Sheffield United vs Reading: A win but no celebrations following a worrying incident involving John Fleck
“In Football,” the French author and existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre once noted, “Everything is complicated by the presence of the opposite team.”
Slavisa Jokanovic probably begs to differ, having watched Sheffield United master the art of orchestrating their own downfall during the first 18 matches of the season.
Thankfully for the Serb’s sanity, and the sizeable following which travelled from South Yorkshire to cheer on his team against Reading, it was a habit they managed to kick at the Select Car Leasing Stadium.
But a worrying incident involving John Fleck, who required urgent medical assistance after appearing to collapse soon after Jayden Bogle’s volley presented United with a much needed victory, meant there were no celebrations afterwards. Only concern for a stricken team mate, who was administered oxygen by paramedics before being taken away in an ambulance for further treatment.
Unsurprisingly, with United’s winless run stretching to four matches following last weekend’s draw with Coventry City, Jokanovic decided to ring the changes for their meeting with opponents coached by his friend and ex-Partizan Belgrade colleague Veljko Paunovic.
But the fact Morgan Gibbs-White quickly emerged as the visitors’ most influential attacker was as predictable as the Serb’s decision to switch personnel in an effort to provoke a response out of a squad desperately low on self-belief, conviction and confidence.
Signed on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers, Gibbs-White has been one of the few players at United’s disposal to consistently deliver this term. Having dominated possession but created nothing during the first quarter-of-an-hour of the contest, the England under-21 international decided to take matters into his own hands; sending a free-kick cannoning onto the crossbar after sweeping it over the Reading wall.
Despite being deducted points for breaking rules governing expenditure, Veljko’s side were absolutely pitiful during the opening exchanges. But there was a reminder of the quality the Macedonian has been allowed to assemble soon after, when Danny Drinkwater and Baba Rahman, both borrowed from Chelsea, nearly combined to give Reading the lead - the Ghananian coming within inches of meeting the cross which teased Wes Foderingham out of position as it flew across the box.
Those two chances were the only things which really happened during a first-half which didn’t deserve to live a nanosecond in the memories of anyone who witnessed it.
The second followed a similar pattern, with both sides passing the ball around and creating very little until someone had the bright idea to play with a little pace. Predictably, the individual in question was Gibbs-White who after combining well with Rhian Brewster, carved an opening for Bogle at the far post.
Although that chance went begging, Andy Yaidom smothering the shot as it flew towards Luke Southwood, David McGoldrick had clearly taken the hint. Just before the hour mark, he whipped another centre towards the Reading goalkeeper’s far post which Bogle was able to convert.
United’s celebrations were quickly cut short when Fleck was spotted lying prostrate on the pitch. He left it on a stretcher, following a lengthy break, casting a worrying shadow over the remainder of the fixture.