This was the Blades U18’s penultimate friendly after a strong campaign so far in pre-season. The youngsters kept up their good run of results with a 1-0 win over Walsall, who gave United a good test and looked a good footballing outfit.
United lined up in a 4-4-2 diamond formation; Owen Heather and Jahmal Smith were heading the attack with Diego DeGirolamo behind them at the front of the diamond. Max Pemberton and the two signings from Manchester United, Ben Whiteman and Otis Khan, were the other three in the midfield with Whiteman in the deeper role. Across the back there were two who played in the friendly at Hallam FC on Thursday, with Jordan Hodder, Chris Salt, Josh Williams and Elliot Ptak making up the four. Highly rated England U17 regular George Willis once again was in goal.
It was a lively start from both sides as Walsall looked to press early on, getting into the Blades’ third very quickly and almost managing an effort on goal. However, it was the Blades who had the first attempt when the ever dangerous DeGirolamo beat his man with ease before seeing his shot deflected wide. Nothing came from the resulting corner, but a couple of minutes later DeGirolamo was involved again with a delightful cross to the back post to Khan, who nodded it to Smith, but he couldn’t find the finish as it was again deflected wide.
Walsall’s first real danger came from that United corner, as they broke excellently down the middle and the lively number 7 looked to get in behind the Blades’ defence, only to be flagged correctly offside as he strayed half a yard in front of the defender. After that, the visitors had a good spell and could easily have got the first goal of the game midway through the first half with two great chances. First, the ball was won in midfield before two quick passes saw the number 9 away from the Blades defence, but he couldn’t get his shot right and dragged it wide with his left foot. Moments later, it was the United defence coming to their own downfall. Salt attempted to pass back to Willis but it was short, and the Blades would have found themselves 1-0 down had it not been for an excellent save from the England keeper.
This seemed to galvanize the United youngsters though, who had two good chances towards the end of an entertaining first period. The strong Jahmal Smith shrugged off two defenders before playing a through ball to Heather, but an excellent last ditch tackle by the Walsall centre half cleared the danger and kept the score level at 0-0. Not long after that, some good play in midfield by Khan and Whiteman saw the ball make it’s way to left back Elliot Ptak in an advanced position, but he saw his effort saved and held by the impressive Walsall ‘keeper.
Despite the Blades’ pressure, it was the visitors again who had an excellent chance to take the lead very late in the first half. Another good ball in behind the United defence caused problems and the on-rushing Willis was beaten to the ball by the Saddlers striker meaning the obvious collision followed, and the referee had no option but to point to the spot. It was Willis’ lucky day though, as the well struck penalty sent him the wrong way but crashed against the post and bounced out to safety before the half time whistle brought an end to the first half.
In a much quieter second half, broken up by a number of substitutions for both sides, United once again had the better of the possession. However, the visitors appeared to offer far less of a threat than the first period. Tyler Williams, another who played in the 4-0 win at Hallam FC on Thursday, replaced Elliot Ptak at half time.
It took ten minutes of the second half for the first real attempt on goal, when Owen Heather drilled a low shot from 25 yards to test the Walsall ‘keeper who made a good save to his left on a slippery surface at Shirecliffe. This was one of very few highlights in the second half as much of the play was in midfield before United introduced six substitutes with around half an hour remaining. This saw Jordan Hodder, Chris Salt, Ben Whiteman, Otis Khan, Max Pemberton and Diego DeGirolamo replaced by Jason Paling, Kyle Scarisbrick (previously at Everton) Connor Dimaio, Jamie-Dean McDonagh, Joel Coustrain and Jake Eyre (also previously at Everton) before introducing Ethan Lynch to replace Willis in goal moments later after Walsall made several changes to their side.
It took a while for the game to liven up after these substitutions, but it was a United substitute that forced another good save from the Walsall stopper. After another display of strength and skill from Smith taking the ball past three Walsall defenders, he laid the ball to Eyre who had a fierce drive saved well by the keeper after he made himself big to narrow the angle.
The same pattern as much of the second half continued with both sides struggling to create chances, but United again looked the most dangerous as McDonagh forced a corner down the right after good work between him and Paling. Joel Coustrain came over from the left to take the corner, and delivered an excellent ball to the front post which flicked off any one of three heads challenging for the ball, before making it’s way to the back post where McDonagh was waiting to nod home for his first ever Blades goal and give the home side the lead with just under ten minutes remaining.
This was the last real action of the game as Walsall failed to get real control of the ball and put pressure on the Blades, who saw the game out well to maintain their impressive pre-season record. Their last friendly will be at home to Birmingham City, on the 11th August.
Sheffield United U18: Willis (Lynch), Hodder (Paling), Salt (Scarisbrick), J. Williams, Ptak (T. Williams), Whiteman (Dimaio) Khan (McDonagh), Pemberton (Coustrain), DeGirolamo (Eyre), Smith, Heather.