Monday, January 28, 2008

Sheffield United 2 City 1

Aren't balloons supposed to part of a celebratory and joyous event, not something that should have a helping hand in ruining something?

Joking aside, although it is being portrayed as a comical occurrence, it did help to contribute towards an awful start to the game which we never recovered from - and to undoubtedly make matters worse, the players and staff came in post game to find that the changing rooms had been burgled.

Not the best day I'm sure for all involved.

What has surprised me most in the aftermath of the game is how much stick the side have received, whereas some of the sensible commentary pointed to the obvious in that we are glaringly short up front, I have read anything from we now in freefall to mid-table to some City wesbsites labelling the performance 'gutless' and 'embarrassing'.

Now steady on.

There is no doubt that we contributed to our downfall with the opening two goals, but I thought from half an hour in we dominated the game in terms of possession and quality, looked by far the more dangerous side and when Danny Sturridge pulled a goal back immediately after half-time I thought we were a cert to get at the very least a replay out of the game, but perhaps - and here's where the lack of squad depth comes in, we didn't quite have enough to pull it off.

Firstly, 'Balloongate'. It certainly wasn't the first game I have seen where stray balloons littered around the pitch but is the first time they have had a bearing on a vital passage of play and it was clear that Ball's concentration was disturbed - although if he had made contact with his far from strong right foot who knows where the ball may have ended up anyway. And whilst Joe Hart has taken some blame for the goal, for me it was the responsibility of the referee to have halted proceedings whilst the area was cleared.

The second goal however, was clearly all our own doing and boy did we miss Micah Richards here as Nedum Onouha got himself in a horrible position initially and then criminally as the ball broke free there were no defenders even close to the Sheffield United players who were advancing from the edge of the area and we found ourselves in a hug hole.

As the half wore on though we got more into the game with Petrov again impressing and from one of his deliveries the ball flashed across the goal where Vassell's lack of conviction kept us off the scoresheet.

What has been obvious in recent games is that teams have wisened up a little and concentrated their efforts a little more on Elano - particular as Michael Johnson's injury has meant we lack that driving force in midfield as as well as Hamman and Gelson have played they do not offer that burst from midfield, and this has restricted Elano's effectiveness as team can deal solely with him. This has resulted in one or two petulant little challenges from the Brazillian and yesterday was another example of that, and resulted in him being withdrawn at half-time.

Sven's magic touch appeared to have worked once again though as Sturridge hit a beautiful volley from the edge of the area from a cleared corner to put us back in the game. It was a strike that illustrated exactly why he is so highly thought of at the club and his performance for the rest of the game - whilst a little in or out, was a breath of fresh air as regards a confident and almost arrogant approach (which all top class strikers have), certainly in comparison to Vassell and the recalled Mpenza, who is bearing more of a resemblance to Norma from Shameless than a centre-forward.

What (worryingly) it did also illustrate is that our best attacking option currently may well lie in the hands of a teenager, who has not completed a full game for us yet and has been out for over six months with injury - something which Sven alluded to, and why I still expect a striker to arrive before the end of the week.

Our attacking problems is now a tired story, and has seen us slip of late (two wins in nine now) and again it was our undoing late as for all the possession and territory we enjoyed, as the game got down to the last ten or fifteen minutes, we lacked a spark and conviction that you felt would see us draw level and ultimately no surprise to see Sheffield United hang on and progress to round 5.

At least we have an immediate chance to repair the damage from Sunday and in many respects, the trip to Derby is a more important game in terms of getting a vital three points - and to be honest, although our away form has been poor, we should really come away with the points on Wednesday given another horrendous performance and result at the weekend from Derby.

We will need the points though, as a scan of our next few fixtures reads United, Arsenal and Everton.

It is shaping up to be a vital February.

vote it up!

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