Over the last four matches, Sheffield United have had an average of 61.75% possession, which has produced 82 shots, 51 corners and two penalties, but such dominatingly impressive statistics have brought just four goals.
So how is that a team that scored 26 goals in its previous seven games suddenly finds it extremely difficult to score goals despite playing the same way? It is one of those apparently inexplicable things that happen from time to time in football. But is it inexplicable?
That traditional default explanation of ‘luck’ (or lack of it) is often put forward in these situations. But people say you make your own luck by working hard and doing things the right way. Well, United have done both those things but have still had no luck, so it can’t be that.
So if it’s not merely bad luck, what is it? Maybe it’s the “stressor” of playing against nine men, inducing a subconscious (or unconscious) panic when a task (i.e. scoring goals) that should be made easier is somehow made harder.
In turn this produces mistakes and poor decision making, leading to a feeling of desperation and bewilderment as to why what they’re doing isn’t delivering the outcome that logic says it should. These sentiments then carried over into the next two matches, which followed a similar pattern, even against eleven men.
Billy Sharp’s penalties are an example of this. Shrewsbury’s goalkeeper had done his homework; he stood up and batted it away. So against Walsall, Sharp changed the method that has served him well before Shrewsbury, and came up with an awful penalty that the keeper could have saved with his left foot.
If United had beaten Shrewsbury 2-1 and Bury 1-0 in ordinary, non-dramatic games maybe the subsequent draw and defeat would not have happened. Who knows?
But if this is a ‘blip’ then seven points from four matches isn’t a bad blip to have – as long as it isn’t extended.