MATCH REPORT – Sheffield United 1 Watford 0 (Jason Rose)
My overarching feeling as I walked away from Bramall Lane was one of frustration because yet again we have not taken points from a match that we really should have done. This was a tight affair and but for one lapse from a corner & the lack of a finish during a goalmouth scramble at the end of the watch we would have got a well deserved draw against a Blades side that is sitting second in the league.
Overall we played well up to the final third of the pitch where, to be frank, we lacked any imagination to open up the hosts. The closest we got from open play was when a bit of good old fashioned overlapping full back play from James Morris floated over a lovely cross that first Joao Pedro and then Keinan Davis failed to convert.
We got in and around the Blades box on numerous occasions but we never shoot and more often than not the attack would just fizzle out. Considering the quality of our front four we should be troubling the opposition goal-keeper more than we do. After 34 games to be sitting in 8th place with a goal difference of just +3 is clearly not good enough. If you remove the 11 goals we scored in the 3 matches against THAT lot, Stoke and West Brom the other night we have scored less than a goal a game which is not the form of a team looking for promotion which suggests anywhere between 7th & 11th is probably our rightful position in the table.
Of all our problems the form of our main striker Keinan Davis is perhaps the most troubling. He has not scored since our derby win in October and even yesterday passed up a couple of very presentable opportunities to get on the scoresheet. He does bring more to team than goals with his physicality but his overall play has dropped of a cliff recently so he is a shadow of the player we first signed. Unless something drastic happens with him before May I suggest the £15m we could be able to sign him for would be better spent elsewhere. Four goals in 24 appearances this season is hardly enough to warrant such an investment for a club our size particularly when you would think the transfer budget will be under pressure in the summer. Our other problem is with Davis so out of form there really is no viable replacement for him. Brit Assombalonga is not the answer after another poor substitute cameo, Araujo is still getting used to the pace of the Championship and Toby Adeyemo is just too young. Joao Pedro could play as out 9 but you feel he would spend too much time wandering around, trying to find the ball rather than occupying the centre halves.
I would really like us (and in us I mean Bilic) to try something different and play two up front admittedly that would mean sacrificing either Ismaila Sarr or Ken Sema especially if we still want to use Joao in a “10” role. Right here, right now we are drifting out of the play-off picture without really giving it a go.
Maybe the returning Imran Louza can give us some much needed creativity. He put in a good shift for his 60 minutes but he was clearly shattered and although not popular it was the right decision to take him off before he aggravated something. He showed enough to give us optimism that in the last dozen or so matches remaining this season he can be the fulcrum of our team if he can stay injury free.
Next to him yesterday was Hamza Choudhury who was quite outstanding in his defensive midfield role. He was literally everywhere, snuffing out Blades attacks and gave us some real impetuous in going forward. It clearly helped him to have Louza next to him so he could just win the ball and give it to the Moroccan to deliver a forward pass. I thought it was possibly Choudhury’s best game in a Watford shirt & he definitely deserved not to be on the losing side yesterday. If we can’t find the £6m that is believed to be the fee Leicester want for him do not be surprised if the Blades go in for him. I noted the fact that United’s assistant manager Stuart McCall made a bee-line to Choudhury to have words with him after the game and probably congratulate him on playing so well. I know I do complain about Hamza particularly in home games but away from home where we are often with our backs to the wall he is definitely a person I would want with me in the trenches because you always get a good shift out of him.
Speaking of good shifts I have to praise James Morris again who was very good at left back. I know there are individuals on my Twitter feed who don’t rate the lad and probably never will because that just who they are but he is no nonsense and growing in confidence game by game. He is beginning to add overlapping to his repertoire now and is giving us some end product. Perhaps if he was called Javier Mauricio he would get more credit for those fans! Without wanting to put the hoo-doo on the lad he has not really let us down and it is to his credit that he does not look out of place. Morris’ improvement has been helped in part by the fact our defence is no longer the basket case it has in the past.
The addition of Porteous and Hoedt have definitely improved us although the stat that we have not kept a clean sheet with them as a pairing would not necessarily bear that out. Hoedt had a difficult afternoon against the tricky McBirnie but he stuck to his task well and Porteous was as tenacious as ever but he was culpable in the Blades winning goal by losing his man at the corner and then getting in the way of the keeper for what should have been a routine save. We are definitely better and tougher with the Scot in the defence and his range of general shithousery is good to have. I like him and I believe he will be our captain in the not too distant future.
In goal Dan Bachmann is having a real mixed bag of at a time right now. He is letting some particularly soft goals in, his handling is questionable and his distribution is just all over the place. Like Davis he lacks a real option challenging his for his spot and he has got a bit comfortable. When he first got into the team he had YouTube sensation Ben Foster breathing down his neck, now he Okoye who has hardly pulled up any trees in his limited appearances so far. Bachmann seems to be making even the most easy of saves look quite difficult and by not dominating his area we are inviting trouble, if you know the keeper is not going to come to claim a corner/throw in of course you are going to stick the ball under his crossbar. United took every opportunity to launch the ball in Bachmann’s direction and for the large part the defenders protecting his well.
Among those defenders was Ismaila Sarr who did some excellent defensive work winning some important headers but in the final third, with the ball at this feet he delivered very little of note. I have hammered Sarr enough previously so I will not carry on here but he was not alone in the “do very little” stakes with Ken Sema also fairly anonymous up to his removal and Joao Pedro seeing allot of the ball but often too deep to provide any attacking threat. We have to get Joao nearer the opposition goal for his to be effective and Brazilian needs to make better decisions. The times he did receive the ball in dangerous areas he dwelled on the ball too long or picked a “Hollywood” pass instead of something a bit simpler, he is our most talented forward and we must get more out of him if we are going to get anywhere near the play-off places.
I think yesterday’s defeat just further underlined that although individually we have better players than others above us we are not a team with any pattern of play or style. This has to be laid at the door of Bilic who has failed to unlock the talent we have at the club. I think we are far too pragmatic under him in a similar way that we were quite dour under Vladimir Ivic in the last Championship campaign. I don’t believe we have noticeably improved under Bilic and in fact since the World Cup break when he took the players away I would argue we are possibly playing worse! Yesterday’s performance was a step forward though but the games are running out if we are going to mount any sort of play off charge and overtake what are demonstrably better, more organised teams above us.
Its all small margins at the moment and but for better defending from corners we could have taken 4 points from both Turf Moor & Bramall Lane instead next weeks home game against Preston really is a must win for us because we can’t really afford many more slip ups.
Take care and stay safe