The key talking points as Sheffield United beat Crystal Palace

The Star’s Sheffield United writer James Shield highlights some of the big issues, and main talking points, to emerge from today’s win over Crystal Palace.

Saturday, 1st February 2020, 5:06 pm

The Big Money: All eyes, well all of those in the far corner of the Arthur Wait Stand at least, were on Sander Berge, United’s new record signing, at the beginning of this game. The Norway international, who commanded a £22m fee when he arrived from Genk on Thursday, was parachuted straight into the starting eleven by manager Chris Wilder. Predictably, having only trained twice since joining United’s squad, there were a few miscommunications with fellow midfielders Oliver Norwood and John Fleck early on. But Berge was always willing to try and wrestle back possession. Which he usually did. The 21-year-old also made some well-timed runs forward, with one, as early as the fifth minute, nearly resulting in a chance. First impressions? A solid first outing from the youngster, who was replaced by John Lundstram just after the hour. Oh, and he’s a pretty big lump too.

The Big Mistake: All eyes, in the entire stadium this time, were on Palace goalkeeper Vicente Guaita when his calamitous error handed United the lead. Oliver Norwood is usually superb at set-piece situations. The corner he took just before the hour mark, though, was far from his best. Guaita gathered the ball comfortably enough. But then, inexplicably, he decided to step back across his own line. The Spaniard had the haunted look of a man who had just thrown away a winning lottery ticket as United’s players wheeled away in celebration. Roy Hodgson, meanwhile, looked as if he could quite easily commit GBH.

The Big Issue: Another game. Another VAR incident. For long periods of the game, with Wilfried Zaha constantly targeting George Baldock after the United defender received an early yellow card, it seemed as if the visitors were destined to end the afternoon with only 10 men on the pitch. A red was shown during the closing stages, but to a Palace player instead. But, after checking the pitchside monitor, referee Andy Madley decided Joel Ward’s tackle on Enda Stevens was only worthy of a yellow. It was one of those borderline calls you could make a case for either way. And Madley had earlier done well when he refused to book John Egan for a hard but fair challenge on James McArthur. The trouble with VAR, though, is that it changes the mood of the game. Relations between the two teams turned more spiteful following the break in play.

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The Big Problem: Make no mistake, for most of the first-half, Baldock was in trouble. Big trouble. And Zaha, who gave the impression he would gladly run towards the corner flag if he thought the United wing-back was there rather than towards goal, knew it. But United solved the problem during the interval, with both Chris Basham and Berge giving their team mate a little bit more protection. The biggest helping hand, however, came from Hodgson who inexplicably changed Zaha’s position during the closing stages. Okay, the former England, Liverpool, Switzerland, Finland and Fulham manager has forgotten more about the game than I’ll ever know. But sometimes coaches do seem to overcomplicate things for the sake of it. And this was one of those occasions.

The Big Noise: In the middle of the Holmesdale End, three quarters of the way towards the back of the stand, stoof a guy with a bright blue megaphone directing a small but vociferous band of Palace supporters through their repertoire of chants. Okay, the San Siro it isn’t. Or the Stadio Olimpico either. But the efforts of Selhurst Park’s ‘ultras’ in residence helped create an atmosphere during what, for 60 minutes at least, proved an intriguing rather than absorbing game. Should followers of more clubs follow suit? Maybe. Maybe not. Whatever suits I guess. But you can bet your bottom dollar that some killjoy will be writing a complaint to Palace’s hierarchy about persistent standing at that end of the ground.

The Big Result: This win, United’s second over Palace of the campaign, lifted Wilder’s side to fifth in the Premier League table. It was also a victory for organisation, application and tactical discipline. Palace had their moment, particularly during the second half of the opening period. But United had a game plan and they stuck doggedly to it. Which, after only being promoted from the Championship last term, arguably made it more encouraging than a demolition job. The hosts might be in poor form at present. But they are an established top-flight side with plenty of established, top-flight talent.

Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson looked furious as Sheffield United took the lead at Selhurst Park: Nigel French/PA Wire.