Danny Hall: Why columnist's accusation that Sheffield United are "institutionalised bullies" over Wilfried Zaha 'treatment' in Crystal Palace win is simply laughable

Sheffield United have remarkably been accused of "institutionalised bullying" over their apparent treatment of Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha at the weekend.

Monday, 3rd February 2020, 3:12 pm
Updated Monday, 3rd February 2020, 3:13 pm

United won 1-0 at Selhurst Park when Palace goalkeeper Vicente Guaita dropped Ollie Norwood's corner over his own goalline, to move up to fifth in the Premier League in their pursuit of European football next season.

The Blades also gave a debut to their new £22m signing Sander Berge, who joined in the days leading up to the game from Genk.

But it was United's apparent treatment of Palace dangerman Wilfried Zaha that made headlines in The Times, with journalist Matthew Syed levelling a remarkable charge of "institutionalised bullying" at United's door.

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Syed's claim - he added that "rotational fouling" was a "scourge on the game" comes from the statistic that Zaha was fouled eight times by United players on Saturday, with two of those challenges resulting in bookings for George Baldock and John Fleck.

Baldock later escaped a second yellow card for another foul on Zaha - despite several Palace players surrounding ref Andy Madley demanding a red, in a real "scourge on the game" - and Zaha petulantly chased after Fleck following his yellow card challenge, before tumbling like a Jenga tower and holding his head after another innocuous foul from Enda Stevens.

"It was like that scene out of Airplane where the stewards line up one by one to give the panicking passenger a good, hard slap," Syed wrote.

"By now you would have hoped that Andrew Madley, the referee, was cottoning on to Baldock’s serial offending, so United rotated.

Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha is challenged by Sheffield United’s Sander Berge: Paul Terry/Sportimage

"A little before half-time, Chris Basham fouled Zaha, then in the 68th minute it was John Fleck, then in the 77th minute John Egan and in the 90th John Lundstram.

"The only surprise is that Zaha didn’t get a boot to the ankle from Chris Wilder, the United manager, as well as his kit man and assistant physio as he walked off at full time. Wasn’t that in the game plan too?"

Syed's original charge is strong enough but extending the accusation to include Wilder and his staff is outrageous. If anything, by any standards - and certainly in comparison to the Premier League, and Zaha for that matter - United are probably too honest against the more ‘streetwise’ (being kind) sides in the league. And that’s one table Palace would be very much near the top of.

Syed's research suggests he was fouled by six different players on Saturday but neglects to mention the fact Zaha inexplicably swapped wings in the second half, so was directly up against a different set of United defenders. And, putting it plainly… wouldn't you probably expect a direct player like Zaha to be fouled more than, say, Joel Ward?

Only Baldock’s third foul on Zaha, catching the player after he’d shifted the ball away, was anywhere near out of the ordinary - despite Zaha's attempts to make them so. And whether or not Syed's suspicion about "rotational fouling" is a valid one in the wider game, he's looking in the wrong place to prove it here.