There can be all sorts of reasons for a talented team failing to score and bad luck is usually the least of them. Which is why Sheffield United, after collecting just two points and two goals from four home games, are a subject for some concern.
Normally I reckon it comes down to one of two things - poor finishing or lack of a final ball. But here the mystery deepens. From what I’ve seen, there haven’t been anywhere near enough clear chances created to blame the finishing. And yet the final ball - or cross into the box - has often been good.
Explain that one. Well, let’s start with Jamal Campbell-Ryce and absolve him of the blame that unfairly comes his way at times. Here’s a much travelled 31-year-old winger in the Autumn of his career producing, arguably, some of his best ever form.
How many crosses did he conjure in the games (five days apart) with resourceful opposition in Notts County and MK Dons? Having seen both, I wish I’d counted. I didn’t but would suggest 30 as a conservative estimate. Cue complaints that he failed to deliver a goal (you’re factually right there) and that this explains why players of his type are often labelled luxuries.
For me, wrong on both counts. More often than not, Jamal got those crosses in early. And most, if not all, were delivered to what the professionals call “dangerous areas.”
But where were the heads and feet? Where were the runners from midfield?
I think that, when Nigel Clough has time to reflect, he’ll concede that there is a problem to solve. However poor the referee at Bramall Lane on Tuesday (and he was), he was only part of the frustration as United dipped 1-0 in a game they dominated but failed to enforce.
With this squad - under-achieving on its results so far - I’d still expect a strong promotion challenge. Maybe the away form will take things back in that direction.
But Bramall Lane has to be conquered – by the home team. At this point, I hear you again - is 4-5-1 too negative, should Clough bow to the clamour for 4-4-2?
Personally, with so many attack-minded players in the side, I think that argument is too simplistic. Look, you had Jamie Murphy, Campbell-Ryce, Stefan Scougall and, in Ryan Flynn, a winger at right back on Tuesday. And Jose Baxter coming off the bench.
It’s not so much about questioning the attacking intent and quality as maybe the speed of action. Then there is the imponderable over prestige signing Chris O’Grady, who succumbed to his calf injury on debut and sits out Saturday’s FA Cup clash with Plymouth to target a return at Fleetwood the following week.
Would O’Grady he have got on the end of one of Campbell-Ryce’s second half deliveries? A fair bet he would. A fair bet he will. That said, however polished United may look up to the final act, it would be wrong to gloss over the problem they have. It’s easier said than corrected. But the potential answer is being DELIVERED - just not CONVERTED.