Sheffield United 0-0 Sheffield Wednesday Six Things: Owls hold Blades through rear-guard action

 

Dawson denies McGoldrick – bbc.co.uk

Despite Sheffield United’s territorial dominance in Friday night’s Steel City Derby, they were forced to settle for a 0-0 draw with Sheffield Wednesday. Here’s our Six Things from the game.

Duffy dilemma diversified

Last season, Sheffield United played a 3-4-1-2 with Mark Duffy in the 10 role and Billy Sharp plus Leon Clarke pressing the defence back. When the latter has been replaced, this season, by summer signing David McGoldrick, the system has been something more akin to 3-4-2-1. Jos Luhukay planned to contain Duffy by assigning Joey Pelupessy a man-marking job but, with Pelupessy occupied, there was extra space for McGoldrick to utilize. By fielding effectively two number 10s at the same time, it was very difficult for the visitors to keep tabs on both of them without compromising their ambition. Once again, United’s flexibility looks their greatest trait.

Dawson the hero

After Duffy was tripped by Morgan Fox in the box on the quarter-hour mark, things looked ominous for Wednesday, but they were saved by Cameron Dawson, who dived quickly to his left to stop McGoldrick’s spot kick. Dawson also made a fine save from Fleck’s long-range piledriver; the Blades continued to threaten from a series of pin-point corners from Oliver Norwood, who ran the midfield with excellent passing ability. It wasn’t quite such an impressive night though for Billy Sharp, who got to Chris Basham’s right-wing cross midway through the first period but couldn’t convert at the near-post.

Wednesday stabilize

From, perhaps, the 35 minute mark onwards, the theme faded from United dominance into arguably a decent defensive performance from Wednesday. The Owls were equally ineffective going forward in the second half as they had been in the first, but looked more diligent in terms of the way they protected the defence. Tom Lees, for example, has looked suspect when asked to play out from the back in wide open spaces, but he showed here that safety-first defending is more his forte; loanee Michael Hector and youngster Jordan Thorniley were equally impressive in that second period.

Late chances

With the game delicately-poised, it appeared there would be one big chance in the closing stages. Energetic substitute Marco Matias catalysed a brief spell of pressure which hinted that it might fall to Wednesday, but instead United returned to prominence in injury-time. Their two big moments came, unsurprisingly, from Norwood set pieces: the Northern Irishman’s left-wing corner was glanced just wide at the back-post by the frustrated Sharp, before his free-kick was saved by the influential Dawson.

Can United go up a gear?

Sheffield United’s system under Chris Wilder has always been to find overloads and exchange short passes in tight areas. Once they switched play though, or when Wednesday’s defensive structure was not in prime position, they were perhaps found wanting in that second period. The Blades could have done with an injection of pace and intent to make the most of the extra gaps, rather than wait for others to offer the overload. It would be wrong to be too critical given that they exerted control here, but one or two small tweaks to quicken up their play at times within games could make a massive difference to their promotion chances.

Owls need more than commitment

Before this game, most Sheffield Wednesday fans wanted three things – energy, effort and commitment – and all three were on display. And yet, the match resembled not just a success story for the Owls, but also an indication of how far behind their neighbours they have fallen. It has shown that they do not have a clear playing identity. Next time they meet Sheffield United, at Hillsborough on 2nd March, regardless of who the manager is, they will need to have settled on a way of playing that enables them to take the game to their neighbours: fuelled endeavour will not be enough.