Brentford 2 Sheffield United 3 '“ James Shield's Match Report as Chris Wilder's hunch comes up trumps at Griffin park

Thomas Frank and his employers like to crunch the numbers.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 27 November, 2018, 21:59
Enda Stevens of Sheffield Utd celebrates the third goal with scorer Leon Clarke of Sheffield Utd during the Sky Bet Championship match at the Griffin Park Stadium, London. David Klein/Sportimage

Chris Wilder, despite applying plenty of science, still prefers to rely on a hunch.

It was during the first-half of this match at Griffin Park, ultimately settled by Leon Clarke's second goal of the season, when Sheffield United's manager first began to suspect it would go his team's way.

Oliver Norwood of Sheffield Utd celebrates scoring the second goal during the Sky Bet Championship match at the Griffin Park Stadium, London. David Klein/Sportimage

Brentford caused them some problems, particularly when Romaine Sawyers equalised after Oliver Norwood's superb finish and Ezro Konsa's own goal had put the visitors in control. But it was United's sheer bloody-mindedness, despite suffering the worst possible start, which enabled them to record the victory which lifts them to fourth in the Championship.

Brentford's use of analytics and statistics has captured the imagination since being unveiled following Matthew Benham's takeover four years ago. But United are pioneers in their own way too. Attacking wing-backs and over-lapping centre-halves should, according to conventional tactical wisdom, be a recipe for chaos. But their position on their cusp of the automatic promotion places, two points behind second-placed Leeds who travel to South Yorkshire this weekend, confirms that for the most part it works.

So did the experiment which saw Conor Washington make only his second start since leaving Queens Park Rangers in August. The Northern Ireland international has appeared a peripheral figure at times, either introduced during the fag end of a fixture or sometimes not at all. But his energy and willingness to chase lost causes gnawed away at the confidence of opponents who have now lost six of their last seven outings.

Sergi Canos, the former Barcelona and Liverpool attacker, posed a threat with his balletic footwork. But it was power and purpose, not poise, that Brentford required as they took too many touches and too many passes after falling behind. Jack O'Connell and John Egan, who have both swapped West London for Bramall Lane since Wilder's appointment two years ago, possess those qualities in abundance. Little wonder the 51-year-old described them both as bargains on the eve of this game.

Leon Clarke of Sheffield Utd scores the third goal during the Sky Bet Championship match at the Griffin Park Stadium, London. David Klein/Sportimage

In the event, it was United's failure to extend their lead by a keeping a foot on Brentford's throat which provided the hosts with a glimmer of hope when Sawyers' good fortune put the outcome back in the balance.

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But Clarke finally squeezed the life out of Frank's men when he caressed a low drive past Daniel Bentley during the closing stages. The 33-year-old might have applied the coup-de-grace but Washington, dragging several Brentford players out of position, deserved to share the limelight.

Wilder's response to United's draw against Rotherham three days earlier, when an added time equaliser prevented them from taking maximum points, came in the shape of a new-look midfield and attack although, had George Baldock not been taken ill on the eve of the game, it was possible to changes could have stretched into defence.

Washington's introduction at the expense of Billy Sharp confirmed suspicions that United would attempt to harass Brentford's defence into submission. But their own rearguard was the first to be breached during an explosive start which also saw John Lundstram, the second of Wilder's two changes, hit the crossbar and Norwood produce a memorable finish after Konsa had turned the ball into his own net.

Although the midfielder's long-range strike made wonderful viewing for the raucous travelling support, the comedy of errors played out in front of them only minutes earlier most definitely did not.

Egan, appearing against his foirmer club for the first time since leaving the capital four months ago, was urging Dean Henderson to come and collect the ball when Neal Maupay, exploiting the confusion, darted in and fired home. United's goalkeeper had clearly read the situation differently but, after failing to keep-out the Frenchman's shot, chose not to debate the matter with his centre-half.

Maupay's effort provoked a reaction every bit as furious as the look Egan cast his young goalkeeper. Indeed, had David McGoldrick not seen a shot on the turn scrambled clear by Bentley, Wilder's men could have entered the interval boasting a more comfortable lead than the slender advantage theu enjoyed.

O'Connell's refusal to celebrate after appearing to divert the ball home owed more to the fact Konsa was credited with the final touch than it did the Liverpudlian's respect for his previous employers. So when Norwood took a touch and, after calculating the perfect trajectory flighting a long-range attempt over Bentley's head, O'Connell made up for his earlier low key celebration by darting nearly the full length of the pitch.

McGoldrick suffered more frustration when another attempt, this time at the beginning of the second period, was palmed away to safety just as the ball seemed destined to find its target.

Although there were question marks about Henderson's part in Brentford's opener, he was powerless to prevent their second when Sawyers' strike flew past him after hitting John Fleck. But Clarke, after glancing a header wide moments after being introduced, ensured United secured the win their performance deserved.