Sheffield United’s FA Youth Cup venture was a short one this year as they were beaten 2-1 by Rochdale at Spotland on Wednesday night, despite a spirited performance after being reduced to ten men early in the game.
Jamie Hoyland named a strong line up for the visitors; George Willis was in goal after his spell on the substitutes bench with the first team and he had a back four of Jordan Hodder, Chris Salt, Josh Williams and Tyler Williams in front of him, all of whom have represented the under 21 side this season. Jamie-Dean McDonagh was given a starting spot on the right wing, with Joel Coustrain starting on the left. Otis Khan and Max Pemberton started the game in central midfield with Jahmal Smith, and recently turned pro Diego DeGirolamo resuming their partnership up front.
Despite the strength of the Blades side, it was Rochdale that started the game much brighter as central midfielder Andrew Cannon tested Willis early on with a shot from distance, but it was a tame effort and the keeper saved with ease. Willis would be involved again not long after, as a ball over the top looked to free Logan before Willis rushed out and cleared the ball for a throw in. From that throw, Tanser would create a chance to cross the ball for Daniel Whitehall but he couldn’t divert his header goalwards and the Blades keeper could watch the ball go over his crossbar.
George Willis was still heavily involved, and was unfortunately injured in the 6th minute of the game. After good work down the left by Joel Logan, his low cross was bravely cut out by Willis who unfortunately collided with Dale striker Dimitri Tuanzebe. After a few minutes of treatment, it looked like he may be able to continue but he was forced off in the 14th minute and helped down the tunnel by the physio and goalkeeping coach as he was seemingly very concussed following the incident. Wales under 16 international Gareth Owen came on in his place.
Between the initial injury and the substitution, the Blades had their first half chances of the game. First up, Diego DeGirolamo was involved as he attempted a volley on the turn from 30 yards out but it was quite comfortably saved by Aaron Ashley. The next potential chance was for Otis Khan, after Tyler Williams broke forward from left back before delivering a teasing cross to the back post, causing hesitation between Ashley and the Rochdale defence. Khan challenged between keeper and defender and looked to have the better of them, but fortunately for the home side, Ashley was able to recover the situation and keep the scores level.
The first goal of the game came in the 20th minute from a Rochdale corner from the right hand side. Left back Scott Tanser’s delivery had already caused problems for United and it did so on this occasion as his whipping cross was met by the head of CALLUM CAMPS 10 yards out, leaving sub keeper Owen very little opportunity to make the save and giving the home side a deserved lead after a slow start from the team wearing red and white.
This wouldn’t be end of United’s first half troubles. Just two minutes later, Andrew Cannon’s bursting run through midfield saw him ease into the penalty area before a last ditch tackle by Chris Salt was badly mistimed, upending the impressive Rochdale midfielder and giving the referee an easy decision to give a penalty. Salt was given a straight red card, which may have been a little harsh, meaning the visitors were down to 10 men after just 22 minutes.
It was a long wait before the penalty was taken, as Cannon received treatment following the challenge from Salt. Scott Tanser was the man with the opportunity to put the hosts two goals ahead, but he was brilliantly prevented by a low save from Owen who also managed to divert the ball away from the net and keep the deficit at just one goal, giving United a glimmer of hope despite being a man down.
Hoyland used the next break in play to make his second substitution of the game in just the 28th minute. Joel Coustrain was the unfortunate one to be sacrificed, and he made way for central midfielder Connor Dimaio. This meant a tactical switch for United with Max Pemberton, who was being watched by recently departed John Pemberton and family, dropping to centre half, Jahmal Smith being moved on to the left hand side of midfield and Diego DeGirolamo playing as the only striker in a 4-4-1 formation.
This seemed to work almost immediately as the Blades forced a corner on the left hand side thanks to good work by Tyler Williams getting forward from left back once again. Otis Khan came across to take the corner, and he went for the short option with a pass to CONNOR DIMAIO who was unmarked; He took the ball to the corner of the penalty area before curling the ball in off the underside of the bar exquisitely to draw his side level in the 31st minute despite being a man down.
