Sheffield United’s under 18s will be wondering what might have been after a pulsating game of football against their fierce rivals Wednesday at Middlewood Road on Saturday morning.
The Blades were forced into changes with Jordan Hodder absent through injury, so Jason Paling took his place at right back whilst Josh Williams and Chris Salt were the centre half partnership with Tyler Williams playing his usual role at left back. Jamie-Dean McDonagh was on the right wing, Max Pemberton partnered Otis Khan in midfield and Owen Heather started on the left, with regular starters Diego DeGirolamo and Jahmal Smith in attack. George Willis returned from a successful trip to Estonia for international duty with the England under 19s to start in goal.
It was United who kicked off in the sunshine and they made an excellent start to the game. They were looking to get on the front foot immediately and they almost had the chance to do that when DeGirolamo cut inside his man to get into the penalty area and appeared to have been tripped, but it wasn’t to be as the referee said no and the Blades were awarded a corner as the Wednesday defender covered well. Nothing would come from the corner, but it wouldn’t be long until the Blades were on the offensive again. This time it would come from the right, as some good passing play created a bit of space for Paling, who delivered an excellent cross from deep and Heather would have been disappointed as he put his free header wide from 12 yards out just four minutes into the game.
Soon after that, it was the Owls’ turn to miss a good chance with a header. They won a free kick courtesy of good work from the left winger, and the delivery was excellent to the back post where their number 4 rose above everybody, but he couldn’t divert his header from 6 yards goalwards meaning Willis could see it safely wide.
United were coming forward again as they won a free kick on their left wing seven minutes in. Otis Khan delivered the inswinging free kick, Smith’s flick on deflected off a Wednesday defender and DeGirolamo pounced, but his effort was high as he didn’t catch it cleanly with his right foot so Wednesday could relax with a goal kick.
It wouldn’t be long until the Blades deservedly went in front, though. Paling’s throw in was chested down by DeGirolamo on the right wing, he turned to face his marker and cut inside to his left foot before setting off on a run, leaving two more Wednesday defenders looking at his heels, cutting inside another challenge before feeding Owen Heather on the left corner of the box as he was challenged and taken out. That didn’t matter though, as HEATHER would compose himself before slotting it under the on-rushing keeper to give the away side the lead in the 10th minute.
Heather was involved in the next phase of play too, as United immediately won possession back from their rivals and attacked down the left. He and Smith would link up with some good one touch passing, but Smith’s pull back couldn’t be met by a red and white shirt and the Owls’ breathed a sigh of relief as it was cleared to safety for the time being. Unfortunately for them, it wouldn’t be safety for long. A long distance shot from the Wednesday midfielder was charged down by Max Pemberton, and as the Blades looked to keep possession, Otis Khan picked the ball up in midfield and found the perfect pass for DEGIROLAMO to leave him one on one with the defender, and he took advantage by beating his man with ease before smashing the ball into the top corner from the edge of the penalty box and give the Blades a two goal lead after 16 minutes and seemingly in complete control of the game.
The Owls were looking to get back into the game immediately, and they had a couple of chances to do so. Firstly, a good run from the right back caused United problems and as he looked to get inside for a shot, he was clipped by goalscorer Heather to give them a free kick 25 yards out. Thankfully for United, that chance wasn’t taken and the free kick was hit way over the bar so the two goal cushion would remain for now. They were coming forward once again two minutes later, but this time it was from the left. The left winger managed to get inside Paling and McDonagh before testing the fingers of Willis with a right footed shot from just inside the area, but the keeper was equal to it as he parried it down before Tyler Williams’ clearance removed any danger.
This was turning into a really entertaining game of football, and United were the next to pose a threat. DeGirolamo once again beat his man before playing the ball out wide right to McDonagh, and his fierce drive across the six yard box couldn’t be met by any of the players charging towards the net looking to get on the end of it, and it would go out for a throw on the far side of the pitch.
The see-saw continued and Wednesday forced United into more defensive work as they won successive corners. The first was delivered well and met by the head of Chris Salt as he cleared, but the ball fell to a blue and white shirt on the edge of the box and it was deflected wide. The next corner would cause more problems though, as a United head thought they may have cleared the danger but it was immediately put back into the box, thankfully George Willis would rise the highest to claim the aerial ball and calm the situation down for his side.
United’s last chance of the half would come from a corner of their own in the 39th minute. Otis Khan whipped in a corner to the front post, and it dropped kindly for Salt who hit it first time from 8 yards out but he somehow saw the ball go over the bar and the score remain 2-0 to the away side instead of adding to it.
The hosts were keen to take advantage of that before and had enough of the ball to do so. They produced a good attacking move to carve one of three decent chances towards the end of the second half, but it couldn’t be capitalised on as the shot from the Owls’ striker was well wide of Willis’ goal when he should have at least tested the keeper. It was a free kick from the right that brought the next half chance, but that was dealt with by Willis once again as he took command of the situation by punching away well and fortunately finding Smith, who looked to start a counter attack but it didn’t work out as McDonagh misplaced his pass to give Wednesday a throw in. That throw in would bring the last action of the first half as the home side again attacked down the right, and a deep cross was almost headed back across goal by the Wednesday left winger, but Salt would be first to react and clear just in time before the referee blew his whistle to signal half time.
