Decisions, missed chances and inviting pressure: Sheffield United talking points from Bournemouth defeat
Sheffield United’s trip to Bournemouth was billed beforehand as a good barometer of where they are as a Championship promotion-chaser and despite the 2-1 defeat, the game perhaps showed how close and also how far away they are from being a team capable of challenging for automatic promotion to the Premier League this season.
There was more disappointment for the Blades from a winning position, after Morgan Gibbs-White put them ahead in the second half with his third goal in United colours, and question marks will again be raised about the Blades’ ability to hang onto a lead after Bournemouth bounced back with two quickfire goals to go top of the table with a 2-1 victory.
United have also thrown away points against Huddersfield and Preston at Bramall Lane already this season, and were dangerously close to doing so against Derby at home too. Whatever back five United put out, the players are clearly competent at Championship level - but for whatever reason, they have not clicked as a unit and arguably only once this season, in the league, have kept a clean sheet and looked comfortable in doing so.
United’s display at Bournemouth was at least much improved from their last outing away at Middlesbrough, and it took a big decision from the referee – or more likely his assistant – to turn the clash in the Cherries’ favour.
Dom Solanke broke through and Enda Stevens lunged in to nick away the ball before the striker could advance on Robin Olsen’s goal. Stevens committed himself on the wet surface and seemed to realise he couldn’t win the ball, so tried to pull out and took down Solanke. A penalty was given.
The only issue was that the foul was comfortably outside the area. The referee didn’t blow his whistle for a considerable time after the challenge, and so clearly neither he nor his assistant were confident in the decision. When did the benefit of the doubt go to the attacking team?
It was a stinker of a decision – one that would have been reversed by VAR, of course – and boss Slavisa Jokanović was incensed. He is an intimidating man at the best of times and the stare he gave the linesman who gave the decision terrified me, from about 30 rows back in the press box.
Then to compound the frustration, Jokanović claimed there was a player offside in the build-up to Bournemouth’s winner and the same linesman missed it. Refs and officials get a lot of stick, much of which is unreasonable and excessive. But they must also expect and accept that when they make bad decisions which cost teams points and in some extreme cases, can cost managers their jobs.
A new terrace hero
It ultimately didn’t count for anything, but Gibbs-White’s latest goal for the Blades was a nice moment for a midfielder who had already been serenaded with a new song by those fans who had made the long trip down to the south coast.
Set to the tune of ABBA’s Voulez-Vous, the song rang around the Vitality Stadium after he had put the Blades ahead with a neat finish from Billy Sharp’s pass. The Wolves loanee wasn’t actually having his best afternoon in Blades colours before he popped up at the key moment, but he took his chance when it came … something that couldn’t be said for all his teammates.
Chances go begging
United could, and probably should, have had at least two on the board by the time Gibbs-White beat Mark Travers with an emphatic finish. Most people in the Vitality Stadium would have put their mortgages on Billy Sharp scoring in the first half after Lloyd Kelly’s mistake left him one-on-one, but the striker – unusually, for such a clinical finisher – seemed caught in two minds between shooting and squaring, before blazing his shot over Travers’ crossbar.
Then in the second half, Ollie Norwood’s corner found Ben Davies in acres of space in the Cherries box. But he could only plant his header down, over and wide of goal, when it looked harder to miss than score. Not that Bournemouth didn’t have chances of their own…
Architects of their own downfall?
One of the most noticeable changes to United’s approach is their determination to play their way out of trouble from the back, but that comes with obvious inherent dangers.
When it works, the benefits are obvious – it encourages the opposition’s strikers to press and leaves space in behind to exploit. But losing the ball can also be catastrophic, which almost happened when Olsen held on to it for a moment too long under pressure from Solanke and passed straight to Billing. The giant midfielder – exactly the type of player United are missing in midfield, physically dominant with quality on the ball as well – should have scored, but Olsen recovered to hold his weak shot. No doubt wiping sweat from his brow afterwards.
A couple of times either side of that, Olsen passed short to John Egan, who smashed it long under pressure from Solanke. If that’s going to happen, is it worth the risks of defenders being closed down? Jokanović and his coaching staff obviously think so, but some supporters seem to still not be too convinced.