Swindon 0 Sheffield United 0: A slow death, but a precious point
A youthful, injury-ravaged Town side biffed and bashed their way to a valuable point at home to Sheffield United, but that doesn’t mean it was ever easy on the eye, writes Ben Beaumont.
I’m beginning to think The Washbag should stop asking me to write match reports. Last month it was that unholy drab-a-thon against Colchester, and now this slow death against the 11 big lumps of Sheffield United. But, given that we were down to our last four defenders, and our last four midfielders, and that we were up against an unbeaten side, and that pretty much every Town fan before the game thought we’d be lucky to get anything from it, this was a precious, battling point.
It wasn’t actually as bad as all that, either, especially in the first half. The giant shorts of Darren Ward marshalled an unexpectedly solid back line, and cajoled a performance out of Joe Devera at centre back that perhaps settled the debate (if indeed there ever was one) that he’s never really been a right back. Nathan Thompson was all zippy legs and over-exuberant lunging on the right, and Jay McEveley was at his pump-fisted, bloody-faced, shouty-mouthed psycho best on the left.
Lil’ Louis Thompson, his tiny little barrel chest puffed skywards, scurried hither and thither on debut, nipping away at the ankles of the comically huge Kevin McDonald in central midfield. He and his captain Simon Ferry are surely the tiniest and busiest wee central midfield pairing since my school under 11s took on the Dads – and won. Indeed, it was only Ferry’s boofy, foot-high hair which gave us any hope of matching the truly colossal opposition midfielders in stature.
Our brave young boys started brightly, keen no doubt to banish any lingering whiff of Saturday’s horror-show. Matt Ritchie sozzled an early smasher onto the crossbar, and hopes were raised of an onslaught. In truth, it didn’t really materialise – but Town were still the dominant attacking force of the opening 45.
At one point, Collins bonced a close one just wide, after good work from Nathan Thompson and Ritchie on the right. Ritchie had his customary brace of speculative long-rangers, before the bustling Ferry quiff-flicked a presentable offing straight at the keeper. (“If he’d had a better haircut, he’d have scored,” reckoned one wag behind me.) Soon afterwards, a goal-bound Ferry curler was well saved by their young keeper George Long, and Town looked set to kick on, kick off, and kick the ball in the bloody net.
Of course, it didn’t happen – and we spent most of the second half wondering why. There was one brief moment when the otherwise iffy Roberts, his 1940s side-parting flapping in the November breeze, snuck a deflected poke on to the post – but that was as close as it got.
United were certainly big and beefy, and as the game grew old (so very, very old) it was clear why they’ve gone so long unbeaten – but also why they don’t score all that many goals, too. Their gargantuan centre backs snuffed out any further threat with depressing efficiency, and then stealthily, fiendishly sucked Town into a torturous game of aimless whacking and hacking.
Balls hurtled towards Collins and Williams from somewhere outer space, and they could do little to prevent the opposition from biffing them from whence they came. Bewildered, lost, forlorn – our poor strikers pleaded for the ball on the ground. United offered little in response, seemingly content to sit back and watch us make a right hash of things.
And soon, indeed, the game had fizzled out completely. The crowd moaned at the ref. The players walloped the ball in the air. Storey came on, but failed to save us. Ritchie faded, gently, as did Town. And all of this played out against the low wail of 8,500 people sobbing quietly: “Won’t somebody please play the ball on the floor?”
And just when thoughts had turned to guessing how long it would be until Town are back in a transfer embargo (after Di Canio blows the new budget on half a dozen right backs), the opposition almost landed a sucker punch – a goalmouth scramble thwarted by the heroic tumbling bodies of McEveley, Ward and Thompson. It gave a glimpse of why United have been so effective this season, and made us all a bit more grateful for the point.
Team: Foderingham, N Thompson, Devera, Ward, McEveley, Ritchie, L Thompson [Archibald-Henville], Ferry (C), Roberts [de Vita], Collins [Storey], Williams
Away fans: Noisy enough.
Ref: Lost his grip a couple of times, along with an unnecessary telling off of Di Canio.
Di Canio: Gave Louis Thompson a big smacker on the forehead for his battling display.