Five years we had to wait, finally the Steel City was back and oh were we all looking forward to it!
What I witnessed on Sunday is a lesson for anyone that money and reputation are meaningless in football. It would be extremely easy for me to sit here and sound off as to what I think was wrong but before I get into that, I really wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t acknowledge the incredible job and performance by Chris Wilder and his Sheffield United players.
Not only did they come into our own back yard and win, but they did it in a fashion that quite frankly flattered us at 2-4. Sometimes as a footballer you walk off a pitch knowing that you have been beaten by a better team, maybe by a special piece of individualism, flair or skill.
To walk off knowing that you have been outfought, outthought and totally humiliated by you’re most bitter of rivals is one hell of a pill to have to take.
I hope that the players realise the importance of that defeat and the hurt of you the fans. United were organised, worked extremely hard to close us down and didn’t give us any time on the ball. We were the opposite, tentative, slow paced and never looked up for the fight. I’d say we were second best all over the park and the lack of leaders was so obviously evident.
To look at the game it couldn’t have started any worse really. We didn’t pick up the second ball on the edge of their box, we then allowed Brooks, who by the way was excellent, to run at us without so much as an attempt at a tackle and then gave away a cheap free kick 25 yards out. This resulted in a pretty basic free kick where they just moved the ball to produce a better angle and he fired into the bottom corner with Westwood glued to the spot.
When you face adversity like that it is how you react and what you do both as an individual and collectively as a team. Again, if I am honest, our reaction wasn’t great. I thought we got totally bossed about for 45 minutes and were soon 2-0 down with some more calamitous defending.
When Hooper snatched us a goal back just before half time it really was the proverbial ‘get out of jail free card’. I thought 1-2 flattered us immensely and we were fortunate that they hadn’t scored more because they had plenty of good quality possession in dangerous areas along with creating a number of chances. Defensively we had been all over the place, whether that was maybe through a lack of communication I don’t know but I thought surely the second half can’t be as bad as the first.
To be fair Carlos changed the formation by bringing on Lucas Joao and for the first 15 minutes of the second half we played something more like we are used to seeing. When Joao fired the equaliser in we were back in the game but it's times like that when you are looking around for leaders, for someone to keep their head and organise the team. Teams are always vulnerable after they have just scored and it is imperative that you keep your shape, don’t get carried away with the celebrations and most importantly for me, get the ball back as soon as possible.
Unfortunately we did none of the above. Within seconds we were behind again and the game had changed on its head. United had changed to a flat back four which nullified our front three and the remainder of the game pretty much took the course of the first half for me. Let's make no bones about this, we were on the receiving end of a right spanking and it could easily have been worse.
The aftermath and what has followed this week is all too painful to receive. It hurts and quite rightly there has been plenty of stick flying and coming our way. The players and staff have to take it on the chin.
I was a little perplexed by Carlos’ press conference before the trip to Birmingham. I can appreciate that he wants to protect his players and take the rap for the defeat but does that really work? I’m not too sure that it does if I’m honest. Everyone has to take responsibility after not just that result but, more worrying for me, the manner in which we got beat and the lacklustre performance. From being a young lad in football it was drilled into you that you had to earn the right to play, to win the battle first, and this we clearly didn’t do.
Onto Birmingham and everyone and his uncle was looking for a positive response. To concede in the last 20 minutes and go down 1-0 to a team languishing next to bottom and in dire straits was not what was required. Yet again we had tons of possession but possession doesn’t necessarily win you games, what happens in both boxes does.
The players will be as low as can be right now, confidence has clearly waned from the last two seasons and it’s an extremely difficult period for the club. But, what’s the answer? Hard work would be mine. You get your head down, you graft and you try and work your way out of the rut that we are clearly currently in. The games come thick and fast and with the visit of Leeds United on Sunday things need to take a turn for the better and quickly. There isn’t much time to dust themselves down before another massive game but that can be a positive, a chance to improve the situation.
My final point is that I have to give the fans that were there on Sunday a pat on the back. Not once did I hear them turn against the team, even at 2-0 down they got behind the lads and did their best to be positive. Trust me, that goes a long way in helping the players so come Sunday I hope there is something positive to cheer for. UTO
Jon Newsome is the owner of prestige, sports and performance cars specialists, Automarques 21-23 Leigh Street, Sheffield S9 2PR