Sheffield United: Five key things we learnt from The Blades' visit to Stoke City

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Sheffield United remained top of the Championship table, despite losing on their travels to Stoke City.
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Stoke City v Sheffield United: Injured players, a hiccup in form but Blades stay...

The Star’s James Shield identifies five things we learnt from the game, as preparations now begin for Saturday’s home game against Blackpool.

Defensive strength is waning: United entered the international break on a four match winning streak, having kept a clean sheet in every single one of those games. But they have now conceded five goals in their last three outings, with three of those efforts coming at the bet365 Stadium. Some loss of solidity at the back is inevitable, given the disruption injuries have caused to their rearguard. Preferring to line-up in ‘a three’, United were forced to deploy a back four against Alex Neil’s side. But Stoke’s opening two efforts were still both wholly preventable. Ben Wilmot escaped Rhys Norrington-Davies’ clutches for the first before Phil Jagielka climbed higher than John Egan to head home the second.

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United do have some luck after all: When Iliman Ndiaye crossed for Rhian Brewster to equalise, following Wilmot’s far post finish, Stoke felt the Senegal international had allowed the ball to drift out of play. Maybe he did. Maybe he didn’t. Television replays inside the ground were inconclusive. It was a tight call either way. With VAR’s not operational in the Championship, there would have been no recourse had the officials stopped play. They didn’t and Brewster fired home his first of the season in emphatic fashion. Hopefully it’s the first of many.

Sheffield United midfielder Oliver Norwood looks dejected after the final whistle at Stoke City: Andrew Yates / SportimageSheffield United midfielder Oliver Norwood looks dejected after the final whistle at Stoke City: Andrew Yates / Sportimage
Sheffield United midfielder Oliver Norwood looks dejected after the final whistle at Stoke City: Andrew Yates / Sportimage

Players must learn to be more intuitive: Jagielka is a top drawer player, as United supporters know having watched him make more than 300 appearances across two spells with their club before heading to Staffordshire. But he’s also 40. Which made the sight of the visitors’ attackers ‘going short’ with their passes on so many occasions utterly infuriating. Ndiaye, Brewster and Reda Khadra all have pace to burn. Jagielka doesn’t. Okay, all three are young and relatively inexperienced. But they, together with United’s more knowledgeable team mates, should have quickly fathomed Jagielka wouldn’t have appreciated spending his afternoon running back towards his own goal rather than facing away from it.

Tarique Fosu is a lovely player to watch: But he’s also infuriating. On loan from Brentford, the midfielder could have finished the game with three goals rather than none after forcing a fine save from Wes Foderingham before Brewster pounced and then striking the crossbar before Jagielka restored Stoke’s advantage. He then had an effort cleared off the line, ahead of Liam Delap’s effort late on. So he’s got no need to indulge in the type of theatrics which saw him booked for simulation - which should really be called cheating - during the second-half. He should have been cautioned earlier, for a ridiculous dive after rounding Kyron Gordon. Hopefully Neil, plus an old head like Jagielka, will have a word. Because it would be a shame if he sullies his reputation.

The Star's Sheffield United writer James ShieldThe Star's Sheffield United writer James Shield
The Star's Sheffield United writer James Shield

Academy continues to produce: Eight members of United’s matchday squad had progressed through their youth system. And one of Stoke’s too, with Jagielka also starting his career at Bramall Lane. Sai Sachdev, one of four home grown youngsters on the bench, made his professional debut during the closing stages and acquitted himself well. Heckingbottom rightly praised him afterwards.