James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: Second-half kings must lose their crown

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Occasionally, it can be compelling.

Most of the time, though, what passes for expert footballing analysis these days is just an exercise in the art of stating the bleeding obvious.

Yes, I’ve just seen the centre-forward slip his marker. No, it never dawned on me for a second that his manager might be a shade disappointed because he’s just screwed wide from five yards.

Sometimes, however, there really is nothing to be gained from embellishing an idea with psudeo-scientific nonsense about false nines, pivots or the merits of 4-4-2 versus 4-3-3 in League One competition. Sheffield United need to begin matches in more decisive fashion. Impose themselves on the action rather than rely on spirit, character and indomitability to claim a point or three. (Feel free to nod sagely if you want).

Nigel Adkins’ side will enter tomorrow’s South Yorkshire derby against 22nd placed Doncaster Rovers seventh in the table. They would be first by virtue of goals scored if, all else across the division being equal, their matches were decided on second-half results alone.

“We can’t afford to be going two nil down, one nil down, every game,” midfielder Jose Baxter acknowledged following last weekend’s comeback against Bradford City. “It’s pressure we don’t need because teams like to sit in and let us do the work. If we give them something to hold on to, it’s not good. We need to start scoring first and showing more character right from the whistle.”

It will be easier said than done of course because, like it or not, there will be 11 other players on the pitch trying to ensure they fail to achieve that aim. But, after falling behind in each of their previous three games, Baxter’s words should resonate. As the season goes, on the situation is guaranteed to become even more acute as opponents find themselves chasing promotion or fighting relegation. And a draw at Bramall Lane will always be viewed by United’s rivals as a positive outcome. Expect, from next month onwards, to see them dig-in and drop deeper even more.

Adkins, speaking after Sunday’s 2-2 draw City with extended his squad’s winless run to three outings, admitted manager’s always discover more about the options at their disposal when backs are pinned firmly to the metaphorical wall. With 81 per cent of United’s goals this season coming after the break, his frustration will be tempered by the knowledge they have the staying power and cojones to make their talent count.

Twitter: @JamesShield1

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