Harry's game but Blades still need strength in depth to hit promotion target

Sheffield United's Harry Chapman overjoyed after scoring

HARRY CHAPMAN’S hat-trick in the 6-0 FA Cup thrashing of Leyton Orient at Bramall Lane went straight to his head.

How else could you explain the reaction of the 19-year-old loanee from Middlesbrough who is on Arsenal’s watch-list? “I think we’ve got it in us to win the league and have a good cup run, too,” he said. “It [the FA Cup] is probably the best competition in England to win. Hopefully we can get to the big grounds like Old Trafford and then go even further.”

Cup runs are exciting and yes, it would be intriguing to see how Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United would fare with the big boys in round three and beyond.

But it is also a major distraction from the priority of escaping League One at the sixth time of asking. A distraction fraught with difficulties such as injuries, possible replays and time consuming travel in an already crowded calendar.

As for winning the league? Current form suggests there is every chance of a top two finish but such talk falls on deaf ears to the seasoned Blade, educated to degree standard at the school of hard knocks.

Chapman, on England Under-20 duty this week in South Korea with Lane team-mate Louis Reed, is merely voicing the excitement of a naive teenager full of the joys of proving his worth. The reality is that United didn’t have to break sweat to beat a desperately poor Orient and will rarely be presented with such a one-sided task.

Chapman has a bright future, probably not with the Blades. In the meantime long may his contribution continue. But strength in depth, not enthusiastic but largely empty rhetoric is what will push United over the line come next Spring. Something that must be addressed in the January transfer window.

UNITED’S first round FA Cup romp extended their unbeaten run in open play to 14 matches – they lost in a penalty shoot-out to Leicester in the Checkatrade Trophy. That impressive achievement increased to 15 after the 4-2 midweek triumph at Grimsby in the final group fixture of the much maligned competition.

Never in my 47 years of watching United has there been such a meaningless ‘competitive’ fixture. A record low crowd for Grimsby of 597, including179 hardy souls from Sheffield, turned out for the final group stage encounter from which neither side could, thankfully in United’s case, reach the next stage.

Wilder risked an EFL fine by breaking team selection rules and used the evening as an opportunity to give promising youngsters a chance.  “I think three competitions are enough for any professional,” he said prior to the trip to Blundell Park. “Forty-six games is a hard enough slog with another two competitions. I think that is enough.”

The Blades boss’s disdain for the Checkatrade Trophy, a replacement for the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy in an unwanted extended format, is nothing new. He added: “I have been consistent and said that last year with my previous club [Northampton Town who he led to the League Two title]. Maybe my attitude has rubbed off onto our players, so it has been a little bit difficult for the ones in the competition. But there you go.”

Having said that there were positives for Wilder to take with him from Blundell Park. Yet another win despite starting with only two survivors – Kieron Freeman and Chris Basham – from the last league win against MK Dons.

Striker Leon Clarke, a second-half substitute, returned from a long injury lay-off  and scored United’s fourth goal. Matt Done, regular partner for Billy Sharp up front but recently sidelined by a fractured cheekbone, also returned. Regan Slater, captain of United’s Under-18s, marked his first experience of senior football with a well executed second-half strike.

Job well done.

POLICE presence at Grimsby threatened to outnumber the meagre crowd on Wednesday night but you have to question Humberside constabulary’s timing in charging 29 ‘fans’ of both clubs with violent disorder on the eve of the latest meeting at Blundell Park.

Twelve men from Sheffield and 17 from Grimsby will appear in court after fighting broke out in Cleethorpes before and after a pre-season friendly in July. Superintendent Dave Hall warned before the latest meeting: “We are taking a zero tolerance approach to those seeking to cause trouble.”

Lucky for him then that interest in the fixture was almost non existent. Had their been a big following from Sheffield news of the charges would have only served to stoke up potential trouble from fringe elements following both clubs in search of a re-match.

Given that almost four months have elapsed since the incident, was it really necessary to bring charges just at the moment the two clubs faced each other again?

BRIAN THE BLADE has offered more than once in times of trouble to go down to Bramall Lane and sort things out. A proposal regular listeners to BBC Radio Sheffield’s football phone-ins will be familiar with and which is always met with universal ridicule.

But Donald Trump’s shock victory in the US presidential election has changed all that. Barak Obama, whom The Donald will replace in January, described Trump as being “uniquely unqualified to be President of the United States”.

Maybe Brian’s bid to make Sheffield United Great Again has got legs.

COLUMNIST Martin Smith writes this week in The Star: "Fans still have the traditional outlets for their displeasure – some Wednesdayites booed their team after their 2-1 home defeat by Ipswich on Saturday and all but 6,099 Blades voted with their feet by staying away from their team's six nil demolition of Leyton Orient in the FA Cup a day later.”

I can’t speak on behalf of Sheffield Wednesday fans, but I do know the low attendance at the Lane where crowds are averaging almost 20,000 for yet another season, was nothing to do with 'voting with their feet'. Touch wood at the moment there is little if anything to be unhappy about. It had everything to do with cost and the quality of the opposition.

For regular paying fans football isn’t cheap and with a crowded calendar ahead in what looks like a serious promotion bid United fans are heading for a bumper pay-out. In that context foregoing the chance to see Leyton Orient, second bottom of League Two, crumble in a mismatch represents value for money.

GLENN HODDLE co-commentating on England’s 3-0 win against Scotland in a World Cup qualifier at Wembley offered another insight into the hypocrisy that infests the professional game.

“It wasn't a penalty but [England’s] Danny Rose felt contact from [Robert] Snodgrass so I can understand why Danny went down,” explained the former England manager during ITV’s coverage. It’s a sentiment that is repeated by others week after week. The same people who often criticise referees for getting split-second decisions wrong after watching numerous replays.

The reason why Rose chose to fall over was because he was cheating in the hope Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir would award a penalty. If you are playing fairly falling over isn’t a personal choice. Simple really. Amazing how many respected figures in the game can’t admit it.



HATS OFF to former Barnsley boss Keith Hill and Rochdale who this week put a big smile on the face of five-year-old local Joshua McCormack who has a terminal brain tumour.

Hill named young Joshua as one of his seven substitutes for the Checkatrade Trophy match at Hartlepool United on Wednesday.

Joshua, too poorly to travel, was listed on the official team sheet, squad number 55. A shirt bearing his name and number hung in the dressing room as the players prepared and was placed on the subs’ bench during the match which Dale won 2-1.

Hill said: “It is a real honour to name Joshua as a substitute. He has touched the hearts of everyone at Rochdale Football Club since we met him for the first time back in February.



“No child should have to go through what Joshua is going through and we, as a club and a group of players, will continue to do whatever we can to support him and his family. We hope this one small gesture can bring some light to his family during this difficult time.”

In an era when much of football is removed from the reality of everyday life and the game has been hijacked by greed, Rochdale can proudly count itself as one club which hasn’t lost touch with the community it serves.