Sheffield Wednesday reacted to the two goal deficit by making two substitutions at half time, and that seemed to work for them as they clawed a goal back two minutes in to the second half. The ball was won near his own corner flag by the number 7 wearing blue and white, and he proceeded to go on a run with the ball from there beating at least three United players before reaching the opposite box and cutting it back. This was just too far away from Josh Williams who got a slight touch on the ball, but it fell straight into the path of the Wednesday number 12 who placed the ball into the far corner leaving Willis with no chance and justifying his manager’s decision to introduce him at half time.
The second half onslaught from the home side continued. They won the ball back from the kick off, and a decent effort from distance was just dragged wide of Willis’ left hand post. From the resulting goal kick, it was a Wednesday head that won the ball once again and they were fully on the front foot. A couple of touches in midfield opened up the Blades’ defence and they looked certain to equalise had it not been for the number 9 seemingly clearng the ball off the line much to the relief of the Blades defence. Unfortunately for them, they would not be so lucky for much longer as the home side drew level with an absolute screamer in the 54th minute courtesy of their right back. Following the bizarre goal-line clearance, the ball found it’s way to the edge of the area where a Wednesday midfielder laid it off to the full back. He took one touch to get the ball out of his feet and rifled the ball into the far top corner, beating the despairing dive of Blades’ keeper Willis.
The next chance of the game would also fall to Wednesday as they looked to continue their momentum from the two early goals in the second half. They attacked down the right once again with the number 7 looking dangerous, and his delivery could have easily landed on an attacker’s head but the Blades had Chris Salt to thank once again as he did excellently to get his head onto the cross and flick it away for the safety of a throw in, giving the visitors time to breathe.
Blades boss Jamie Hoyland felt he had to change things in order to swing the pendulum back in United’s favour, and he reacted by taking off Jamie-Dean McDonagh who was replaced by Connor Dimaio. This meant Otis Khan would move to the right in order for Dimaio to play his preferred central midfield role.
This didn’t seem to be working though, as Wednesday were on the attack again not long after and would have been in front if not for the excellence of George Willis. Firstly, he got down well to his left to keep out a back post header from 8 yards out, before saving extremely well to his right as the left winger tested him with a shot from the left corner of the penalty area. Both of these resulted in corners for the home side. From the second corner, Willis was forced into action again and as it fell kindly for the Owls in the middle of the box, he was right on top of it to make a point blank save and then smother the rebound. This made sure the score was still tied at 2-2 with 70 minutes gone.
Willis’ heroics in that sequence of attacks was rewarded in the 72nd minute. Paling’s throw was aimed for DeGirolamo, he controlled the ball and looked to beat his man but was tripped, meaning he had to lay it off to the on-rushing KHAN, who brilliantly beat two men with a drop off the shoulder to get into the area, before drilling the ball low across the Wednesday keeper who had absolutely no chance of saving it. Despite being on the back foot for much of the second half, the Blades had somehow managed to get back in front.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t long until Wednesday were on the attack again and they were turned down what looked like a clear penalty in the 76th minute of the game. A quick one two between midfielder and striker had the United defence chasing back towards their own goal, and as the midfielder cut inside he appeared to have his heels clipped by Josh Williams but the referee immediately signalled that he wasn’t giving a penalty and told the outraged Wednesday player to get up.
This forced a reaction from both sides and a couple of tasty challenges started to go in. With a dangerous tackle by an Owls player on Pemberton going unpunished, Paling went in strong on the Wednesday player and took him out late, resulting in a free kick for the home side which came to nothing.
In the 82nd minute, Wednesday managed to equalise for the second time in this game after a mad scramble from a corner. The ball was sent in from the left hand side and met by an Owls head, but Jason Paling was on hand to head off the line as the home side were about to celebrate, and that wasn’t the end of it as it landed right back at a blue and white shirt. His shot was saved by Willis, before another attempt was somehow kept out thanks to the head of Salt, but the Blades’ luck would run out as it finally dropped to the Wednesday striker who bundled it home to the absolute elation of their players and bench.
A draw obviously wasn’t enough for the home side and they pressed straight away for a winner as they won a corner on their right. The ball was sent in and thought to be cleared by a Blades head, but a shot from the edge of the box was deflected wide for another corner to the home side which almost led to a goal, however, the header was stopped on it’s way in by Jason Paling for the second time in the game as he performed his duties on the back post expertly to keep his team level.
Sadly for Paling, and United, his clearance wasn’t enough to rescue the point as the home side scored the winner in the 86th minute. A long ball up field was flicked on by the Wednesday striker, the midfielder anticipated this and was first to the ball. He composed himself before slotting the ball underneath Willis who came out to try and narrow the angle, and a pile of blue and white ensued in the far corner as they had somehow managed to come from behind twice to surely beat their arch rivals.
And they were right. United piled forward in the last few minutes trying to get back in the game, but they couldn’t create a clear cut chance to get back into it. Centre half and captain Josh Williams would have the only shot in injury time, and it looked goal-bound had it not been for a brave block by a blue and white shirt. That would bring the final whistle and utter dejection in the United camp as they looked to be in complete control after going 2-0 up early in the game. It’s now 5 games without a win for the United side, and perhaps more worryingly the fifth game in a row that they have scored two or more goals without winning.
Sheffield United U18: Willis, Paling, Salt, J Williams (capt), T Williams, McDonagh (Dimaio), Khan, Pemberton, Heather, DeGirolamo, Smith
Unused Substitutes: Owen, Scarisbrick, Whiteman, Eyre,