WHICH Sheffield United is going to turn up? That’s the question concerning supporters of a team that in less than a fortnight has gone from the sublime to the ridiculous.
It all started so well at Barnsley. A complete team performance against the resurgent Reds, nine matches unbeaten under new manager Lee Johnson and making a late dash for the play-offs. United, faltering once again, arrived at Oakwell on the back of an embarrassing 2-1 home defeat to lowly Crewe. Seasoned Blades fans feared the worst. A South Yorkshire derby that in the final analysis could cost a lot more than three points and another one to follow three days later.
Fear not. United produced the complete team performance, better perhaps than the 3-1 win at League One leaders Bristol City on Valentine’s Day. Barnsley were swept aside, the Ponte End silenced by goals from an increasingly influential Jason Holt and yes, finally, striker Steven Davies at the seventh time of asking since his arrival from Blackpool.
No one could argue with first team coach Andy Garner’s verdict after the 2-0 win. “We were solid at the back, worked exceptionally hard in midfield and basically put in a superb away performance.”
The big plus from the encounter, apart from three points, was the commanding performance of Chris Basham in midfield. He was the driving force which kept United on the front foot.
Back to Bramall Lane and visitors Doncaster Rovers. Having put paid to Barnsley’s play-off hopes, a repeat prescription would be just what the doctor ordered. Another confidence-boosting win, another step to ensuring a place in the play-offs and a chance to build momentum. It didn’t quite happen that way. Yes, United won 3-2. It was a thrilling match but Donny were worth at least a point and played most of the football having taken an early lead and later equalised to make it 2-2. A terrific strike from Davies secured the points.
VICTORY SEEMED FRAGILE
Basham’s return to central defence for the injured Terry Kennedy left United’s midfield wanting. It could all have been so different had Doncaster capitalised on their early chances. Victory seemed fragile. “We were perhaps fortunate to get the three points,” admitted Clough. “Tuesday was in stark contrast to the weekend.”
Four days later and the nagging insecurity of Blades fans was back to haunt. United were trailing Oldham by two goals after 43 minutes in a dismal first-half display. Credit to them, United fought back to earn a 2-2 draw but they should never have been in that position in the first place.
The decline was complete on a desperate Tuesday night in Somerset. Having produced arguably their best performance of the campaign at Oakwell only 10 days earlier, this was inept. Yeovil, adrift and relegated at the foot of the League table, scored the only goal to register their fourth win since mid December and their first in the last seven attempts.
The Glovers were dreadful, United even worse. It was a shameful performance from which no one emerged with any credit. The 536 Blades fans who made a 468-mile round trip to watch such a heartless show were furious. It’s an often used phrase but they really did deserve their money back.
APOLOGY TO SUPPORTERS
Whilst United were wasting everybody’s time and money at Hush Park, the other play-off contenders were doing what play-off contenders should be doing. MK Dons won 3-0 at Fleetwood, Swindon did United a favour by winning 4-2 at Rochdale and Chesterfield smashed six without reply at home to Colchester.
Blades supporters awoke the following morning to a headline claiming Clough doubted his team’s desire. “It felt like a pre-season game at times,” he said. United midfielder Stefan Scougall apologised to loyal supporters.
Maybe Clough should share some of that doubt about his own ability. At this stage of the season to question the desire of his team is damning. To coach a performance which, in his own words, only reached pre-season level against a side at the foot of the League and already relegated, is a grave indictment.
So where does that leave United? Eight points clear of seventh-placed Rochdale who have a match in hand. Barring a calamity the dreaded play-offs are upon us. No momentum to speak of.
Which begs the question…