02/08/2013 – Sheffield United 2 – 1 Notts County
David Weir had an enjoyable first league game in charge of Sheffield United, seeing his side pick up maximum points in the opener to the Football League’s 125th Anniversary season on Friday evening.
New boys McGinn and Brandy were handed a starting berth, whilst McGinty, Coady and Taylor had to be content with a place on the bench as the Bramall Lane and Sky Sports audience witnessed Weir’s favoured pre-season system in action.
Kicking off towards Shoreham Street, United got the game underway and had a decent opportunity within minutes of the start, Jamie Murphy having his free kick saved routinely by Bartosz Białkowski in the visitors goal. The Blades looked the better of the sides in the opening minutes and after Murphy’s curling shot went wide, Kevin McDonald looked to put Febian Brandy through with a pass through the middle. Białkowski was out well and managed to beat the pacey United man and safely collect the ball.
Despite the positive start from the Blades, County looked dangerous with their first corner of the game; Haynes knocked the in-swinging ball goalwards at the front post and only a reactionary save by the body of George Long denied the visitors the opening goal of the season. The save was to prove a decisive one as the Blades quickly broke with the ball and as Porter brought down for McDonald, Gary Liddle enthusiastically jumped in with his boot high and planted into McDonald’s ribs. Keith Stroud was in no doubt and gave the County man his marching orders. From our vantage point on John Street, it originally looked a harsh decision, but having since watched the replays Liddle could have no complaints in what was an attempt to get the ball, but a reckless one.
After receiving treatment, McDonald tried his luck from distance but his scuffed shot did little to trouble the side looking to settle down and keep a tight game with ten-men. The visitors were fortunate to survive another decision by the referee as Leacock looked to take Porter to the floor near the penalty spot as he attacked Westlake’s cross.
With the new-look midfield heavily involved, the tidy McGinn saw his shot from 20 yards go over the bar before Brandy missed the target with a half volley laid on by a chest down from Porter.
The United faithful didn’t have long to wait to see the early dominance pay off as a lovely move saw Brandy pick out the advancing Westlake, the right back put a low cross back towards Kevin McDonald who was making a late run into the penalty area. The Scot made no mistake and swept the ball past the helpless Białkowski with a controlled side foot into the bottom right corner.
Despite the set back of going behind, Notts County responded with their best chance of the half as Joss Labadie was allowed far too much space in the United penalty area, thankfully the midfielder wasted his opportunity.
Brandy and Doyle both had efforts off target before the break and the Blades went in at the interval happy with their first 45 minutes of the campaign.
Continuing as they’d left off, United continued to pressure the visitors after the break with the keeper doing well to keep hold of Doyle’s shot from the edge of the area and an effort by McDonald placed wide of the target from a similar distance. There was another shout for a penalty as this time Arquin looked to have bear hugged Brandy as he tried to skip into the area, referee Stroud thought otherwise and booked Brandy for either simulation or his protestations as the free kick was given to Notts County.
Starting to really frustrate the visitors, Brandy again beat Fotheringham and squared the ball to Chris Porter who saw his shot from 6 yards just clear the crossbar into the Bramall Lane End. Porter had another opportunity to open his account shortly after as Collins put a Murphy corner back across the 6 yard box, but the striker was unable to find the net.
Kiwomya, watching his side narrowly keeping the margin to only one goal, made a couple of substitutions in the hopes of changing things around. One of these changes had an instant impact on the game, Białkowski hit a long diagonal ball towards the newly added Showumni which the big striker won by holding off Maguire, pulling the young defender’s shirt to his chin and grappling him with two hands in the process. Aggrieved at the lack of reaction from the referee to this challenge, Maguire failed to play to the whistle and stopped to remonstrate just long enough to allow Showumni enough space to get his shot away which found the bottom corner.
It was a big test for the Blades, but one they rose to by calmly keeping to their game plan and continuing in the same vein rather than panicking. McFadzean was brought on for Murphy and McGinn had another effort from 20 yards which just cleared the bar. The same man sent in a lovely ball from a free-kick and after good movement from Collins, Harry Maguire found himself completely unmarked at the back post, sending a controlled header back across goal and past the keeper as Porter kept the attentions of the closest defender.
It was no more than the Blades deserved and Weir took the opportunity to give another of his signings some game time, bringing Lyle Taylor on for Chris Porter immediately after the goal.
After an impressive 80 minutes, Michael Doyle was next to leave the field replaced by Conor Coady in the middle of the park.
Eager to get involved, Taylor smashed a free kick goalwards which Białkowski did well to get down to and parry away, before Fotheringham volleyed wide of Long’s goal as County looked to take a rare half-chance to draw level.
The Blades were starting to show a bit of a swagger and after a good ball from Coady to Westlake, the right back picked out Brandy who beat his man but saw his shot blocked by the County keeper at the front post. After another good move down the right, Coady was handed a similar opportunity by Westlake, but the loanee couldn’t quite find the far corner as he struck an effort with the outside of his boot.
Always comfortable and patient on the ball, United continued to frustrate the 10-men of County by stroking the ball around and the annoyance was evident as Leacock scythed down McDonald from behind.
The Blades wasted another good chance in added time as Westlake smashed a shot back across goal which was very narrowly evaded by the outstretched boot of Lyle Taylor at the back post.
Sheffield United – Long, Westlake, Maguire, Collins, Williams, Murphy (McFadzean – 66), McGinn, Doyle (Coady – 79), Brandy, McDonald, Porter (Taylor – 68)
Unused Subs – Howard, Hill, Flynn, McGinty
Notts County – Białkowski, Dumbuya, Sheehan, Liddle, Leacock, Labadie (Tempest – 58), Fotheringham, Boucaud, Haynes (Zoko – 66), Arquin (Showumni – 56), Campbell-Ryce
Unused Subs – Speiss, Smith, Thompson, Phillip
Attendance – 17,944
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