not influence the game. But, unless the former Wales under-21 international learns to curb his temper, it could have a detrimental effect upon his career.

Ray, whose trip on Baxter had earlier handed the United forward an opportunity to extend their advantage from the penalty spot, saw red after appearing to lay his hands on Bankes and is now facing a lengthy suspension.

“It is a harsh lesson for him to learn,” Steve Davis, the Crewe manager, said. “It was difficult enough for us with 11 men, never mind 10.

“The referee was a newcomer to the league and he was quite handy with his cards.

“I don’t know whether it was something George said or whether he put his hand on the referee. That’s not our style and he has let the frustration get the better of him.”

Frustration was also an issue for United when Baxter, following an excellent move instigated by Chris Basham and embellished by the technique of Scougall and Jamal Campbell-Ryce, was thwarted by Crewe goalkeeper Ben Garrett during the early skirmishes while, moments later, Craig Alcock struck a post.

George Cooper forced an excellent save from Mark Howard at the opposite end of the pitch but, with Baxter and James Wallace going close soon after the interval, it proved a rare moment of encouragement for the hosts until their late rally.

Scougall opened his account for the season when Scottish winger Jamie Murphy, demonstrating excellent awareness, picked out his compatriot in the box while substitute Marc McNulty should have scored his fourth goal in as many outings but miscalculated from close range.

“I feel I’m a much better player than when I first came down here,” Scougall, previously of Livingston, said. “But there are still lots of areas where I can improve and one of those is in front of goal.

“I definitely want to chip in more and that’s why it feels good top get off the mark now. Hopefully it will be the first of quite a few.

“The main thing, though, is what we do as a team.

“It’s all about the group rather than individuals because that’s what makes us what we are.”

CREWE ALEXANDRA: Garratt 8, Tootle 6, Ray 5, Dugdale 7, Turton 6, Inman*** 6, Cooper 6, Leigh 6, Haber* 6, Brandy** 6, Grant 6. Substitutes: Shearer, Guthrie, Atkinson, Waters***(76), Ness**(64) 6, Tate, Haynes*(64) 6.

SHEFFIELD UNITED: Howard 6, Alcock 6, Harris 6, Wallace 8, Basham* 7, Doyle 7, Murphy 8, Scougall** 6, Baxter*** 6, Campbell-Ryce 7, McCarthy 8. Substitutes: McNulty***(84), Davies, McGahey, McEveley*(84), Higdon, Reed**(84), Turner.