Sheffield United: Five things we learned following the clash with Birmingham City
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Troy Deeney secured a share of the spoils for the visitors, cancelling-out Oli McBurnie’s earlier effort, which means Paul Heckingbottom’s men enter their meeting with the Londoners now only a point clear of second placed Norwich City.
Reda Khadra can cover at wing-back: Admittedly the German wasn’t performing the role as it would usually be executed. Heckingbottom explained afterwards the youngster had been told to focus on his attacking rather than defensive duties, leaving responsibility for carrying out the latter to centre-half Rhys Norrington-Davies, who moved inside to compensate for Anel Ahmedhodzic’s absence. But Khadra, on loan from Brighton and Hove Albion, did well enough to convince United’s coaching staff he could operate there again if required. Jayden Bogle, who replaced him towards the end of the contest, is apparently fit enough to start against Rangers. But probably not, according to Heckingbottom, complete the fixture. Khadra’s display here will be a real confidence boost for the manager.
Tommy Doyle is a player: A proper player. Also signed on loan, this time from Manchester City, the England under-21 international caught the eye in midfield with his invention and - crucially - industry; robbing opponents of possession on several occasions as he demonstrated real tenacity. Doyle can also take a mean set-piece too, as shown when one delivery in the first-half bounced back off the top of City’s crossbar. With Oliver Norwood also excellent in dead ball situations, United are well stocked in this department.
Width is still a weapon: City didn’t arrive intent on ‘parking the bus’. They created some good chances of their own, particularly during the second-half. A draw was probably the fair result. But John Eustace’s men did get everyone back behind the ball quickly whenever United threatened, meaning they were exceptionally difficult to break down. Unless their form drops off a cliff, Heckingbottom’s team can expect this to happen over and over again this season. So it was encouraging to see wing-back George Baldock continuing to play well and Bogle, who is also a threat going forward, making a long awaited return.
Troy Deeney is a decent bloke: The City captain swapped shirts with Sander Berge following the final whistle. But rather than keeping the Norway international’s jersey as a memento, after acknowledging the away supporters he walked over to the home end of the ground and handed it to a young United fan in the crowd before giving him a thumbs-up. It was a nice touch from someone who, despite having a long and successful career, has clearly not lost touch with his roots.
There’s a long way to go before we can talk about promotion: With McBurnie netting for the fifth time in six outings and still at the summit of the division, United are in a strong position. But there’s still 35 matches to be played and, with City arriving in 17th, this was a reminder nothing has been decided yet.