|Sheffield United 1 v 0 Queens Park Rangers|
Barclays Premier League
Saturday, 12th January 2019 Kick-off 15:00
Blades pip QPR in snooze-a-thon – Report
Sunday, 13th Jan 2019 13:08 by Clive Whittingham
Sheffield United continued their promotion push, inflicting QPR’s first defeat in six matches in a dire game at Bramall Lane on Saturday.
Well I suspect this may be uncharacteristically brief. One of those where people walk past at the end and say, “good luck getting a report out of that”.
We’d gone hoping for a bit of Championship classic. The two form teams in the league, one that likes to go all out attack at home and the other that’s been fairly lethal of late on the counter, refereed by a known lunatic in a febrile atmosphere. What we got was a complete non-event, a damp squib settled by the only moment of quality in the entire game, played out in almost complete silence. I've been in louder morgues. It was oddly underwhelming and stupefyingly boring. If they offered my a re-run of it in my back garden I'd close the curtains.
Whether it was a tired hangover from too many games in a short space of time over Christmas, or just one of those inevitable things that’s bound to happen every now and again across a 46 game nine month league season, it was a tough watch in which Queens Park Rangers posed next to no goal threat at all. Sheff Utd did, once, and that was enough. Eight minutes before half time the tactic of trying to overload Jake Bidwell with three attackers – something that we saw Leeds, Hull and others try with some success against us before Christmas – paid off when Oliver Norwood swung over a fantastic cross and David McGoldrick ran across the near post and made it his ahead of Toni Leistner with a superb, powerful, bullet header into the top corner.
But that really was it. Billy Sharp had been played in behind the QPR defence after four minutes and tried to tee up McGoldrick but he’d scuffed a shot wide. Jordan Cousins could count himself unfortunate to be booked by Andy Woolmer on 25 minutes for a run-of-the-mill foul, particularly because three nasty cracks at Nahki Wells that left the striker down on the ground requiring treatment on three separate occasions went unpunished. Pretty clear to see the tactics from Chris Wilder’s team to nullify Rangers’ biggest attacking threat – boot him out of the game – but in truth Rangers had already played Wells out of the game themselves, isolating him and starving him of decent service. Luke Freeman had a great free kick delivery cleared from deep inside the box and Norwood’s deflected shot after 25 minutes rolled straight to Joe Lumley. Until McGoldrick scored it had screamed nil nil.
A wild shot over from Cousins was QPR’s immediate response but the key question at half time was how the R’s were going to start posing a serious, concerted threat on Dean Henderson’s goal. The excellent Man Utd loanee had barely touched the ball in the first half, bar one ridiculously ambitious 35-yarder from Ebere Eze which barely made it as far as the goal line.
Initially the signs were good, with Rangers attacking in bigger numbers and Jake Bidwell scooting in round the back to the byline and cutting a dangerous cross back in the opening moments of the half. But Wells was soon injured again and in truth United, led by Chris Basham at the back, never really looked troubled all afternoon. Luke Freeman was trying his best, perhaps a bit too hard, and you couldn’t fault Eze’s effort either, though plenty in the away end still want to do exactly that. But the thrusting runs from deep we saw from Cousins in the FA Cup a week ago were absent here and after a superb December saw him named the club’s Player of the Month on Friday, Pawel Wszolek was back to the sort of anonymous, ineffective form we see too often from him away from home. After being so brilliant at Aston Villa on New Year’s Day, he was probably the biggest disappointment here and was soon withdrawn for Bright Osayi-Samuel.
Steve McClaren’s substitutions have been the one persistent criticism you could level at him this season and they were found wanting here again for me. I’m not going to tee off on Matt Smith particularly, he is what he is and that was very effective for us last season in Ian Holloway’s style of play. The effort is there, but he simply doesn’t suit the way McClaren’s teams play. This was the twenty second time this season he’s been brought off the bench in all competitions and, honestly, I’m struggling to remember a positive contribution in any of those cameos. With Aramide Oteh stuck as an unused sub a week on from his impressive showing against Leeds this reminded me of the Birmingham away game back in September when Osayi-Samuel had been brilliant against Bristol Rovers during the week and yet wasn’t even trusted to offer ten minutes at the end of a game Rangers never looked like scoring in. Rangers were the same non-threat with Smith as they had been without and I’d have loved to have seen that big, physical Sheff Utd defence given some raw pace to worry about in the final 20 minutes instead.
