Sheffield United v Coventry City: Simon Moore denies Jekyll and Hyde Blades at the death during a real game of two halves
You can study all the heatmaps, ‘XG’ charts and statistical spreadsheets available in preparation for a game.
But sometimes, in fact most of the time, football matches are settled by bottle, mistakes and moments of individual brilliance. Neither Sheffield United nor Coventry City lacked effort or commitment. But when it came to producing genuine moments of quality, rather than brief flashes of promise, they were sorely lacking as the scoreline would suggest.
When Slavisa Jokanovic sits down to analyse the performance, he will conclude it reveals precisely why United are struggling to make an impression on the Championship table. Only a world class save from their former player Simon Moore, adjusting his feet to deny Morgan Gibbs-White, prevented them from snatching all victory at the death. But they are still struggling to build on their good points, despite improving immeasurably as the afternoon wore on, and kick the bad habits which contributed to their relegation from the Premier League last term.
International breaks have proved helpful for Jokanovic, providing the Serb with a chance to tactically drill his squad. But unlike the two United enjoyed earlier this season, last week’s pause in the domestic fixture schedule came at a price, with Robin Olsen sustaining an injury on duty with Sweden.
His replacement, Wes Foderingham, was one of four changes Jokanovic made for the visit of a City team which has been one of the surprises of the campaign so far. He acquitted himself well, making a fine save to deny Ben Sheaf midway through the opening period before denying Viktor Gyokeres at the start of the second. Indeed, when Olsen recovers, the former Rangers goalkeeper did enough to warrant retaining his place.
But the star of the show, from United’s perspective at least, was Gibbs-White. Inventive, industrious and with just the right amount of nastiness, Jokanovic must still celebrate the day he arrived on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Earlier, John Fleck had provided his former team mate Simon Moore with a scare after nutmegging a defender and unleashing a shot from long-range. It was one of several promising passages of play the hosts produced at the beginning of the contest.
But, as the half progressed, City seized control. Not because they were particularly brilliant. Rather thanks to United’s hesitant defending and carelessness in possession. Gibbs-White and Ben Davies being the notable exceptions, as they were frequently required to cover for their colleagues’ mistakes.
Memorable only for the paucity of quality on offer, few people inside the stadium were disappointed to see the end of the first-half. Fortunately for those who had paid to enter, there was more tempo and rhythm following the interval with Gyokeres testing Foderingham’s handling after threading the ball through a crowd and Jayden Bogle dancing past three opponents.
Foderingham was called into action again when Matt Godden, having only been introduced seconds beforehand, was presented with an opportunity courtesy of a stray John Fleck pass.
With Jokanovic urging Chris Basham to roam upfield, United’s attacking threat increased. Gibbs-White let out an anguished cry to the heavens as he went close before creating an opening for substitute David McGoldrick, who fired just over the crossbar. Moore was scrambling on both occasions. Likewise when Conor Hourihane, replacing the suspended Oliver Norwood, tried his luck from distance.