Grimsby Town 2 Sheffield United 4: Blades go out of Checkatrade Trophy with a bang
Goodbye and, as far as Chris Wilder is concerned, good riddance to the Checkatrade Trophy.
Sheffield United bowed-out of this much-maligned competition with a bang at Grimsby Town last night.
But at least the visitors, who like Marcus Bignot’s side were unable to reach the knockout stages regardless of the result, were able to use the tie to blood some of the promising young talent within their youth ranks.
One of those Regan Slater, marked his first taste of senior football with a superb second-half finish after Kayden Jackson, on loan from Barnsley, had earlier edged the hosts in front.
An own goal from Andrew Boyce and Jack O’Connell effort extended United’s lead before substitute Leon Clarke, now recovered from the ankle complaint which has troubled him since the summer, ended Grimsby’s hopes of a comeback.
The absurdity of a tournament ostensibly designed to promote the development of young players is that United were required to break the rules to ensure it served that purpose at Bramall Lane. With Chris Basham and Kieron Freeman the only survivors of the starting eleven which beat MK Dons 12 days ago, Wilder’s team selection means the visitors are likely to be hit with an English Football League fine.
But at least his decision to ignore the regulations meant the likes of Graham Kelly and David Brooks gained valuable experience while fellow teenagers Jordan Hallam, Joe Cummings and Slater also made their professional debuts.
If United had been able to do so without risk of censure during their meetings with Leicester City under-21’s and Walsall then perhaps the EFL’s revamp would enjoy more support.
Despite the subdued atmosphere - less than 600 people watched the action unfold - the Northern Group H dead-rubber was a memorable occasion for 10 of the 11 Steelphalt Academy graduates named in Wilder’s squad. For the other, George Long, it was an opportunity to press his claims for a more prominent role between now and the end of the season after losing his place to Simon Moore.
Long, who appeared destined to leave United following the 26-year-old’s arrival in August, suffered a crisis of confidence at the beginning of the campaign. But he remains an accomplished goalkeeper with a long future in the game and, despite being powerless to prevent Jackson from breaking the deadlock during the opening stages of the first-half, he acquitted himself well to deny the Grimsby centre-forward a second soon after.
However, he will have been disappointed not to have dealt better with the long-range shot which led to Disley’s late strike.
With Wilder making no secret of the fact that Sunday’s meeting with Chesterfield, not salvaging something from what has been a thoroughly underwhelming Checkatrade Trophy adventure, the sight of Matt Done and Clarke making their returns from injury was an encouraging sign. Together with Slater’s tenacity, clinical finish and Jordan Hallam’s relentless running in attack.
Organisers take note. There is life - and plenty of ability - beyond Category A academies in the Championship and Premier League.
Town, playing their first fixture under new manager Bignot, caused United some problems before running out of ideas as the contest wore on.
The former Crewe, Millwall and Queens Park Rangers’ defender’s appointment, following a successful five year spell at Solihull Moors, was viewed as a surprise in some quarters. But the hosts have enjoyed great success under coaches plucked from lower leagues with Alan Buckley, Russell Slade and his predecessor Paul Hurst all impressing after making the step-up in north Lincolnshire.
In front of a crowd more in-keeping with a match at the Automated Technology Group Stadium than a derby-of-sorts between two professional clubs, Bignot’s reign got off the the best possible start.
A defensive mix-up allowed Jackson to break clear in the 14th minute and, with only Long to beat, he made no mistake from eight yards out. It was Grimsby’s first goal since James Berrett, who had earlier seen his appeal for a penalty rejected by referee Richard Clark, scored against Cambridge United three outings ago.
Hallam, whose performances at academy and under-23 level have earned glowing reviews in recent months, also had a strong claim for a spot-kick turned down after being upended by Zak Mills.
Long, recalled following a three month absence, had little more to do until the 28th minute when Jackson again darted clean through. This time, however, his shot failed to hit the target after Long, refusing to commit himself until the final moment, scrambled clear.
Reece Brown should have dragged United level when he inexplicably headed wide with the goal at his mercy just before the break. Hallam’s delivery from set-pieces was impressive throughout and, had the defender made a cleaner connection, Andy Warrington would not have stood a chance.
Instead, it was Regan who restored parity with a delightful drive past Warrington, playing only his second match since March 2013, in the 53rd minute. Hallam was inches away from firing United ahead moments later but, after skipping past two markers, his effort flashed just wide.
Boyce turned Clarke’s angled effort into his own net with 14 minutes remaining. Three minutes later, O’Connell extended United’s advantage after benefiting from an excellent exchange between Hallam and Brooks. Disley reduced the deficit in the 81st minute after pouncing on a loose ball. But Clarke, with another perfectly placed shot, sealed victory for United.
Grimsby Town: Warrington, Pearson, Chambers (Tuton 76), Disley, Mills, Jackson, Berrett (Bolarinwa 56), Boyce, Vernon (Browne 56), Jones, Comley. Not used: Andrew, Gowling, Vose, Summerfield.
Sheffield United: Long, O’Connell, Basham (Cummings 76), Lavery (Clarke 63), Brown, Freeman (Done 46), Whiteman, Brooks, Hallam, Kelly, Slater. Not used: Wright jnr, Gilmour, Perryman, Cantrill.
Referee: Richard Clark (Northumberland)