A running battle, a welcome statement and a pantomine tweet: Heroes and villains from Sheffield United's defeat at Southampton

Things just seem to be going from bad to worse for Sheffield United.

Monday, 14th December 2020, 12:00 pm

A 3-0 defeat at Southampton on Sunday afternoon left them rooted to the bottom of the table, Oli McBurnie picked up an injury that makes him a doubt for this week's clash with Manchester United and then, later in the day, relegation rivals Fulham and Burnley both picked up improbable results to leave the Blades now eight points adrift of safety.

After a bit of time to clear the head, let's have a look at some heroes and villains from an afternoon to forget at St Mary's...

Oli McBurnie

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Fresh from getting off the mark for the season last weekend against Leicester, there were hopes that McBurnie's confidence would have received a boost after a barren period where his head seemed to visibly drop.

McBurnie and fellow striker Billy Sharp received nothing in the way of service all afternoon, but the Scottish international seemed more intent on instigating a running battle with Saints defender Jan Bednarek than anything else.

The fact that he ended up injuring himself looking to win a foul from a good tackle rather summed up United's fortunes so far this season.

Phil Jagielka

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder as Oli McBurnie is withdrawn with a shoulder injury during the Blades' 3-0 defeat at Southampton. Photo: David Klein/Sportimage.

It was something of a surprise when the former England international's name appeared on the teamsheets when they were released to the world at 11am, especially given the 38-year-old right-footer was playing on the left of a back three.

After becoming the fifth Blade this season to deputise for Jack O'Connell in that position, which at its fluid best demands the incumbent bombs up and down the left wing, Jagielka was perhaps unsurprisingly solid rather than spectacular.

He was unwittingly involved in two of the Saints' three goals. The first came when he headed away a cross in front of goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale - only the pair will know whether there was a shout from the 'keeper - and the second when Stuart Armstrong's shot deflected off him and completely wrongfooted Ramsdale.

For the most part, particularly when United shifted to a back four, Jagielka was fine. He used every ounce of his experience to poke the ball away from Ings after a ball through the middle dissected the United defence. He cannot be held solely responsible, of course, but the record books show that the three Premier League games he has started for United have seen three goals conceded in each. Two of those were against Manchester United - who are the visitors to Bramall Lane on Thursday evening.

Phil Jagielka of Sheffield United battles for possession with Che Adams of Southampton. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

Prince Abdullah

It didn't do much good to the scoreline, but around 15 minutes before kick off at St Mary's an interview was published in which the Prince, United's owner, publicly backed Wilder and added that, even if the worst was to happen this season and the Blades are relegated, the boyhood Blade will be the man he entrusts to bring them back up at the first attempt.

It was exactly the sort of statement that was required, putting to bed any lingering speculation about the manager's position. Outsiders will wonder about the timing, given United went on to lose their 11th game of 12 in the league this season, but the truth is that United are only in a position to be in the Premier League at all because of the man in their dugout.

That doesn't mean he is beyond question or reproach. The manager himself admitted before the Saints game that the group has not hit the heights so far, and included himself in that.

But for me, he remains the right man to lead United going forward - and more importantly, Prince Abdullah believes so

A change in approach?

United looked most dangerous going forward all afternoon at the start of the second period, when they changed shape, pushed Chris Basham forward as an auxiliary attacker and pressed Southampton more intently.

It still didn't result in Alex McCarthy being tested, but there was at least more intensity to United's play and they forced a few corners, one of which inexplicably was played all the way back to George Baldock after being played short.

After trying FIVE different players in the left centre-half position, will Wilder persevere with the 3-5-2 formation that took United out of League One, into the Premier League and then to the brink of qualifying for Europe?

At its best, it's breathtaking to watch. But O'Connell is such a vital cog and without him, the machine breaks down too often.

Of his five deputies, Kean Bryan looked about the best offensively but was given a few problems going the other way against West Brom. Jack Robinson was largely defensively solid but didn't offer as much going forward. Ethan Ampadu and Jagielka are square pegs in a round hole, being right-footed, and Enda Stevens didn't find it natural either.

Is the solution to park the shape completely? Play a back four, keep the midfield three and maybe return to the No.10, with David McGoldrick feeding a front two?

These are the questions that will likely be dogging Wilder as he searches for a solution.

Alex McCarthy

More of a pantomime villain suggestion, this one. After all, a club that signed Dean Henderson on loan for two seasons can't really have an issue with a goalkeeper who engages in some good, old-fashioned, erm, 'outhousery'. [Ed: this is a family newspaper].

"Great team performance today... enjoyed watching that," McCarthy tweeted after the game, adding a crying with laughter emoji for good measure.

The message was clear - McCarthy had a comfortable afternoon, let's say, as United failed to register a shot on target.

Let's hope his words can be rammed down his throat when he visits Bramall Lane in March...