Sheffield United: David McGoldrick strike downs Real Betis

The supporters began arriving more than two hours before kick-off, plastering the walls of the ground with their Union Jacks and crosses of St George.

By James Shield
Friday, 12 July, 2019, 15:21
The Estadio Algarve

The team the majority had come to see - Sheffield United - snaked past this patriotic collage around 60 minutes later smiling, waving and with a new record signing on board the team bus.

Although the meeting with Real Betis had captured the imagination of both manager Chris Wilder and his players alike, last night's match represented the first step of a process designed to prepare them for bigger challenges ahead. Which is why, before David McGoldrick's second-half finish decided the contest, conversation in the fan zone was dominated by chatter about someone who those inside knew would not actually be taking part.

Callum Robinson, the Republic of Ireland forward and former Preston North End player, watched his new team mates lock horns with the Spaniards after travelling to Portugal earlier in the day. Having cost just shy of £8m, the 24-year-old becomes the most expensive player in United's history although, with Wilder acknowledging talks with a handful of other targets are now reaching an advanced stage, it is a title he is unlikely to carry for too much longer. Possibly not even until the end of next week.

Watching United in action for the first time since their promotion from the Championship, it was impossible not to wonder exactly where Robinson will fit into their system and what improvements his presence might bring. Wilder, the man who already has the answers, probably provided the biggest clue earlier in the week when, despite refusing to abandon the 3-5-2 formation which served them so well last season, he acknowledged United must be tactically creative in order to survive next term. Robinson - part winger, sometime striker - certainly provides the 51-year-old with greater flexibility and, given his age and potential, the Northampton-born youngster also represents a wise financial investment given the hyper inflation surging through the Premier League transfer market. It will also not have been lost on Wilder that, having switched international allegiance after being capped by England youth earlier in his career, Robinson already enjoys an insight into how McGoldrick, Enda Stevens and John Egan operate.

With a convoy of coaches ferrying United's fans in from the surrounding resorts of Albufeira and Vilamoura, Betis enjoyed a sizeable backing too. Around 300 or so had made the two hour journey from Andalusia and, like their English counterparts, were treated to what Wilder would probably describe as a "proper" game.

Indeed, when both sets of players squared-up in the centre circle following a crunching challenge from Billy Sharp, a satisfied grin spread across the United manager's face. Wilder does not do friendlies. Every match, as far as he is concerned, is there to win.

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Callum Robinson: Eoin Doyle/Sheffield Utd

Predictably, United and Betis both struggled to find their rhythm during the opening period. Passes, particularly the more ambitious ones, sometimes went astray. But there was enough, not least in terms of attitude, to keep Wilder and his counterpart Rubi happy as they begin plotting their respective club's campaigns.

Betis started brightly before United fathomed their strategy. Leon Clarke fired wide before, after Kieron Freeman had drawn a save from Joel, being upended in the penalty area. The referee blew his whistle but awarded a free- kick which, taken by Oliver Norwood, also tested the Betis goalkeeper's positioning.

A heel injury prevented trialist Ravel Morrison from taking part but Luke Freeman and Phil Jagielka were both introduced after the break. Freeman, who until Robinson's arrival was the most expensive acquisition in United's history, buzzed around McGoldrick while the former England defender slotted seamlessly in on the right hand side of United's defence. But it was John Lundstram, following a poor clearance, who provided the assist for the opening goal which was claimed by McGoldrick.

Betis, who beat both Real Madrid and Barcelona en route to a 10th placed finish in La Liga earlier this year, had already seen Freeman scramble Lauren's shot off the line when Richard Stearman flung himself in the way of Juanmi's effort. Lainez struck a post but Betis' late flurry did not deliver an equaliser.

Sheffield United: Moore, Basham (Jagielka 46), Egan (Stearman 46), O'Connell, K Freeman (Baldock 46), Bryan (Stevens 46), Slater (Duffy 46), Norwood (Fleck 46), Lundstram, Clarke (L Freeman 46), Sharp (McGoldrick 46).Sharp. Not used: Dewhurst.