Kevin Gage's Sheffield United Column: Why I thought AFC Bournemouth were a disgrace on Sunday... and why I don't care where the Blades finish in the table anymore!
In my last column I wrote about what I described as a ‘momentous’ week for Sheffield United as a club, with an away win at Palace finishing off some superb transfer business.
Fast forward seven days and on Sunday, this wonderful season managed to get even better as we overcame all kinds of adversity to grab another three points in a game at Bramall Lane few will ever forget… mainly because just getting there was an achievement in itself!
We’ve marvelled all season about how fabulously the team has adapted to life in the Premier League and it’s thrown up some real tests of both techniques and tactics as we’ve gone toe-to-toe with top quality opposition. But Sunday felt a bit ‘old school’ as we looked to the skies, felt the driving rain and gale force winds in our faces and wondered how on earth both sets of players would cope in such conditions.
This wasn’t one of the perfectly staged, sanitised, ‘Greatest League in the World’ showcase days that the Premier League is all about. This was always going to be a bit about going back to the football basics of hard graft, desire, attitude, resilience, etc and in the extreme weather, we all hoped that some Sheffield steel combined with some Yorkshire grit would prevail.
Fortunately, we have a team of such solid characters, driven on by a manager who expects all those basics as a bare minimum, so we were never going to be found wanting in that department. In truth, we never are either.
Bournemouth started the game very well indeed and looked like the established, quick, mobile, respected, good footballing side we have come to associate their name with.
They’ve been a Premier League side for a few years now and in that first half-hour, they showed all the qualities that have kept them in the top flight. Now I don’t know if over time that becoming an established Premier League team changes a player’s or a team’s attitude in any way. But if Sheffield United Football Club do find themselves in that position in a couple of years, I sincerely hope we never indulge in the type of on-field antics we witnessed on Sunday.
Chris refused to be drawn into any verbal spats regarding any Bournemouth player behaviour, but I most certainly will. They were a disgrace, simple as that.
Thank God they didn’t actually go 2-0 up as I’m sure the time-wasting, the feigning injury, the ridiculous taking offence to every tiny little incident would have got even worse! It was bad enough to witness as it was, and they actually did themselves and the reputation of their club no good whatsoever.
I wonder if they reflected afterwards, realising that a live TV game is not the best medium to display such anti-football behaviour. I’m actually surprised Eddie Howe, a potential future England manager, tolerates it, and I’d really like to believe he doesn’t encourage it.
Put it this way, if I was an England football fan watching this game as a neutral at home, I know who I’d want leading my team. Enough said.
Anyway, we gradually got back into the game, Billy popped up in the right place at the right time and it was ‘game-on’ in the second half. We expected an onslaught towards the Bournemouth goal and even though we weren’t at our scintillating best, we got men forward, got some super crosses in, ground it out, and got the job done.
What made the victory even sweeter was the manner in which we scored our winner and was trademarked ‘Sheffield United’ from the moment our throw-in routine worked out on the left. A cut inside, a dribble and drive forward, a flicked through-ball to the edge of the penalty area, some more individuality on the ball, a measured pass across the goal, and a quite superb two-touch finish. It was poetry in motion, with our two ‘super-subs’ providing the two final flourishes.
One of them, John Lundstram, gets a special mention for me. For the second week running, he’s found himself on the bench and had to watch as a £22m signing has taken his place for the moment. He hadn’t done a lot wrong all season, to be honest, and had actually been one of our many major success stories, chipping in with some vital goals as well.
But maybe in recent weeks he hadn’t enjoyed his best form. But he’s responded to his challenge superbly and showed some real class and character to perform off the bench as he has. The JL7 machine is rested, refuelled, re-charged and back up and running. And we’re a better side for it!
So, we’ve 39 points… in the second week of February! And let's face it, we’re safe! The mythical 40 point safety mark will be forgotten about and way behind us in the next few games and we have a real opportunity to push on and cement a place in the top half of the table.
How high can we go? Frankly, as a fan, I don’t care anymore. This team has surpassed my wildest expectations and everything else is a bonus for me. I’ve loved watching this side play and I’ll continue to enjoy the next dozen games no matter what the results may be. We can finish fifth, sixth, or 15th, 16th.... it matters not.
And that’s because wherever we finish I’m so proud of my team it’s unbelievable. Proud of the way they play, proud of the way they conduct themselves on the pitch, and even very proud of the way they go about their social business off the pitch too! Enjoy your winter break and beers in Dubai boys… you’ve earned every one!
Cheers to you all!
Kevin Gage owns The Manor House bar/hotel/cafe, High St, Dronfield. Follow him on twitter: @gageykev