Blades FT: Sheffield United 2 Atromitos 2

Lyle Taylor after equalising for United
Lyle Taylor after equalising for United
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David Weir described this match as a dress rehearsal for next week’s main event.

The Sheffield United manager might want to tweak certain aspects of the script ahead of Notts County’s visit in six days time.

But Weir can console himself with the knowledge that last night’s meeting with Atromitos FC certainly served its purpose. Only the sight of Marcus Williams hobbling off the pitch with a back injury provided him with real cause for concern.

“I thought the standard of football out there was excellent,” Weir said after watching Lyle Taylor’s late goal earn United a deserved share of the spoils. “They have some quality players but I thought we showed some excellent attributes too. Especially with regards to our passing.

“That was probably the game where we’ve found out the most about ourselves which is exactly what we all wanted.

“When we scored our first I don’t think they’d touched the ball for two minutes so that’s one really important lesson right there.”

United, who will apply the finishing touches to their preparations for August 2’s League One curtain-raiser at York City this afternoon, have been active in the transfer market since Weir’s appointment nearly two months ago.

Nevertheless, despite the arrival of players such as Stephen McGinn, Taylor and Conor Coady at Bramall Lane, arguably the most pressing concern on the new regime’s agenda is deciding whether George Long or Mark Howard will start between the posts.

Long, a member of the England squad which travelled to the FIFA under-20 World Cup earlier this summer, could not be held responsible for either of Atromitos’ goals.

Howard, who by Weir’s own admission has “also not put a foot wrong” during pre-season, is presumably destined to replace his young colleague at Bootham Crescent.

But with both mounting a strong case for their inclusion, the former Scotland international finds himself wrestling with a welcome dilemma.

Brandy, recruited after choosing to leave Walsall during the close season, pressed his claims with an eye-catching second-half display laced with delightful pieces of skill and just the right amount of arrogance.

Taylor, signed to provide United with the cutting edge they lacked en route to last season’s play-off semi-finals, claimed his second in as many outings after Stefano Napoleoni’s brace had threatened to cancel-out Chris Porter’s opener.

“Goalscorers live and die by the number of times they put the ball in the back of the net,” Weir said. “So to see our two strikers do that is, from our perspective, superb.

“It doesn’t matter what the game is. Pre-season or not. They’ll both be going home absolutely full of confidence.”

“Lyle has played about 50 minutes of football for us and scored twice,” Weir added. “Chris has been in a rich-vein of form and working hard too. “hey’ve both given me a lot to think about which is exactly what I want.”

Atromitos, narrowly beaten by Newcastle in Europa League qualifying next term, were the fourth ranked team in Greek football last season and included several players with international experience in their first choice eleven.

Dimitrios Papadopoulos, the veteran centre-forward, was part of the team crowned European Champions in 2004 while Michael Sifakis travelled to the 2010 World Cup.

Papodopoulos, taking full advantage of a slip by Harry Maguire, set in motion the chain of events which led to Stefano Napoleoni’s 10th minute effort before the Italian marksman, having earlier seen Chris Porter edge their hosts’ in front, pounced again midway through the opening period.

But, with a delegation from Meadow Lane watching from the stands, United also showcased the patience and respect for possession which has quickly become a hallmark of Weir’s reign.

Indeed, less than two minutes had passed when Porter, losing his marker at the far post, demonstrated good technique to turn home Kevin McDonald’s cross.

The United striker enjoyed another opportunity soon after when Jamie Murphy made progress down the opposite flank.

On this occasion, his shot was blocked by Efstathios Tavlaridis before the assistant referee’s flag denied Porter following yet more invention from Murphy.

Atromitos drew level when Long, left horribly exposed by an uncharacteristic error from Maguire, could only divert Papadopoulos’ low shot into Napoleoni’s path.

McDonald, again deployed in an advanced midfield role, responded with a drive of his own which Sifakis did well to gather.

Seven years ago, Napoleoni became the first Italian player to feature in Poland’s top-flight and, a quarter-of-an-hour after scoring the equaliser, he underlined why Widzew Lodz had been so keen to acquire his talents by threading the ball through a crowd and past Long’s outstretched glove.

Murphywent close from a 60th minute set-piece before Taylor scrambled home from close range after Tony McMahon and Sean McGinty had combined.

sheffield united: Long, Westlake (McMahon 77), Williams (McGinty 60), Maguire, Doyle (Whitehouse 77), Porter (Taylor 69), McDonald (Flynn 77), McGinn (Coady 59), Brandy (McFadzean 69), Murphy, Collins (Hill 77). Not used: Howard.

ATROMITOS: Sifakisk (Barkas 46), Papoutsogiannopoulos (Iglesias 46), Tavlaridis (Fabio 60), Brito (Karamanos 60), Napoleoni (Kallergis 55), Karakounis (Umbides 46), Papadopoulos (Georgiou 60), Giannoulis (Jamal 60), Dimoutsos (Nastos 46), Lazaridis (Gromitsaris 81), Garcia (Ballas 46). Not used: Cenamo.

REFEREE: Mark Haywood (West Yorkshire). ATTENDANCE: 3.331.