Coventry City were the visitors to Shirecliffe with a good reputation after a solid pre-season, which included a 6-1 victory over Liverpool, but Sheffield United’s under 18s have had a good pre-season themselves and started the new season in the same vein as the majority of their friendlies – with a win.
Sheffield United made three changes to the side that had beat Birmingham a week ago, introducing three first years to the side. Jason Paling came in at right back, Kyle Scarisbrick at centre half and Elliot Ptak started the game at left back. Otis Khan was moved from right back to the right hand side of midfield in place of Jamie-Dean McDonagh.
Coventry started the game and immediately put the home side under pressure, which paid off just two minutes into the game. The ball was being played around the edge of the box, seemingly with no danger as United had plenty of bodies behind the ball, but that couldn’t prevent a thunderous shot from Coventry’s central midfielder flying into the top right corner from 20 yards out past the despairing dive of George Willis, giving the visitors the perfect start to the game.
That perfect start was short lived though, as United hit back straight away. From the kick off, the home side advanced down the left hand side with Diego DeGirolamo and Owen Heather. After good work from DeGirolamo to beat his man at the byline, he pulled it back to the edge of the six yard box where PEMBERTON was waiting to apply the finish after a good forward run from midfield. That brought the scores level after just four minutes of the game gone.
After that, the game settled down somewhat and both sides were looking to get control of the match. Both teams had chances, with United’s main attacking threat DeGirolamo having a decent effort deflected wide for a corner which came to nothing, before it was Coventry’s turn to apply some pressure again. Another great long range effort from the visitor’s midfield forced Willis into action with a strong left hand palming the ball over the bar. This led to a succession of corners, but Coventry couldn’t capitalise and eventually this led to arguably the Blades’ best chance of the first half so far.
The ball was cleared by Whiteman towards Jahmal Smith, and a good interchange between Smith and DeGirolamo led to the former rounding the on-rushing keeper, but he was unlucky to see his shot hit the outside of the post as he was just forced wide with two covering defenders chasing back to the goal line. That kept the score at 1-1 with 20 minutes gone, but the home side started to turn the screw and take control of the first half from this moment on.
A flick on by Heather from Willis’ long kick was straight into the path of DeGirolamo, who saw his effort saved well by the keeper, and the follow up from Whiteman was blocked well by the Coventry defender and diverted for a corner kick for the Blades. Whiteman was involved again not long after that, as a free kick by Otis Khan was taken short to him, and his lay off led to a decent effort from Khan curling into the keeper’s arms for what turned out to be a comfortable save.
The next attack saw the home side taking the lead for the first time in the game, 5 minutes before half time. Some great work by Heather on the left hand side to beat his man and get in behind the defence gave him plenty of time to assess his options, and he picked the right one as he drilled it low into the six yard box where SMITH was waiting to divert into the net from close range.
Sheffield United were still the most likely scorers in the closing moments of the first half, with a couple of moves involving central midfielder Whiteman and centre forward DeGirolamo. First, it was Whiteman who played a perfectly weighted pass to DeGirolamo, but he couldn’t take advantage as he fired his shot well over from 20 yards. After that, DeGirolamo returned the favour and laid it off to Whiteman who saw his 30 yard drive go a couple of yards wide as the referee signaled the end of a good first half.
The home side got the second half underway, and it was them who got off to an excellent start this time. The highly rated DEGIROLAMO scored a stunning individual effort in the 47th minute. He rolled the much taller centre half marking him using great strength, before turning two more defenders inside out with one move onto his left foot on the edge of the box. As he moved into the penalty area, a last ditch slide tackle was evaded well as he cut inside, before he delicately flicked it past the keeper from 8 yards out with his left foot to give the Blades a 3-1 lead.
United had a glorious chance to go three goals in front just ten minutes later. They won a corner down the right hand side, and while the visitors made a substitution one player from each side was booked after what must have been a bit of pushing and shoving in the area. Josh Williams was the man booked for United, and it was he who had the chance from the corner as it was flicked on at the near post, but he put it just over the bar from five yards out as he met the ball on the volley.
The centre half, Williams, was involved again as he played a stunning cross field ball to Heather on the left hand side. Heather took the ball down brilliantly with his left foot as he ran through on goal, but he couldn’t find the finishing touch with his right foot as the Coventry keeper rushed out and saved well low down to deny him.
For the next few minutes, the visitors pushed for a way back into the game as they forced a couple of corners to put the Blades under pressure, but solid defending meant that they couldn’t find their way through at set pieces. A great chance was created from open play though, as some excellent passing in midfield created an opportunity for the right winger who had got in behind the defence to latch onto the through ball, but he dragged his shot horribly wide when he should have really scored.
The game quietened down after this for a 15 minute period, with the only real action being a booking for the Coventry number 5 as he argued with the referee and the visitors became increasingly upset by the officials, which led to one of their coaches been sent from the touchline. This seemed to rattle the Sky Blues and United were well on top of the game from this point. A defensive error gifted the ball to DeGirolamo who ran through on goal with a 1 on 1, but he failed to capitalise on the chance as he tried a similar finish to the one he’d scored earlier. Credit had to be given to the Coventry keeper who read it well to make the save.
The Blades were now in complete control of the game, and they went 4-1 up with 13 minutes remaining in the second half. The ball was played through to WHITEMAN who showed real desire to get in behind the Coventry back four and latch onto Khan’s pass, and he finished very well by effectively passing it past the keeper and into the bottom corner to the delight of himself and his team mates. John Pemberton used this break to take off the excellent DeGirolamo, and replace him with Irish winger Joel Coustrain. He moved onto the left hand side while Owen Heather went up front for the remainder of the game.
United killed the game off from this point, and this led to a very quiet 10 minutes. The only real effort from the home side was from midfielder Pemberton, who attempted an audacious half volley from 30 yards out which went way over the bar. Coventry did end up scoring a late consolation though, as Kyle Scarisbrick got rolled by the Coventry striker as he received the pass who went onto finish brilliantly. He dinked the ball over Willis as he rushed out and tried to take up as much of the net as possible.
This would be the last of the action, meaning Sheffield United got off to a fantastic start to the season with this 4-2 victory, in what was an entertaining game of football.
Image Gallery (18 photos):
Sheffield United: Willis, Paling, Scarisbrick, J Williams, Ptak, Khan, Whiteman, Pemberton, Heather, DeGirolamo (Coustrain), Smith