Kevin Gage's Blades Column: Chris Wilder can revel in master tactician status after Sheffield United score six with three false nines!
Ah, the magic of the FA Cup! The world's oldest football cup competition still has the ability to turn up unexpected results, and sometimes these results make people sit up and take notice.
A 6-0 drubbing of Orient on Sunday - whilst not totally unexpected - certainly fell into that latter category, and with the goals now regularly flowing into the opposition's net at the Lane, some armchair Blades fans must surely have sat up, took notice and must also now be tempted back on a match day to see what all the fuss is about this season!
Although, ‘fuss’ is exactly what the team didn’t make of this particular cup tie, and they strolled, literally at times, to the easiest win I’ve witnessed at the Lane for many a year. I doubt many sides this season, or any season in fact, can boast a team playing with no recognised strikers, yet still manage to score six, and in truth, scoring ten wouldn’t have been too harsh on the opposition.
After about 10 minutes, Orient missed their one and only really good chance of the game, mainly thanks to excellent recovery work from Jake Wright and helped by a brave save from debutant keeper Aaron Ramsdale. For the next 80 minutes or so, Orient gave us a display of such little ambition, and such negativity, it was frankly quite pathetic. For all the joy we experienced as the goals flew in and the chances were created, we should actually put it in some kind of context as we shall not play such a poor side this season.
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Orient seemed to have a game plan that appeared to consist of them dropping into a flat back six as soon as we got the ball, strung in a line across their penalty area! It was actually quite amusing watching their centre-halves getting very confused as they had NO-ONE to physically mark! They must have felt dizzy watching and attempting to keep up with the constant movement of Stefan Scougall, Mark Duffy and Harry Chapman as they buzzed around causing and creating chaos.
Not content with having a six-man string of defenders, Orient then employed at least two (and sometimes three!) holding midfielders to screen this back six, leaving a lone striker up front. Even then he sometimes tracked back! Amazing. Even at 3-0 down, when we had corners they also left nobody upfield which was quite bizarre.
The Orient manager is an Italian by the way, and so maybe it actually was a clever masterplan, honed by his years of watching the famous Italian sides of yesteryear practicing the art of ‘catenaccio’ defending? We remember the brilliant Italian national side who won the World Cup, and the club sides like AC and Inter Milan, Juventus and the like, stifling the opposition, and nullifying opportunities. If it was a masterplan, it failed... miserably.
Maybe he’ll soon come to terms with the reality that he’s now at Orient... and near the bottom of League Two. And it was the FA Cup by the way, where underdogs can often triumph and pull off surprises. So, at the very least, turn up, play with some heart and GIVE IT YOUR ALL! I’m reliably informed that he gave the team a loud forceful aggressive dressing-down after the match, which is all well and good and also richly deserved in my book, although the fact it was delivered in fluent Italian and had to be translated into English probably lessened the impact on the players I’d imagine! Foreign managers eh... aren’t they great?
It’s often said however that you can only beat what’s put in front of you, and in that sense we did, very impressively. Leaving aside the standard of opposition, our finishing was clinical, our creativity was once again excellent and our defending was solid. Chris Basham and Jack O’Connell were very comfortable at bringing the ball out from the back and given how much space they had, it needed to be done to get good quality possession high up the pitch.
With John Fleck getting better every game and new captain Paul Coutts pulling the midfield strings, we looked about three divisions higher than Orient as opposed to the one we actually were. If both teams play like they did Sunday, we will be three divisions higher next season for sure!
So mission accomplished. A win, six goals, a clean sheet, more fitness for certain players, more confidence boosters for others, no injuries, no bookings, no worries, no bother. Perfect.
Chris Wilder can also now revel in his new guise as a master tactician with his ground-breaking formation of three ‘false’ number nines! On the pitch we won the football battle, though not a battle in a physical sense, as Orient players couldn’t tackle a roast dinner on that showing. Off the pitch, it would appear Wilder also won the tactical battle. English managers, eh... aren’t they great? Especially the ones made in Sheffield. UTB