Given that he has beaten cancer, survived an interview by the Stasi and written a book entitled ‘Knocking Down Walls’, Uwe Rosler is clearly someone who enjoys a fight.
But, as the German now knows, this Sheffield United team is also ready to roll-up its sleeves and scrap.
Only seconds remained when, having earlier been responsible for the mistake which gifted Fleetwood Town their opener, Ethan Ebanks-Landell snatched the goal which lifted the visitors to fourth in the League One table and stretched their unbeaten run to seven games.
It was late, dramatic and as Rosler’s reaction betrayed, thoroughly dispiriting for opponents who seemed destined to claim an unlikely win. But, on the balance of play, a point was the very least Chris Wilder’s players deserved.
“I don’t like saying it because I don’t like hearing people say they should have had this or that,” the United manager admitted. “But, really, it’s a long time since I’ve seen a game like that. I spent the first-half looking one way and the second the other. If we hadn’t taken something it would have been a travesty. Once again, though, the lads’ character shone through.”
Although there were times when this fixture threatened to become a private duel between goalkeepers Chris Neal and Simon Moore, United dominated in terms of territory and possession. The trouble was, until Ebanks-Landell pounced with almost the final touch of the contest, they had failed to translate either into goals.
Matt Done and Paul Coutts both went close before Ebanks-Landell’s poor back pass presented Chris Long with an opportunity which he failed to take but David Ball did not. Billy Sharp and Jack O’Connell nearly equalised but, curiously, Fleetwood were still enjoying the more clear cut opportunities. Moore excelled himself to deny Ball a second while Kyle Dempsey was later denied by the 26-year-old. John Fleck, who had earlier blazed over the crossbar, forced Neal to make a superb block after combining with Sharp and although Done’s misplaced header appeared to have signalled the end of United’s hopes, Ebanks-Landell had other ideas after meeting substitute Chris Hussey’s cross.
ANOTHER TEST PASSED
Wilder has often cited the ability to recover from a mistake as the hallmark of a “proper” player. Moore, who coaching staff revealed before travelling to Highbury was “disappointed” by the goals he conceded at Scunthorpe last week, is clearly one. One this evidence, Ebanks-Landell is another. The centre-half has been almost faultless since arriving on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers but set in motion the chain of events which ended with Ball scoring his fifth of the season with a costly misjudgment.
Rather than crumble, however, Ebanks-Landell dusted himself down, won numerous headers and ultimately secured United a share of the spoils. Last season, under Wilder’s predecessor Nigel Adkins, United would probably not have clawed their way back into the contest. But, after overhauling the squad he inherited and coaxing more out of those who remained, Wilder has equipped them with a tenacious streak.
“If you can’t win then make sure you don’t lose,” he said afterwards. “The boys did exactly that. I think the fans can see what they’re about and what they bring to the table. You could tell by the reaction at the end, it’s something they appreciate.”
MORE TEMPO REQUIRED
Fleetwood paid United the compliment of altering their approach - Conor McLaughlin being tasked with shadowing Mark Duffy - and before the interval, carved the more clear cut opportunities.
It was a curious state of affairs given that Wilder’s charges applied several sustained periods of pressure. But could be attributed to the fact too much of United’s work lacked tempo or real zip.
Had Done or Coutts beaten Neal early on, the final result could have been a landslide. But Fleetwood, who have never lost to United at Highbury, possess plenty of quality performers themselves and were more clinical in the final third.
Wilder adjusted United’s shape in the second-half to combat the threat posed by the likes of Ball and Dempsey before acknowledging the absence of Caolan Lavery and Leon Clarke through injury is taking its toll on his forward-line.
“We set up like the home team and they were like the away side,” Wilder said. “Matty and Billy are doing a huge amount of work and it would have been great to bring on Caolan and Leon at some stage. That would have caused them (Fleetwood) real problems. But we’re just getting through this period.
“We’ll be much stronger when we these lads come back. It will be good for the group as a whole.”
TALE OF TWO KEEPERS
Moore has proven an astute purchase for United and demonstrated his worth by making a series of excellent saves. The former Cardiff City goalkeeper’s agility, presence and organisational skills make the initial £250,000 they paid to secure his services look like a snip and have also provided the base for some improved defensive displays of late.
Neal, previously of Preston and Shrewsbury, is also among the division’s finest. His save to prevent Fleck firing home from close-range after Sharp’s persistence penetrated Fleetwood’s rearguard was superb. Neal had already tipped a powerful attempt from United’s captain over the crossbar.