Sheffield United 2-0 Swindon Town: More Steel City Disappointment for Town
Swindon Town are no longer top of League One following a two goal defeat at Bramall Lane. Joe Young travelled to Sheffield where referee David Coote became the centre of attention…
As I walked out of Bramall Lane on Saturday I overheard a young Blade fan talking to his dad. He was saying, “But they were better than us Dad weren’t they? They had better chances, and they had the ball in our half most of the time”. I’m not sure his father was particularly happy with this conversation, “In the first half maybe”, he replied rather tersely. I’ve got to say I was with the little lad.
Located high up in the Jessica Ennis Upper Stand I finally got a fantastic view at an away game. And for the first time in six visits to Bramall lane, realised the pitch is on a slope away towards one corner. Up there with me, was another decent away following. Vocal (and well behaved) there was a good atmosphere throughout the game.
With Nigel Clough’s links to his father’s Nottingham Forest side and Mark Copper’s rather less well publicised link to Leeds via father Terry, it was an interesting inversion of styles. United, like Leeds in the past, were strong, physical and sought to intimidate Town from the start. Clough, assisted by members of his staff, was quick to get off his feet and harangue referee David Coote if any decision went against the Blades. It was all far more Revie than Clough.
On the other hand, Swindon continued our free flowing passing game, with United content to let Wesley Foderingham have the ball at the back and bring it out towards halfway. United sat deep but were quick to press the ball once it had come forward. It was this pressing game that lead to a series of fouls from the home side as they struggled to keep up with the speed with which Town moved the ball. Clough and his bench were getting more and more irate, with little justification. It was like watching a taller, slimmer Steve Evans – albeit one in a coat that fitted.
Swindon kept the ball well and regularly troubled United at the back. However, the cutting edge that saw us top the table was missing. John Swift failed to connect properly with the ball with the goal gaping and later crashed an effort against the bar. Wonderful player that I think Swift is, it was the first time in the three games I’ve seen during the Asian Cup where Massimo Luongo was really missed. Our play was great up to the penalty area, and the kind of composure demonstrated by our young Asian superstar in Sydney earlier in the day would have been greatly appreciated.
Michael Higdon, having already committed five fouls leading to a belated booking, gave away another bad foul. Cue more glorious indignation from Clough and his harem. I really dislike criticising officials, but I think Higdon was incredibly luck to stay on the pitch. Barely a minute later Higdon was at it again, late in on Nathan Thompson who had turned him well, conceding his seventh foul of the half. Incredibly he still stayed on the pitch. Well I say he stayed on the pitch, but only until Clough substituted him whilst Thompson received treatment. Copper has labelled this a “clever” move by Clough. I disagree. If he was clever he’d have done it after the sixth foul. By the seventh he had no choice.
I was watching Clough closely after the sixth foul, he appeared to do his normal histrionics showing disbelief about a straight forward decision, but as soon as Higdon don’t receive a card he immediately calmed down and started a conversation with a member of his team. I am convinced this aggravated nonsense was all an act. An act I honestly thought Clough was better than.
I also think the Town players were far too quick to swarm around the referee trying to bring about the second yellow Higdon so richly deserved. I don’t like to see this and wish it would stop. For all United’s physical pressing, Swindon had collected three yellow cards to United’s two at half time. All of Swindon’s booking were deserved and for stupid things that left the referee little choice. I say this, although my friend was adamant Jordan Turnball took one for the team, illegally blocking a quick free kick that would have set a United player free. That may be true, but it’s not something I particularly like to see either…
Che Adams, of League Cup fame, smashed a curling effort wide in the Blades first real threatening moment, before United exerted some real pressure in the last few minutes of the half. One free-kick was scrambled away, before another crashed against Foderingham’s right hand post. The ball was scrambled clear and the half time score remained 0-0. In truth, given the late scare, Swindon were a little lucky to be going in at 0-0. Yet over the course of the half, Swindon deserved to be well in front.
Swindon continued to play their passing football after the half time break, but again lacked a real creative edge to their play. Slowly United started to really come in to it and a period of sustained pressure was built. I started to get a feeling of foreboding as Foderingham saved well from Jamie Murphy.
Moments later, United broke again and Murphy duly put United in front. It was lost on me at the time that Murphy was lucky to be on the pitch – being the player who had come on to replace Higdon.
As Swindon put pressure on United, another swift counter-attack saw Nathan Thompson bring down one of the Blades. In truth it was a cynical foul, and one for which he too was lucky to stay on the pitch. He was a long way from Foderingham’s goal, but he could easily have been considered the last man.
Andy Williams then had a reasonable penalty shout turned down. It looked a good shout at the time, the one thing it didn’t look like was a Sheffield United free kick – but Mr Coote had other ideas. With time running out Louis Thompson crashed an effort just wide, before in the last minute Turnball was brought down in the penalty area. From my vantage point is was a clear penalty. Sadly this wasn’t given, and United went down the other end with Murphy on hand to make it 2-0.
This was by far the best I’ve ever seen Swindon play in Sheffield, yet they still couldn’t get three points. The main difference this time was that for long stages we looked like we not only could, but actually should achieve it. For that, Mark Cooper, I salute you.