The Academy side succumbed to their first defeat of the season on Saturday, despite having much of the play and the better chances against a Crewe side containing Callum Saunders, son of former Blades striker Dean, who was in attendance at Shirecliffe.
There were a few changes for the home side after several players were involved in the excellent win at Hillsborough the previous afternoon. Welsh keeper Gareth Owen was given his first start of the season and in front of him were Jason Paling, Kyle Scarisbrick, Joe Cheeseman and Elliot Ptak. The two deep-lying midfielders would be the same as the previous two league games, Ben Whiteman and Louis Reed but there would be changes slightly further forward as Thai winger Kler Heh made his first start on the right wing, trialist Connor started through the middle and Joel Coustrain in his usual place on the left wing. Big Dan Cockerline lead the line once again in the 4-2-3-1 formation.
United got the game underway slightly later than planned and they started excellently, creating several chances in the first four minutes. Barnsley lad Paling was a threat straight away from right back and he caused problems early on as he used his pace to get in behind the Crewe defence after some neat passing, his cut-back for Coustrain was perfect but the winger couldn’t get his shot away and the defence managed to clear.
It wouldn’t be clear for long, though, as Heh forced a corner on the right hand side. Reed delivered to the back post where Scarisbrick headed across goal and as a group of players went up, it was a United head that met it. The ball looked to be on it’s way in as it looped over the stranded keeper but it hit the top of the crossbar and went behind for a goal kick.
Paling’s spectacular half volley from the corner of the box looked destined for the top corner of the net forcing Alex keeper Robbie Jonson to save well. The Blades couldn’t break the deadlock despite this early pressure, and typically, the visitors took the lead after five minutes with their first venture into the Blades half.
In their usual style, there was some nice passing in midfield before reaching the big number 10 who muscled his way past Cheeseman and fired a powerful left footed shot into the roof of the net; the on-rushing Owen having no chance.
That goal unsettled United after a bright start and they were lucky not to to be two down in the seventh minute. A free kick was whipped in to the back post from the left hand side and the Alex number 5, completely unmarked, missed his header and the ball went safely for a goal kick.
The number 10 was Crewe’s biggest threat in the first half and he was soon to be testing Owen again. He worked an opening on the edge of the box and forced a decent low save from the Welsh keeper, who gathered at the second attempt after Cheeseman’s fresh air kick trying to clear.
After a frantic start, the game calmed down somewhat and both sides enjoyed spells of possession without creating a real chance. The nearest either side came was a free kick around 25 yards out for the visitors, which sailed high over the crossbar. They almost had a chance in the 28th minute as Saunders was played through, but Joe Cheeseman recovered the situation, timing his slide tackle to perfection in the penalty box to clear any danger.
United found their rhythm in the closing stages of the half and were pressing for the equaliser. Elliot Ptak needs no invitation to get forward from left back and he did exactly that, he was unlucky to see a right footed effort from 15 yards go wide of the post after turning his man inside out.
Trialist Connor began to find some space in the hole for the first time in the game and he looked a real threat – winning a couple of free kicks within shooting distance. The second foul caused a bit of aggravation as the Alex left back left his foot in and appeared to kick at the number 10 in red and white, meaning several Blades players ran over to protect their team-mate. The first of the free kicks was hit by Whiteman, who saw his effort go wide. Louis Reed would take the next one and he chose a different route as his delivery to the back post looked to be perfect for Scarisbrick. However, the Liverpudlian couldn’t get on the end of it and the ball went behind to safety.
There were several more opportunities for the home side to draw level before half time, but the Alex defence weren’t letting anything get past them easily as they blocked plenty of shots. Reed had one of them, after a mistake at the back meant Coustrain won the ball before laying off to him; he struck it well but it couldn’t find it’s way through. Kler Heh was the next to have a go and he showed excellent quick feet to get past two players on the edge of the box before a last ditch slide tackle blocked the winger’s effort.
Dan Cockerline also had two attempts right on half time from the edge of the box. He thought he’d managed to create some space and opted for power with his right foot, that shot was blocked but managed to find it’s way back to him before the opposite approach was saved as he tried a curler with his left foot.
The second half started with the wind really picking up and United should have been level in the opening stages. Reed delivered after a free kick was won on the right hand side and Scarisbrick managed to get free from his marker but headed it wide from eight yards out when it looked easier to score.
Sadly, that mistake was punished two minutes later. Crewe managed to work their way into the area on the left hand side and as Saunders was going away from goal he felt a touch on his back and took that opportunity to go down looking for a penalty. The referee obliged and pointed to the spot. The Alex number 4 slotted home with ease, sending Owen the wrong way as he rolled it into the left hand corner of the net to give the visitors a two goal lead in the 53rd minute.
Travis Binnion reacted by changing the trio of attacking midfielders. Heh, Connor and Coustrain were replaced by Jake Wright, Dom Calvert-Lewin and Joey Taylor. The latter being the younger brother of recent first team signing, Lyle Taylor from Falkirk.
Wright looked the brightest of the substitutes and he caused problems for the Crewe defence as soon as he came on. He ran with the ball, beating a couple players and thought he’d managed to get in behind but a great tackle came in before the ball found it’s way to Whiteman, whose effort was far too high, much to his frustration.
Wright was almost played through less than a minute later as Ptak played a nice ball, but Johnson came out well to gather at his feet before he could get a shot away. Ptak was involved again shortly after, but it was at the other end as Crewe countered. His last ditch tackle didn’t get the ball but it was enough to force the attacker to slice his shot wide of the post.
The Blades tried to press in the last 25 minutes, but they just couldn’t find their way through as Crewe shut the game down excellently. Jake Wright was involved once again as he found himself on the right this time, beating his man and sending over a cross which was met by Cockerline. Sadly, the centre forward couldn’t get any power on the header and it was easily gathered by the Alex keeper.
Cockerline had an effort from distance saved a few minutes later and Reed tried his luck too only to see his shot blocked and diverted into the path of Wright. He did well to swivel and hit it on the turn but was slightly out of sync and dragged the shot wide with his right foot.
That would be it for genuine chances, other than Reed and Cockerline again pulling the trigger from distance. Reed’s low drive from 30 yards was well hit, but was a yard wide of the Roberts’ left hand post. Cockerline didn’t quite connect with his and that led to a comfortable save again.
As Roberts kicked, the referee blew the whistle for full time and secured the Blades’ first defeat of the academy season. It was a disappointing result for the young lads, but they had plenty of chances and on another day they’ll take at least some of them. Hopefully, that day is on the 14th September as they travel to Coventry after the international break.
Sheffield United U18: Owen, Paling, Scarisbrick (c), Cheeseman, Ptak, Whiteman, Reed, Heh (Calvert-Lewin), Connor (Wright), Coustrain (Taylor), Cockerline.