Sheffield United match verdict: Blades 1 Crewe Alexandra 2

Paul Coutts in possession. Pictures: Martyn Harrison
Paul Coutts in possession. Pictures: Martyn Harrison
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One-hundred-and-twenty-two years, 14 attempts and 30 goals conceded.

This, as Chris Basham conceded afterwards, was no time for Crewe Alexandra to record their first ever win at Bramall Lane.

Sheffield United, who remain fifth in the League One table with seven matches of the season remaining, were strangely subdued following recent victories over Port Vale and Scunthorpe.

But Basham, looking ahead to their forthcoming matches against fellow play-off hopefuls Barnsley and Doncaster Rovers, predicted Saturday’s display will prove an exception rather than the rule.

“I think the next two games will suit us more than today,” he said. “Obviously, it’s very disappointing after the great work we’ve done of late. But we’ve got two derbies coming up now and, for me, that’s good.

“Our fans are going to be right on it, we are going to be right on it and it’s important for us as a team. We have a great unit and, don’t get us wrong, everyone is down in that dressing room at the moment.

“But, as we’ve already shown on several occasions, we know we can go out there and win the big games.”

A fixture which produced precious few moments of quality appeared destined to end all square when Nigel Clough’s side, having seen Lauri Dalla Valle open the scoring, drew level through Jason Holt.

But Crewe’s litany of failure at United’s stadium ended in abrubt fashion when Ryan Colclough, making his first appearance for 16 months following hernia and hip problems, scored with only seconds of normal time remaining.

The ball took a deflection off Paul Coutts as it made its way into the back of Mark Howard’s net, although Steve Davis, the Crewe manager, insisted afterwards the substitute had earned his slice of luck.

“With all these fans, you want to win, of course you do,” Basham said.

“But when it gets to three or four minutes added on and they put one in the corner, it’s so disappointing.

“We need to learn to see out a game. If we can get a late goal then great. At the very least, however, we’ve got to get together and make sure, no matter what else, they don’t score.”

“Obviously, we expected to be winning,” the United defender, continued. “But Crewe are in a dogfight and that’s how they came out winners.

“It’s a big game on Saturday because Barnsley are on our toes and have hit a little bit form since the new manager has come in. We’ll be going there with the attitude that we’re going to spoil their party, especially because we feel we’ve let ourselves down a bit here.”

United, predictably, trudged off the pitch to a chorus of boos. Nevertheless, amid the opprobrium and thirst for recrimination, Basham called for perspective and context. Nigel Clough’s side, now five points clear of seventh place, finished a critical week on the fixture calendar averaging exactly two goals per game from their previous three outings and having kept two clean sheets.

“The past seven days have been massive for us,” Basham said. “We had looked really good and in good form and never dropped our heads. The gaffer has backed us all the way and been absolutely brilliant.

“So, while it could have been better and we wanted it to be better, it could also have been a lot worse. He (Clough) has given us his support so now, when we get out there again, we want to pay him back once more for that.”

Games against Crewe have been barometers of United’s progress since Clough’s appointment 17 months ago.

Midway through last term, following a 3-0 defeat at Gresty Road, they were languishing towards the foot of the table before embarking upon a remarkable sequence of results which ultimately delivered a seventh-placed finish and an FA Cup semi-final appearance against Hull.

Sixty weeks after being humbled in Cheshire, United prepared for this latest meeting in much better health.

Nevertheless Clough, whose admiration for the visitors’ modus operandi is well known, had sounded a note of caution beforehand. The former England international, whose team have now won two and drawn two of their previous five games, warned Davis’ side are capable of “playing any team in the division off the park” ... “either at home or away”.

But it was Crewe’s organisation, coupled with United’s failure to exploit the opportunities they did create, which proved decisive here. Dalla Valle, the former Finland under-21 and Liverpool centre-forward, edged Crewe ahead when Uche Ikpeazu’s pass pierced the hosts’ defence.

United, who had earlier seen Jose Baxter have two attempts blocked, responded with efforts from John Brayford and Steve Davies before Holt scored his second in as many outings with an immaculate touch and finish. That should have been the catalyst for Clough’s players to seize control of the match. Instead, although Jamie Murphy went close and Basham hit a post, they were unable to claim another before Colclough pounced.

United, who lost Baxter, Ryan Flynn and Davies to injury, were below par. However, it was the poor quality of their crossing which ultimately cost them dear.

“It was very flat at the start and, coming off two games in a week, we were all buzzing,” Basham said. “We felt a bit leggy but that’s no excuse at all against a team like this.

“We must make sure we get it right next time. In these games we’ve got coming up, you can’t be flat and be stop-start, and fans will be on our case if we are. It’s important we are all guns blazing and being ready to go.

“At the end of the day, this game has gone and we have got to look forward to the next match. We are still five or six points away from it all and we can enjoy going to Barnsley.

“It will suit us more as they will have to come at us and that means we can get at them as well. It will be a big scrap.”

SHEFFIELD UNITED: Howard 6, Harris 6, Brayford 7, Basham 6, Flynn*6, Murphy 7, Baxter**6, Coutts 6, Freeman 6, S Davies***6, Holt 6. Substitutes: Alcock, Doyle**(74), McNulty, Done***(74), B Davies*(46) 6, Turner, Adams.

CREWE ALEXANDRA: Rachubka 6, Davis 8, Turton 6, Atkinson**6, Dalla Valle 7, Leigh 6, Ness 6, Tate 8, Ikepeazu*6, Ajose***6, Grant 6. Substitutes: Guthrie, Ray, Inman***(85), Saunders, Waters, Colclough*(71), Stewart**(76).

Manager’s view - Nigel Clough: “We were good in parts but not enough to win the game. To lose after 90 minutes is really disappointing. Our general decision making going forward was poor and we’ve got to do better.”

Manager’s view - Steve Davis “It’s moments like this that make you realise why you are in football. There are lots of testing times but coming here and winning makes it all worthwhile. I thought we acquitted ourselves well out there, especially when we were under a bit of pressure.”

HERO: Harry Davis and Alan Tate were exceptional at the heart of Crewe Alexandra’s defence. Jamie Murphy did not enjoy his most productive afternoon in Sheffield United but was persistent.

KEY MOMENT: Scoring the first goal, against opponents fighting for their lives at the other end of the League One table, is crucial. But Sheffield United fell behind and allowed the visitors to get a foothold in the game.

VIEWPOINT: Sheffield United were below par but, if they had shown better quality from crossing positions, could well have won this match ugly. But they didn’t.

REF WATCH: James Adcock (Nottinghamshire). Ben Davies and Steve Davies were cautioned for Sheffield United while Crewe Alexandra duo Chris Atkinson and Alan Tate joined them in the referee’s notebook.