There was little suggestion a second goal may follow from the hosts. Mark Duffy’s shot wide on a counter attack was so hopelessly off target that he was immediately substituted and replaced by Kieran Dowell – the Everton loanee that had run QPR through the mincing machine while at Nottingham Forest last season. But it never really looked like they’d need to. Luke Freeman seizing possession the right side of the Blades midfield, with only two defenders and a keeper in front of him, resulted in a snatched shot from range that dribbled through to Henderson. A shot on target, of meagre sorts.
United were able to pen Rangers in down at the Kop End for the majority of the last ten minutes with a string of corners. Again, they rarely looked like resulting in a goal, but then they didn’t need to, QPR couldn’t clear their lines and that was enough to see the game through. When Freeman did break out a second time, Dowell deliberately committed a professional foul on him and took the yellow card on the chin.
It did, for one glorious moment four minutes from time, look like Freeman might have pulled it out of the bag. A swerving shot from the edge of the box had Henderson locked in position and hoping for the best, but it flew wide of the far post. I suspect it was only our angle low down in the away end and on the other side of the goal that made us think the moment might have arrived. A little heart flutter as it travelled through the air welcome if only to confirm I still had a pulse at all after 86 minutes of this shite.
Had that gone in we could once again have talked about a great result on the road, the character of the team, the quality and importance of Freeman, the tougher skin to Steve McClaren’s QPR and so on. But we wouldn’t really have deserved it. McClaren’s frantic, frequently angry, touchline presence was that of a man who knew his team had been miles off its best all afternoon.
A stingey three minutes of stoppage time confirmed once more that Championship referees have just completely given up with the idea of policing time wasting and clock running this season but, in truth, if QPR were still at Bramall Lane now I’m not sure they’d have scored. United had done a number on Wells, not allowed themselves to be caught short on the counter attack, and QPR had really lacked a plan C and D beyond that. With the annual Preston Knob End, Ben Pearson shithouse show in town next week we really could do with spending this week working out what we do when our main threats are countered successfully, and how we can change games in our favour from the bench rather than letting them drift away into the distance like this one.
It’ll be a great quiz question in a couple of years time this game, because frankly if you can still remember it beyond about Monday lunchtime this week you’re a better man than me. The biggest positive about it is it’s over.
Sheff Utd: Henderson 6; Basham 7, Egan 6, O’Connell 6; Baldock 6, Norwood 6, Fleck 6, Duffy 6 (Dowell 68, 6), Stevens 6; McGoldrick 7 (Stearman 90+1, -), Sharp 6 (Clarke 84, -)
Match Gallery: 24 photos
Subs not used: Madine, Coutts, Johnson, Moore
Goals: McGoldrick 37 (assisted Norwood)
Bookings: Fleck 56 (foul), Dowell 78 (foul)
QPR: Lumley 6; Furlong 6, Leistner 6, Lynch 6, Bidwell 6; Scowen 6 (Chair 84, -), Cousins 6 (Smith 73, 5); Wszolek 5 (Osayi-Samuel 62, 6), Eze 6, Freeman 6; Wells 5
Subs not used: Ingram, Hall, Manning, Oteh
Bookings: Cousins 24 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Luke Freeman 6 Almost impossible to award because both sets of players were entirely anonymous but as the only one who did get the occasional shot away on goal for QPR, and for determinedly ploughing on right to the grim death of the game, it’s probably Freeman for me.
Referee – Andy Woolmer (Northants) 6 Can’t keep time, allowed the hacking of Wells to go on unchecked, harshly booked Cousins but compared to the circus his games usually turn into this was a relatively calm afternoon. In actual fact, the game was so dull I found myself longing for one of his breakdowns in the second half just to liven things up a bit.
Attendance 25,501 (903 QPR) An oddly subdued atmosphere given the size of the crowd, the season Sheff Utd are having, the scoreline and what it’s usually like at Bramall Lane. Bar one blast of a song about chips straight after half time, which was started by the public address system, the whole place was almost completely silent throughout.
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