Kevin Gage's Blades Column: No need to panic for Sheffield United despite Walsall shock
I've never liked a Walsall away fixture.
My first visit was as an 18-year-old for Wimbledon in the early 1980s on a freezing cold, wet and windy afternoon. It was the days of only one sub and I was more than happy wrapped up warm on the bench, but despite no-one getting injured, Dave Bassett sent me on with about five minutes to go.
Quite what he expected of me I’m not sure as we were 4-0 down at the time! Next visit was as a Villa player to open their new stadium in 1990. It was a pre-season game, absolutely boiling hot, and yes they beat us! I hated every minute, and haven’t been back since.
I’m in no rush to either, and after listening to the commentary and hearing and reading reports from Saturday I’m glad I didn’t, as Walsall confirmed their status as our official ‘bogey’ team. The stats are remarkable... two defeats for us in 23 league games, both by Walsall, and they also beat us in the cup! Sometimes football really is a funny old game.
Not that our manager, players, travelling fans or supporters back home found it remotely funny, as a totally unexpected and uncharacteristic second half capitulation saw us ship three goals, and very soft ones at that. I’ve seen it said that Walsall caught us out using classic counter-attack tactics, and had planned for such, which is frankly nonsense. After our first-half domination of the ball and chances created, we lost all momentum after they snatched a very fortunate second goal, and to be fair to them , they saw their opportunity to seize the initiative and took it.
What we certainly hadn’t planned for but ultimately cost us dearly was our very ponderous and indecisive defending, and whilst Simon Moore was visibly disappointed with the two shots that slid past him, he made another wonderful save to keep us in it, and is by far still in credit with us for his performances overall this season. Keep up the good work please, Simon; we’re more than happy with you.
We’ve achieved our success this season with the fluidity, creativeness and effectiveness of our attacking play, and with 51 league goals plus another nine in three cup ties, we’re rattling along at a rate of two goals per game. The early season jitters in our defence have been removed and even after Chris shored it up with a different formation and new personnel, the focus of our rise from the bottom to the top of the league hasn’t been on a ‘rock-solid’ defence, as the amount of goals we’ve scored have made the headlines.
But ‘solid’ is exactly what our defence has usually been. At an average of only eight per game, we have conceded, BY FAR, the least shots at our goal of any team in our league, which says that the defence is doing its job, and doing it very well. Of course, that our defenders keep popping up and scoring at the other end is a huge bonus too!
It’s also been refreshing to see the post-game comments from Blades fans who after years of disappointment and being let down, have reacted quite calmly and rationally to a solitary defeat. The new positive attitude on the pitch has been has been mirrored by the vast majority of those off it and common sense has actually prevailed!
On Saturday we were admittedly helped by results around us going our way, but we all accept that the wheels have NOT fallen off our promotion band-wagon, and that we’ve just ridden over a slight bump in the road. It’s given us a bit of a jolt, and maybe the wheels just need tightening in places... and please Chris, after Saturday, double-check the ones at the back.
So three tricky away games on the trot negotiated, six points in the bag, some crucial home games to come, and there’s obviously still work to be done. Not a mountain of it though, as we’ve already reached the League One summit and are now on our way across the ridge, hoping not to stumble and fall spectacularly!
We may well hit some more bumps along the way, and may even have the odd slip, but we won’t fall off. Our management team have made this journey before, quite recently actually, know the route, and can see the destination.
We all can. It’s looming large on the horizon. As fans, let’s stay calm, committed and confident that we’ll get there. UTB
Kevin Gage owns The Manor House: bar/hotel/cafe, High St, Dronfield, S18. @ManorHouse_S18. Follow him on Twitter: @gageykev