Sheffield United need help but they must also learn to help themselves
Coping with injury, illness and suspensions is a part of life for every Premier League team.
Coronavirus, or the latest highly transmissible strain of Covid-19 to be precise, has presented them with another challenge as the rising number of positive tests prompts a series of late postponements and places even greater pressure on some already paper thin squads.
The sight of Sheffield United only being able to fill six of their permitted nine substitute slots, after seeing an outbreak of the respiratory disease further reduce the options at Chris Wilder’s disposal, raises even more questions about the effect the pandemic is having upon the integrity of the competition. But there would be greater sympathy for the situation United find themselves in if they could actually learn to help themselves first.
Both of the goals Crystal Palace scored as they established a comfortable half-time lead - one they seldom appeared in danger of relinquishing - were conceded in far too easy fashion.
The sight of Jeffrey Schlupp and his replacement Eberechi Eze being allowed to pick their spots before firing beyond Aaron Ramsdale not only confirmed why United are languishing at the foot of the table and still without a win this term, but also provided an insight into the mindset of a squad which, unless there is a dramatic change in form and fortune, is destined for relegation.
With no experienced attacking options among United’s replacements, the sight of Schlupp firing Palace in front after only three minutes must have caused Wilder’s heart to sink. Andros Townsend’s scooped pass left Wilfried Zaha in a foot race with John Egan and although Schlupp’s shot benefited from a deflection, Christian Benteke had too much time and space to stab the ball into the Ghana international’s path. On the touchline, Wilder wheeled away in frustration while across the technical area, Roy Hodgson punched the air with delight.
Schlupp was later forced off through injury and it was his replacement, Eze, who doubled Palace’s advantage. There appeared to be little danger when the former Queens Park Rangers forward received possession.
But after being allowed to make his way into the penalty area unimpeded - Ethan Ampadu making a half hearted attempt to intervene - Eze duly doubled Palace’s advantage moments before the interval.
Earlier Jayden Bogle, starting a top-flight fixture for the first time since arriving from Derby County last summer, had seen an angled drive smothered at the near post.
From United’s perspective, the second-half was only memorable because of Antwoine Hackford’s introduction; the 16-year-old making his senior debut during the closing stages. David McGoldrick tried his luck from distance in added time but his shot was comfortably saved, as the visitors’ lack of invention and creativity was again exposed.
Crystal Palace: Guaita, Ward, Milivojevic (Riedewald 90), Tomkins, Koutate, Townsend, Zaha, Schlupp (Eze 40), McArthur, Benteke (Ayew 48), Mitchell. Not used: van Aanholt, Dann, Sakho, McCarthy, Batshuayi.
Sheffield United: Ramsdale, Stevens, Bogle, Basham, Egan, Ampadu, Norwood, Fleck, Osborn (Hackford 80), McGoldrick, Mousset (Brewster 61). Not used: Verrips. Baldock, Lowe, Bryan.
Referee: Stuart Attwell (Warwickshire). VAR: Andre Marriner (West Midlands).