Match Analysis: How a frustrating defeat to Swansea City revealed Sheffield United's strengths and their weaknesses on the opening day of the new Championship season

Chris Wilder wore the exasperated expression of a man who had seen this all before.

By The Newsroom
Sunday, 5th August 2018, 6:28 pm
Updated Sunday, 5th August 2018, 6:33 pm
George Baldock scores Sheffield United's goal against Swansea City
George Baldock scores Sheffield United's goal against Swansea City

Big moments, he has warned more times than he cares to remember, settle big Championship games.The trouble was, less than an hour earlier, his Sheffield United side had made the most of one but let countless others slip.

George Baldock, whose goal appeared to have set them on course for victory before Swansea City came roaring back, later took issue with suggestions his colleagues were once again guilty of failing to heed Wilder's advice. However, the wing-back did acknowledge lessons must be learned if United are to master the art of grinding out results.

"We're bitterly disappointed," he said. "To get ahead in a match that was so tightly contested and then give away two goals hurts so we've got to quickly bounce back. After 60 minutes or so, that big moment arose and we took it to go in front. But they've got good players and if you give them opportunities they'll punish you which is what happened out there."

The opening fixture of the new season exposed United's strengths and, despite some shrewd forays into the transfer market, the weaknesses which undermined their top six hopes last term. Baldock's strike, an expertly taken finish from just inside the box, was befitting of a move highlighting their ability to overwhelm opponents by encouraging defenders to attack. Minutes earlier, though, two glaring misses eventually proved costly as Swansea took full advantage of a lapse in concentration and a huge stroke of luck. Still, as Baldock reminded, it is impossible to gauge a squad's credentials on a single result.

"I couldn't tell you how they'll do because, in this division, anyone can beat anyone else," he said after being informed West Bromwich Albion and Middlesbrough, two other fancied teams, had also dropped points. "That makes the psychology so important. It's a key part of a professional athlete's life now because of what's involved. It's the best job in the world and I wouldn't swap doing it for anything else. Honestly I wouldn't. But there are stresses involved and something like this one of them."

"The positive thing is that we've good strong personalities here," Baldock continued. "Big personalities and you need that if you want to be in this environment and work for this manager. He surrounds himself with good characters because he demands a lot; not only during games but even more so in the week. And that's a good thing as it shows he sets high standards. The same as we do ourselves."

Wilder Wilder lamented his team's decision-making, Graham Potter was full of praise for Swansea's efforts during a match played in energy-sapping heat. Taking charge of the visitors for the first time in a competitive match, the 43-year-old paid tribute to both their resilience and their work ethic after falling behind midway through the second period. Nevertheless, after a relatively low key first-half, Swansea's equaliser was as scruffy as the player who scored it. With his socks rolled low and shirt hanging loose at the waist, Oli McBurnie scrambled home from close-range when the ball bounced loose following an attempted clearance. Wilder's frustration was heightened by the fact he had been viewed as a potential summer signing until being relegated from the Premier League prompted Swansea's offer of a new contract. Worse was to follow, from United's perspective at least, when substitute Yan Dhanda pounced. It was the teenager's first touch of the contest and first in senior football after leaving Liverpool's development programme three months ago.

"On the whole, we dealt with their threats really well but we were a bit naive, especially with their second and it cost us," Baldock admitted. "We knew they'd be a good side and we matched them. One thing we can improve on, one thing we can work on, is seeing games out better and I'm sure we'll do that."

"Yan has got that knack of popping up in those situations," Potter countered. "He's good at getting the ball in space. All of the substitutes had an impact which was good to see. But I also thought Oli's work for the team was incredible. He set things up and obviously got on the scoresheet as well."

United, naming three debutants in their starting eleven and summoning a fourth from the bench, had earlier attempted to wrestle control of the fixture before, perhaps inevitably given the conditions, adopting a more considered approach. One of those new faces - David McGoldrick - impressed with his movement but will have been disappointed not to score before Baldock's opener. Another, record signing John Egan, also had a mixed afternoon as he learns United's system while Dean Henderson made a superb save to deny Jay Fulton. Ben Woodburn, who entered the fray during the closing stages, also did enough to suggest he will prove a fine addition.

Baldock's effort, however, was borne out of the type of organised chaos Wilder actively encourages. Preferred to Mark Duffy in midfield, John Lundstram sliced wide with the goal at his mercy but redeemed himself by picking out the defender who, after surging forward, ghosted to the 'wrong' side of the pitch.

"The gaffer had spoken to me about it, breaking the system up," Baldock explained. "He likes us to come inside and express ourselves. It was a great pull back from John but I'd trade any goal for three points."

United's hopes of securing them were undone when first McBurnie and then Dhanda struck. Despite spending the last eight years in Sweden with Östersund, Potter had clearly done his homework and packed Swansea's midfield to try and stifle the hosts' creativity. McBurnie took full advantage after a skirmish in front of Henderson while Dhanda fired home after being left unmarked. Woodburn's introduction provided the type of dynamism Duffy can also bring. But, second-guessing Potter's tactics, Wilder's decision to select Lundstram was understandable.

"We should have stopped them," Baldock said. "They were poor ones to give away but we have to learn, draw a line and move on."