Sheffield United have 'bottle' but 'losing conviction' as Tommy Doyle shows he can fill key-man void

Sheffield United slipped to second in the Championship following a dramatic draw with Blackpool, which produced six goals and four red cards, including one apiece for the visitors’ Marvin Ekpiteta and Dominic Thompson towards the end of the match.
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Sheffield United v Blackpool: Six goals, four red cards and utter madness

The Star’s James Shield identifies five things we learnt during an eventful afternoon at Bramall Lane.

The Blades have got bottle

Yes, they were fortunate to come away with a point despite initially racing into a two goal lead. Oliver Norwood’s equaliser, according to opposition manager Michael Appleton, could have been ruled-out for “three” offsides or a foul on Chris Maxwell. But to their credit, United did keep on going during the closing stages of this ridiculously chaotic game, recovering from the sucker punch of Rhian Brewster’s missed penalty before grabbing an equaliser deep into added time. After surrendering their position at the top of the table, Paul Heckingbottom’s side will need to show guts aplenty again during Wednesday’s meeting with Coventry City and their upcoming clashes against new leaders Burnley and third placed Norwich City.

But they’re losing conviction

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A month ago, it would have been impossible to envisage United surrendering a two goal lead. Let alone falling behind before being forced to haul themselves off the canvas. But that’s what happened here, with Jerry Yates’ brace and Kenny Dougall’s strike turning the match on its head after James McAtee and Iliman Ndiaye had pounced. Speaking afterwards, Heckingbottom admitted United were “never in control”, even at 2-0 up. He was right. And that is because their disappointing results since the international break, combined with the injuries they continue to collect, have eroded confidence. Whether United admit it - which they almost certainly won’t - or not. The sight of them being drawn into the row following the final whistle, which led to Foderingham and Shayne Lavery being dismissed, is a symptom of that.

Sheffield United's Tommy Doyle shows his disappointment following the game against Blackpool: Isaac Parkin/PA Wire.Sheffield United's Tommy Doyle shows his disappointment following the game against Blackpool: Isaac Parkin/PA Wire.
Sheffield United's Tommy Doyle shows his disappointment following the game against Blackpool: Isaac Parkin/PA Wire.

Tommy Doyle could fill the void

He could have done better when out of possession, with Blackpool’s midfielders seizing upon far too many second balls. But with Sander Berge now likely to be out until after the World Cup break, Doyle suggested he might become the goal-scoring midfielder United are crying out for in the Norwegian’s absence. Called upon to be more influential in the final third beforehand, he helped create McAtee’s opener, drew a fine save from Maxwell and took up some dangerous positions around the visitors’ area throughout.

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

Absentees do affect performance after all

Enda Stevens, Ciaran Clark, Max Lowe, Daniel Jebbison, John Fleck, Ismaila Coulibaly, Jayden Bogle and of course Berge all sat out this contest with fitness issues. Although Anel Ahmedhodzic, Ben Osborn and Jack Robinson have returned to action, it is nonsensical to think the loss of so many influential players won’t impact upon the quality of United’s work.

Gary Madine is better than he’s given credit for

Sheffield United's Paul Heckingbottom and Blackpool manager Michael Appleton try to control their players: Simon Bellis / SportimageSheffield United's Paul Heckingbottom and Blackpool manager Michael Appleton try to control their players: Simon Bellis / Sportimage
Sheffield United's Paul Heckingbottom and Blackpool manager Michael Appleton try to control their players: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

Signed on loan towards the end of the 2018/19 season, the former Sheffield Wednesday and Cardiff City striker made no secret of the fact he wanted to join United permanently. Madine didn’t get his wish and clearly had a point to prove on Saturday. He was the unsung hero of Blackpool’s display, with his physical presence helping them knit together their attack and midfield.