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Match Analysis: Sheffield United are the architects of their own downfall yet again as Middlesbrough stroll to a 3-0 win at the Riverside Stadium

Sheffield United endured a night to forget in Middlesbrough
Sheffield United endured a night to forget in Middlesbrough
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There was a moment, as Chris Wilder and Tony Pulis exchanged heartfelt platitudes beforehand, when this game threatened to become an exercise in mutual appreciation rather than gaining Championship points.

There was a moment, as Chris Wilder and Tony Pulis exchanged heartfelt platitudes beforehand, when this game threatened to become an exercise in mutual appreciation rather than gaining Championship points.
Unfortunately for their supporters, and sanity of those in the visiting dug-out, Sheffield United's players appeared to mistaken the pre-match love-in for a tactical blueprint; gift-wrapping goals for Martin Braithwaite, Aiden Flint and Stewart Downing as Middlesbrough cruised to victory without even breaking sweat.
Rather than the intelligent and industrious display required to beat one of the division's most-fancied clubs, what United actually served-up was a masterclass in how not to defend against opponents carved in Pulis' own businesslike image. There is no secret to how the 60-year-old drills his teams. After all, an exponent of no-nonsense and tactically disciplined football, it is a trick he performed to good effect at Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion before arriving on Teesside. United, though, seemed thoroughly
bemused by Middlesbrough's approach; conceding three times during 25 chaotic minutes to leave themselves still searching for their first point of the new campaign.
What will trouble Wilder, even more, however, was the way in which United's rearguard was breached.
Braithwaite and Downing boast a combined total of nearly 60 international caps, but neither the Denmark striker nor the former England and Liverpool winger were required to showcase their pedigree in order to trouble the scoresheet. Not, as Wilder lamented later, when United's rearguard appeared intent on going
AWOL whenever the ball entered their box. Flint's header, sandwiched in between his colleague's efforts, came about following yet another defensive lapse.
Despite expressing concerns about both the result and manner in which it came about, Wilder resisted the temptation to make changes with the same eleven players who started United's last weekend's defeat to Swansea City pressed into action at the Riverside. That show of faith meant Ben Woodburn, signed on loan from Liverpool earlier this month, was again forced to watch from the bench until being summoned when the outcome was no longer in doubt. Ponderous, one-paced and seemingly impotent in attack, the
youngster's trickery and turn of pace might have prompted Middlesbrough to at least think twice before surging upfield with impunity during the opening period of the contest.
Likewise it was telling that United's best opportunity, spurned by Leon Clarke midway through the second,
was fashioned by Mark Duffy. The Liverpudlian, arguably the most ingenious and creative member of Bramall Lane's squad, has also been used sparingly since the end of last season. But, on this evidence, a recall must surely be on the cards when United travel to Queens Park Rangers this weekend.
After instructing his players to use their heads as well as their hearts, Wilder will have been disappointed to see at least three go chasing the ball when Middlesbrough launched the first of several dangerous attacks. Although Braithwaite and Britt Assombalonga dragged United's defence across the pitch, Dean
Henderson held firm and blocked Jonny Howson's shot with his legs. But Henderson was powerless to prevent Braithwaite scrambling home from close range when Dael Fry helped Lewis Wing's corner reach the far post. It was exactly the type of goal, given the importance Pulis places on set-pieces, Wilder will have
warned against conceding. But worse was the follow when Flint and Downing stretched Middlesbrough's lead to three inside the opening 25 minutes, with both men profiting from some terrible organisation and indecisiveness at the back. Flint's header, also from a Wing centre, was simplicity itself while Downing
could scarcely believe his luck when John Fleck and George Baldock hesitated, allowing him to convert
Ryan Shotton's cross. Henderson, having got them out of jail with less than 60 seconds on the clock, must have wondered what on earth he had done to upset those tasked with protecting him from Middlesbrough's attack.
Clarke's frustration with events at the opposite end of the pitch became evident when, during the closing stages of the first-half, he scythed down Wing as the midfielder darted forward. Much to the United captain's relief, referee Robert Jones decided a yellow card would suffice although it would have been no surprise had a red been produced. Likewise when Chris Basham caught Braithwaite soon after the interval, provoking an angry reaction from the Middlesbrough bench.
The introductions of Woodburn and Duffy saw United finally begin to cause Middlesbrough some problems, with the latter producing a clever first-time pass to send Clarke bearing down on Darren Randolph. Given what had gone before, it seemed somehow fitting when the resulting shot was parried
away to safety.

Middlesbrough: Randolph, Friend, Shotton, Fry, Flint, Wing (Leadbitter 83), Clayton, Howson (McNair 71), Downing, Assombalonga (Fletcher 78), Braithwaite. Not used: Dimi, Johnson, Chapman, Tavernier.
Sheffield United: Henderson, Baldock, Stevens, Basham, Egan, O'Connell, L Evans (Leonard 82), Fleck, Lundstram (Woodburn 46), Clarke, McGoldrick (Duffy 69). Not used: Moore, Sharp, Leonard, Stearman, Bryan.
Referee: Robert Jones (Merseyside).
Attendance: 22,960.
Goals: Braithwaite (7), Flint (17), Downing (25)