Sheffield United: What we learned from this 'friendly' defeat at Mansfield Town

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Sheffield United were beaten 3-0 by Mansfield Town at Field Mill tonight, with Rhys Oates’ second-half effort sandwiched in between two strikes from Hiram Boateng.

Other than the fact Paul Heckingbottom’s side need to sharpen up at the back before next month’s Championship opener at Watford, here’s what else we learned from the game.

United’s young front two could be lively: Okay, this could hardly be described as a classic. Or even vaguely entertaining, with both sides seemingly more intent on getting minutes into their legs rather than honing their touch and skills.

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But amid the general torpor, until Boateng gave Mansfield the lead, United’s coaching staff will have been encouraged to see Rhian Brewster and Iliman Ndiaye linking up well. Both aged 22, the duo already look like being crucial to United’s hopes of making an impression towards the top of the Championship next term. Particularly if they fail to tidy up their defending.

Enda needs an arm around the shoulder: Maybe it was the shock of being called ‘Edna’ on the pre-match team sheet. Or perhaps it was the heat.

But Enda Stevens, United’s left wing-back, does appear to have lost some of his old pizazz.

There was a moment, midway through a dour first-half memorable only for those attempts by Ndiaye, when the Republic of Ireland international picked the ball up on the half way line, looked up and discovered there was acres of space in front of him. Not so long ago, Stevens’ would have got his head down and charged into it, before whipping the ball across the opposition box.

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Here, his first instinct appeared to be to play it safe or square.

Rhys Norrington-Davies replaced Stevens at the break, which might suggest a lack of fitness. But it wouldn’t do any harm for someone to encourage him to get back to doing what he does best.

It’s not the people’s game anymore: Signs displaying some of football’s most famous quotes adorn the walls of the corridors inside Field Mill’s West Stand. They include one attributed to the Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich who, when he wasn’t busy writing symphonies and the opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, declared the game to be the “Ballet of the Masses”.

It might have been in his day. It isn’t anymore. Otherwise this fixture, which should have been a money spinner for the hosts and an opportunity for visiting fans to see some of their club’s new signings in action, wouldn’t have taken place behind closed doors.

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Apparently, some people in authority feared there could be trouble following events at the end of May’s Championship play-off semi-final between United and Nottingham Forest. Which, if true, is utterly bizarre. Heckingbottom’s squad were facing Mansfield, not renewing their rivalry with Steve Cooper’s side.

Defending needs to improve: All three of the goals United conceded during last weekend’s 3-2 defeat by Scuthorpe were avoidable. The same goes for two they let in here, with Boateng presented with a simple finish following James Gale’s cross before the Mansfield substitute provided another assist, this time for Rhys Oates. If pre-season is about developing habits, United need to kick this one. Fast. But there was nothing they could do about Boateng’s second, though.