Stung by a Sharp Blade: Sheffield United Away

Rovers produced a classy away performance but were unable to score whilst on top and eventually succumbed to their first defeat since August at the hands of Sheffield United. It was a night to be proud of, we went to one of the better teams in the division and weren’t distracted by the size of the crowd or stadium. Darrell starimg_0304ted 3-5-2 and handed a debut to Chelsea loanee Jake Clarke-Salter which I was excited to see.

We started well and played quick and direct football in moving the ball wide to Brown and Leadbitter. Chris Lines forced a good save early on with a first time effort from outside the box and we should have taken the lead from the ensuing corner but the ball was cleared off the line. We need to start scoring when we’re on top because for all our pressure we were lucky not to go behind when Billy Sharp bared down on Kelle Roos’ goal but the Dutchman was able to save with his feet. He’s been impressing me in recent weeks and I’ll be the first to admit I was far from his biggest fan when he first joined. He does so well in one on one situations in that he stands up and doesn’t move early which is unnerving for strikers. We absorbed the pressure that United put on us and restricted them to very little, a shot from Sharp was about it in truth and we still looked potent on the counter attack. Ten minutes before the interval Harrison found Easter who was fouled on the edge of the area and Chris Lines free kick was goal-bound before being tipped round the post by Simon Moore. We had a final first half chance when Easter was found in the box but his header drifted over the crossbar to mark the end of a solid first 45 minutes. I thought at half time we had given ourselves every chance of earning something from the game and after the break we continued to push for that opening goal.


Easters red card challenge

Some clever work from Boateng saw him tee up Ollie Clarke whose shot provided no trouble for Moore and Easter saw an effort go wide as the game began to open up further. Just after the hour Moore was forced to make a low save from Harrison’s powerful effort but that was when the evening began to turn sour. Ellis Harrison was clearly fouled in my opinion which allowed United to get a ball into the box and Harry Chapman’s header beat Roos to put our hosts ahead. For me, Bodin was a mile away from where he should have been, marking the wrong player which gave the wide man an age in which to pick a ball, and Lines defended as though he wanted to go behind. Our defending has been our achilles heel all season and a lapse in concentration cost us-although not as much as what happened next. From the kick off, Jermaine Easter was sent off for what looked like an elbow. I reserved judgement at the time and am still unsure as to whether or not he should have gone. In real time, he has jumped well before the ball was anywhere near him which suggests he knew what he was doing, having said that, it’s clear from the still shots that his eyes were on the ball and he doesn’t appear to have any knowledge of his opponents proximity. Some of the time it doesn’t even look as though he touched him. At the end of the day, only one man knows what really happened and it’s Jermaine, but I do hope we never see a repeat of that.

Ten minutes to go, ten men on the pitch and a goal behind but we really rallied and in the end we undoubtedly deserved a point. Harrison had a case for a penalty and we forced a few corners before United again cleared off the line with what looked to be a hand but were unable to force our way back into the game come full time. It was evident how much the team had put into it at the final whistle as some of our players collapsed onto the deck, the travelling Gasheads recognised this and ‘thundered’ a chorus of Goodnight Irene. 800 supporters that far on a Tuesday night is class as ever and the team and staff are grateful for it.

Ollie Clarke was my man of the match but Brown, Lines and Harrison all put in good shifts too. Jake Clarke-Salter looked calm and seemed to have an experience beyond his years, I’m looking forward to seeing how he develops both during his time on loan here and in the future although in fairness I was quick to criticise Roos at the start of his time here and I have to admit he’s fast becoming one of my favourite players and is improving game by game.

Saturday will be a big test of character as we travel to sixfields to face a Northampton team who are absolutely flying. Their mammoth unbeaten run came to an end just a few weeks ago with defeat to Chesterfield but it seems since then there are less nerves in their team, less fear about a mistake costing them their unbeaten run and by all accounts the team are playing with more freedom and expression. The same fixture last term was one of the best games of football I witnessed all season, chances at both ends, we were 2-0 down and staged a late comeback to salvage what was in my opinion our best and arguably most important point of the season. The atmosphere inside Sixfields that day was incredible, again probably the best one away from home all of last season and hopefully we can see more of the same in what will prove to be a very tricky match.

See you all there, UTG!

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