Rochdale reacted extremely well to this set back however, and caused their Yorkshire opponents a few moments of panic in the closing stages of the first half. Straight from the kick off from the equalising goal, Cannon managed to worm his way through the United defence to get to the byline before shooting past Owen, only to see his shot his the outside of the post and behind for a goal kick. Joel Logan was the next with a chance for the hosts, but he was denied by a good challenge from Josh Williams as he looked to be through on goal. Callum Hill also saw his header go just over the bar from yet another brilliant corner from Scott Tanser, who was another player to go close as he saw his 25 yard free kick go a yard wide of Owen’s left hand post.
Despite all this, United would somehow hang on until half time and they would go in level despite being on the back foot for much of the first half.
United got the second half underway, but it was Rochdale again on the attack. Logan was a constant threat and he caused problems for the Blades defence twice in the opening stages of the half. Firstly, he went on a good run down the left hand side, leaving Pemberton for dead before delivering a low back post cross which Tyler Williams did well to clear away. The second was a real chance, this time from the right as he cut inside and drilled a low shot which Owen did well to save and concede a corner.
These two chances were either side of a rare dangerous moment from the visitors, as Northern Irishman Jamie-Dean McDonagh went on a fantastic run from the halfway line. He beat three men quite easily before a last ditch block prevented him from testing Ashley in the Dale net.
It wasn’t long until Rochdale were on the front foot again, as they began to make the numerical advantage pay on the big pitch at Spotland. Dimitri Tuanzebe started to influence the game a bit more, and he set up Daniel Whitehall as he tested Owen’s handling with a good first time effort. Thankfully for the Blades, Owen was up to the task. The next effort fell to Tuanzebe with 64 minutes on the clock, who somehow managed to poke the ball wide from just four yards out with an empty net gaping. It was an excellent run and cross by the ever dangerous Logan to set up the chance, but United would hold on for a little bit longer.
And it would only be a little bit longer, as Rochdale deservedly took a 2-1 lead in the 69th minute of the game, albeit in slightly fortuitous circumstances. The ball fell kindly for Andrew Cannon on the edge of the box, and his low drive was instinctively blocked by Tyler Williams before rebounding perfectly into the path of DANIEL WHITEHALL, who made no mistake from 8 yards out. And Whitehall should have been on the scoresheet again two minutes later, Scott Tanser again the provider as Whitehall headed wide despite being unmarked at the back post.
The hosts looked to kill the game off against the tiring legs of the United players, who had worked their socks off for very little reward up to this point in terms of attacking opportunities which must have been very frustrating. This probably told as DeGirolamo attempted an overhead kick from the edge of the penalty area in the 80th minute, but it summed up the Blades’ night as he couldn’t quite connect and the ball sailed over the bar.
Jamie Hoyland brought on Owen Heather in place of Jahmal Smith in the 85th minute, looking for a late equaliser as Connor Martin replaced Andrew Cannon for the hosts. I’d just like to point out for anyone who recognises the name, that this isn’t the same Connor Martin that was involved in United’s run to the Youth Cup Final two seasons ago.
This substitution didn’t initially have the desired effect as Tanser pushed forward from left back once again, and his cross was met by Logan who was unfortunate to see Max Pemberton in the right place to clear off the line and keep his side in with a fighting chance as the game went into injury time. Owen Heather almost had a chance to get in behind the Dale defence as he looked to latch onto Gareth Owen’s kick, but unfortunately for him Callum Hill just got back in time to prevent any scoring chance.
The Blades won a free kick late on, and piled bodies forward to try and grab an equaliser but it came to nothing as the home side defended well and managed to clear the danger. It seemed to be the last chance for Hoyland’s men, until DeGirolamo found one last pass to play Otis Khan in behind the defence, but Khan couldn’t get the ball out of his feet enough to get the shot away and was forced wide before Darcy O’Connor cleared the danger, and the referee blew his whistle for full time to knock the Blades out of the competition.
Sheffield United will be looking to make amends on Saturday, 17th November at 11am as they host Leicester City at Shirecliffe.
Sheffield United: Willis (Owen), Hodder, Salt, Josh Williams, Tyler Williams, McDonagh, Pemberton, Khan, Coustrain (Dimaio), DeGirolamo, Smith (Heather).
Unused Substitutes: Paling, Whiteman.
Rochdale: Ashley, Hill, Tanser, Allen, O’Connor, Antoine-Clarke, Camps, Cannon (Martin), Whitehall, Logan, Tanzuebe
Unused Substitutes: Masirika, Bell, Akinwale-Samuels, Diba-Musangu