Some of the issues to emerge from Sheffield United's draw with Brighton
The Star’s Sheffield United writer James Shield highlights some of the issues and the talking points to emerge from today’s Premier League fixture against Brighton and Hove Albion at Bramall Lane.
The Result: United remained sixth in the table - missing the chance to climb above Tottenham Hotspur - after being held to a draw by Brighton and Hove Albion. Enda Stevens had given Chris Wilder’s side the lead with a superb finish - driving the ball past Mat Ryan at his near post - before Neal Maupay equalised for the visitors, who remained in 15th. It was not a poor result. Despite being Albion at the AMEX Stadium in December, United had worked hard for their win. But it was a slightly disappointing one which, in itself, goes to show how far Wilder’s squad has come since being promoted last season. Graham Potter’s side usually dominate possession. But they enjoyed only 33 per cent in this game. The scoreline did see United reach the 40 point mark which is usually a guarantee of survival. For the past few months, however, there has never been any danger of them going down.
The Blooper: You’d have thought, given the spotlight on United of late, that Wilder would be a pretty recognisable figure among both football supporters and sports journalists alike. Not so, it seems. One radio reporter, tasked by his station with interviewing fans about their matchday experience before the game, collared a guy making his way through the Copthorne Hotel car park a couple of hours before kick-off. He proved an excellent and enthusiastic interviewee, according to those who overhead their chat. He also, unbeknown to said journalist, was the manager of United. Still, I suppose Wilder is also a lifelong follower of his club.
The Deal: John Fleck wasn’t the first member of Wilder’s squad to be invited to hold talks about signing a new and improved contract this season. But he has become the first to put pen to paper and scribble his signature across the dotted line. The midfielder, now tied to the club until the summer of 2023, has been in commanding form this season, after winning the second of two promotions he has achieved since arriving at the club in 2016. Now a senior Scotland international - something his terms and conditions will no doubt reflect - Fleck’s decision to commit the best years of his career to the club helps reinforce Wilder’s message that United are serious about building upon their remarkable progress of late. It also - importantly in these money driven times - increases his value on the balance sheet. Hopefully John Lundstram, John Egan and Stevens all follow suit soon.
The Sighting: Nigel Adkins, Chris Wilder’s immediate predecessor, was a nice guy. Not the most successful guy ever to occupy the United hotseat, granted. But a nice guy nevertheless. Every manager has their foibles. And Nigel’s was a fixation with Dan Burn. He tried to sign the defender so many times during his stay at Bramall Lane, one could imagine recruitment meetings during Adkins’ reign in South Yorkshire playing out like that episode of Alan Partridge, when the finest DJ ever to grace North Norfolk Digital spotted his new mate Dan in a car park before trying and failing to catch his attention. No matter how many times he shouted - “Dan...Daaan...Daaaaaaan” - his pleas fell on deaf ears. Nigel’s best mate Dan did turn up earlier this afternoon, albeit five years following Adkins’ first attempt to snare him and in the colours of Albion.
The Ball: This was a big day in the Premier League. Well, for its PR people and marketeers at least. Because, as a press release had trumpeted earlier in the week, top-flight footballers would be working with the new Nike Tunnel Vision Merlin ball for the very first time. Apparently, just in case you were wondering - which you probably weren’t - the “design highlights the balance of clarity and disorder with bright orange circles” and a “distinctive pink modular graphic.” All of which made precisely zero difference to the outcome of the game.
The Blow: Stevens made a superb start and scored a superb goal. Unfortunately, he failed to appear for the start of the second-half, with Ben Osborn taking his place on the left hand side of United’s defence. The Republic of Ireland defender has been in fine form for United this term. Indeed, it makes a mockery of most top-flight clubs’ supposedly meticulous scouting systems, that a player of his quality was plying his trade in League Two only three seasons ago. Osborn has lots of potential and has waited patiently for his chance. But it will be a big blow to United’s hopes of qualifying for Europe if Stevens is missing for too long.
Sheffield United: Henderson, Basham, Egan, O’Connell, Stevens (Osborn 46), Baldock, Norwood, Fleck, Berge (Lundstram 81), Sharp (McGoldrick 74), McBurnie. Not used: Verrips, Jagielka, Mousset, Retsos.
Brighton and Hove Albion: Ryan, Duffy, Dunk, Bissouma, Webster, Mooy, Schelotto (Trossard 74), Propper, Burn, Maupay (Bernardo 90), Murray (Connolly 74). Not used: Button, Gross, Jahanbakhsh, March.
Referee: Graham Scott (Oxfordshire).