Maritimo 0 Sheffield United 1 - Blades lack firepower but get job done in Portugal

The Blades side take a look around Estadio Municipal Bela Vista prior to the game
The Blades side take a look around Estadio Municipal Bela Vista prior to the game
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The word ‘friendly’ does not appear in Chris Wilder’s vocabulary.

There are only ‘must win’ games and matches where you do your damndest not to lose, even though nothing hinges on the result.

This fixture, against Maritimo team which finished seventh in the Primeira Liga last season, one was one such occasion.

But the manager’s demeanour, after Ched Evans’ late strike ensured Sheffield United’s superiority did not go without reward, confirmed even those bring out his competitive instincts.

“It got a bit tasty at times,” Wilder said.

“There were a few late tackles going in but, even though I’m more of a 50/50 man myself, I’m okay with that.

“I thought the boys worked hard, they looked after themselves and were outstanding at times in both halves.”

With progress in the transfer market proving tortuously slow, Wilder’s focus is on those players already at his disposal rather than those he wants.

It is a situation which should ensure the likes of Leon Clarke and Billy Sharp start the new season in perfect shape.

But United’s team selection also revealed several weaknesses which must be addressed.

With Caolan Lavery supposedly surplus to requirements and Evans set to depart on loan next week, Sharp and Clarke are the only two established centre-forwards certain to be at Bramall Lane when the new season starts next month.

Having bemoaned United’s profligacy towards the end of last term, Wilder will be urging United’s hierarchy to redouble their efforts after watching the trend continue inside the Bela Vista Estadio.

Clarke, Ricky Holmes and Daniel Lafferty were all guilty of wasting clear-cut openings before the interval as United, despite dominating, failed to translate possession into goals.

“You can see where we’ve got to add a bit,” Wilder said.

“But, at the same time, I balance that against the fact we’ve only done one finishing session since coming out here and that wasn’t too intense. It should step up as we do more work.

“The good thing is, we’re creating them and showing the right character.”

Fleck is cut from the same cloth as Wilder and, before being substituted at half-time, his tenacity proved too much for Maritimo.

Snapping at heels and snarling at defenders, the little Glaswegian hauled United upfield where, despite his best efforts, they frequently beat Charles with menacing but misguided shots.

Holmes also caught the eye as he attempts to convince Wilder he can fill the void created by David Brooks’ departure.

But, after taking one too many heavy tackles, the midfielder was withdrawn to nurse his bumps and bruises.

“It was competitive, there were a few lates ones going in after the ball had gone,” Wilder continued.

“But we can take heart from that because, let’s not forget, this is a team from Portugal’s top division.”

Unlike United, whose lack of new signings is part accident part design, the Portuguese remain a work in progress with manager Claúdio Braga still settling into his post.

Regarded as more attack-minded and expansive than predecessor Daniel Ramos, Braga’s desire to overhaul Maritimo’s system had contributed to their 2-1 defeat at the hands of Hull City on Tuesday night.

However, despite being liable to present the opposition with opportunities, the approach ensures Braga’s men enjoy plenty of possibilities themselves.

Certainly, until Fleck imposed his authority on proceedings, Jack O’Connell and Richard Stearman were forced to cover plenty of grass as Edgar Costa, a former Portugal youth international, looked to drag them this way and that.

Still, Maritimo’s efforts to play out from the back nearly proved their undoing in the 15th minute when Fabricio Balano dwelled too long on the ball before being dispossessed by Lee Evans.

Bursting forward, the United midfielder also paused for a moment to assess his options before deciding a delicate lob over Charles was best.

Unfortunately for him, the Maritimo goalkeeper read Evans’ body language and, checking his run, plucked the ball effortlessly out of the air.

Two wasteful shots from Clarke bookended a clear cut opening for Daniel Lafferty which he also turned wide.

With Holmes passing up another, Wilder will have been delighted with his team’s creativity, but concerned by their inability to punish Maritimo’s generosity.

Charles had been guilty of a horrendous error during Maritimo’s defeat by City 48 hours earlier but, soon after the re-start, the Brazilian redeemed himself with an excellent reaction save to deny substitute Lavery before Evans pounced with five minutes remaining.

Sheffield United: Henderson, Baldock (Stevens 46), Basham, Stearman, O’Connell, Lafferty (Freeman 46), L Evans (Duffy 46), Fleck (Leonard 46), Holmes (Slater 54), Clarke (C Evans 46), Sharp (Lavery 46). Substitutes: Eastwood, Norrington-Davies, Slater.

Maritimo: Charles, Bebeto, Zainadine, Lucas, Africo. Fabio China, Fabricio, Alhassan, Ibson, Edgar Costa, Joel.