Kevin Gage's Sheffield United Column: Can Bassett's boys be separated from Wilder's wizards?

Thanks for re-joining us here at Bramall Lane for the second half of our virtual match which sees Bassett’s Blades (BB), the team from 1992 that finished ninth in the top flight, against Wilder’s Wonders (WW), the outstanding current Sheffield United team.

By Kevin Gage
Sunday, 5th April 2020, 12:30 pm
Wilder's wizards against Bassett's Blades
Wilder's wizards against Bassett's Blades

If you missed the first half of this pulsating game you can catch up with all the action here.

Yes, it was a remarkable first 45 minutes in many ways as BB simply were too powerful for WW and really stopped them in their tracks with their ‘up-and-at-'em’ direct football. Even though WW were fully expecting a tough time, it probably still came a shock to the system. Chris Wilder somehow has to find a way to get his side into something like their normal stride.

Perhaps the conditions will now help as the pitch is in perfect shape for this half, and the wind has dropped to virtually zero. The imaginary stage is set, BB are 2-0 up and it’s game on!

The Star Football Awards 2017 Chris Wilder Kevin Gage Dave Bassett

WW will kick us off, attacking the Kop end this half and towards the non-existent thousands of home fans, not roaring them on.

Five minutes into the second half and immediately you feel that this half will be a totally different proposition. Whatever Wilder’s said at half time it’s clearly had an effect as WW are stroking the ball around the pitch, full of confidence, and with their usual style.

At the moment, BB just can’t get near them at all. You sense that BB need to hang on for a while here, keep their shape, defend well, and try not to give anything away. A goal early in this half and WW are right back in this!

It's the 55th minute. Norwood is now pulling the strings in midfield and Fleck’s also had a couple of driving runs forward with the ball glued to his feet. Stevens supports him out on the left wing. Fleck cuts inside from Bradshaw’s challenge and feeds Stevens again out wide.

Billy Sharp (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Gage moves to close down the space, but has to back off as Jack O’Connell comes charging up on the overlap. From nowhere its a 2 v 1 overload and Stevens slips the ball through to O’Connell, who crosses to the near post. Sharp gets there first and GOOOAAAL!!! He steers the ball past Tracey at the near post! A typical Billy Sharp poacher goal.... it’s 2-1!

The game has totally changed around in the space of 15 minutes. Buoyed by the goal, WW are now dominating possession and pushing BB back. When they do get the ball, BB are trying to find the spaces behind the WW defence but the three centre-backs are first to the through-balls and snuffing out the danger.

It’s a much less scrappy game, more possession orientated now and although BB are capable of keeping the ball when required, the shape and structure of the team isn’t geared up to move it around freely. Their best chance might be from any set-pieces as they are so good at them.

Now 65 minutes gone, and Barnes knocks a long ball up to the strikers. Bryson wins a header and Deane picks up the loose ball. Great skill from him to get past Basham, and his shot is just wide! It’s a rare attack from BB and proves that they are still dangerous on the break!

Oliver Norwood says he wants to stay with Sheffield United for the rest of his career: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Seventy minutes. It’s relentless possession now from WW as they are stretching BB all over the pitch. Norwood, Fleck and Lundstram are outnumbering Gannon and Hoyland in the midfield and BB simply can’t get the ball. WW are now doing what they’ve done to so many other teams this season, and grinding them down and pushing them back with the quality of their football.

Fleck’s had a snapshot that went straight at Tracey and McBurnie should have done better with a half-chance that he skied over the bar, but BB are defending well as a unit with Gayle and Beesley screaming out instructions. No-one is giving an inch out there and the challenges are flying in when BB get a chance. Gayle and Barnes have been booked for fouls, while Bradshaw and Egan have been booked for an ‘altercation’.... Brads is a brave lad!

Seventy-five minutes. Corner to BB and its cleared to the edge of the box. Gannon and Fleck challenge for the loose ball, but Fleck comes out with it and is away. Baldock charges to catch him up and Sharp is free on the left.

Barnes and Gage defending have to retreat and are quickly outnumbered as WW pile others forward. Fleck has options and delays his pass perfectly for Baldock on the run. He’s through on goal, about 30 yards out.

John Egan. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

His touch isn’t great though and Tracey sees a chance to race to claim the ball! But Baldock is too quick and nudges ball past Tracey’s dive. Baldock tumbles to the ground... PENALTY!!!! No doubts whatsoever and no VAR replay needed for this one! It’s a straight red for Tracey too!

Seventy-seven minutes. Barnes takes over Goalkeeper duties and Sharp puts the ball on the spot. He runs up and slams the ball right footed.....GOAL!!! Never in doubt. It’s 2-2, and WW have 10 mins to search for the winner, but you absolutely know that a BB side might just have something to say about that too!

Ninety minutes. It’s one-way traffic as WW search for the winner. BB are closing down as best they can but WW are moving the ball around so well, they just can’t get close enough. Deane nearly broke clean through after a long clearance caught Egan out of position but Basham got back to get in a brilliant saving challenge.

Lundstram got on the end of another wonderful interchange of passing from Norwood and Fleck, but shot just wide and Sharp went close again with a hurried shot.

Ninety-three minutes. Gayle climbs all over McBurnie and its a free-kick to WW, about 25 yards out and central. Norwood and Fleck are stood over it. Everyone is back defending for BB and all the WW defenders are up, but it surely has to be shot from here.

Fleck runs over the ball and Norwood fires the ball goalward. It curls and dips viciously and Barnes is at full stretch....

AND THERE’S THE FINAL WHISTLE! It blows on an exhilarating, pulsating, and fascinating game between two excellent sides from two very different eras, playing two totally different styles of football, and played out on two very different types of pitches!

So does Norwood’s shot go in? Who knows? And ultimately does it matter? Of course not. Let’s both settle for a well-deserved draw!

It’s incredibly difficult to compare two teams from different moments in time so far apart, as many variables come into play, so let’s not analyse it too much. The record of that ninth-placed finish in 1992 is there for the current side to beat and I genuinely and sincerely hope they do so, as the quality of the football they’ve served up this season fully merits it.

In this multi-million pound Premier League era, anything above a mid-table will be a fabulous achievement and let’s not even contemplate European qualification just yet please! Lets get Covid-19 fully out of the way first and then we’ll look forward to travelling to those type of fixtures!

So I hope you’ve enjoyed my virtual game, and I think a 2-2 draw is a fair result! I hope and pray our football returns soon and we can all stop imagining how the season might pan out and can experience the real thing!

One things for sure....that first home game back at Bramall Lane will be one NOT to be missed!

Bring it on...soon!

Kevin Gage owns The Manor House hotel/bar/cafe, High St, Dronfield. Follow him on Twitter: @gageykev