Birmingham City 1-1 Sheffield United Player Ratings: Morrison commands

Enda Stevens bags the opener – www.sufc.co.uk

Another strong defensive performance from Birmingham City saw them move a step closer to securing their Championship status by matching prime promotion contenders Sheffield United in a 1-1 draw at St Andrews on Wednesday night. Here’s our Player Ratings from the contest.

Birmingham City

Lee Camp – the former Forest goalkeeper had a good game against Leeds but was not quite able to back that up here, failing to keep out Stevens’ shot, which was the only testing effort he faced in the first three-quarters of the contest. His kicking was not quite as strong as it was on Saturday, too. 4

Maxime Colin – the Frenchman performed well in the first hour but fared even better once Jota came on, as the arrival of his former Brentford right-sided teammate appeared to perk his interest in getting forward on the overlap, which is something he did not do as much beforehand due to Mahoney’s more direct style. Did the defensive work well in another impressive performance. 8
Harlee Dean – the former Brentford defender did the basics very well; he marshalled the defence, helped keep Sharp quiet, won three aerial duels and making as many as six clearances, three times as many as any other Blues player. The one negative would be that his pass completion ratio was as low as 50% and collectively, the team’s poor collective ball retention meant Blues exerted all their energy in the first three-quarters of the contest, thus the opponents were able to come on strong late on. 7
Michael Morrison – the centre-back prodded home the equalizer promptly after Sheffield United had gone in front and was deserving of his goal. He defended his penalty area superbly, helped keep Sharp quiet all game, showed strong leadership qualities as he has consistently over the last five years and was even slightly improved in terms of accuracy of distribution. 8
Kristian Pedersen – the driven Dane showed defensive diligence in the first half and put in one strong tackle, then found opportunities to get forward after the break, producing four crosses. Three clearances, which proved important late on as Blues came under the cosh, in another tenacious display from the left-back. 7

Connor Mahoney – the Bournemouth loanee enjoyed a bright first half, making direct runs down the right flank which caused one or two issues for Stevens and generally stretched the opposing rear-guard. The quality of Mahoney’s deliveries might not have been perfect, but that was to be expected given that he did not always have a lot of players to aim for. Quieter at the start of the second period and that might be partly why Garry Monk replaced him, rather than Maghoma, with Jota, as well as the fact Mahoney is not used to playing on the left. 7
Gary Gardner – a steady performance from the Aston Villa loanee. Apart from making an overlapping run to then hit the woodwork with a cross-shot midway through the first half, Gardner’s game was mainly about showing the positional discipline. He held his ground to allow his partner to press more out of possession, doing frequent tidying up to stop the visitors building attacking momentum. 7
David Davis – some of the criticism Davis received seemed slightly unfair. He might not be quite as quick as the injured Maikel Kieftenbeld, having just returned from a lay-off himself, but he also pressed intelligently without the ball and, when the two full-backs pushed up for a spell in the second half, was crucial to covering all bases and cutting out transitional attacks. The former Wolves man’s passing was slightly off on occasions, but he in fact completed a higher percentage of accurate passes than his partner. This was a steady display for a deputising midfielder. 6
Jacques Maghoma – one fan called Maghoma lazy, which is probably the least-fair criticism that could be levelled at him. The former Sheffield Wednesday man has never claimed to be the greatest technician in the world – and perhaps this season he might have lost a yard of pace – but his willingness to run, press, track back and get on the ball was certainly not in question tonight, nor has it ever been since he arrived at St Andrews in 2015. Until Blues have a fresh injection of cash, it is important to be thankful for Maghoma and other players like him, who are consistently determined to produce the best possible representation of themselves. 6

Che Adams – facing the club at which he kick-started his career, Adams posed a threat. He showed intelligent horizontal movement to latch onto Jota’s through ball midway through the second-period and hit an instinctive, first-time effort that was tipped wide by Henderson. The service to the 22-year-old was not always perfect, yet he made the most of it through his speed and persistent running. 7
Lukasz Jutkiewicz – the former Burnley man showed endeavour as always and won 15 aerial duels, which is impressive considering the quality of the long-distance service to him was not always accurate. However, he could have at times been slightly braver in the opposing penalty area; one on occasion he was not quite able to make contact with a cross from the right and on another, he did make contact but his effort lacked both power and placement. Should have been taken off for the last 10 minutes as fresh pace was required on the counter-attack. 5

Jota (on 60) – the sparkling Spaniard made an instant impact on proceedings, having a key role in shots that led to Henderson’s two-main second half saves very soon after coming on. Jota played a cleverly-weighted reverse pass that set up Adams for an instinctive, first-time strike, then drilled low towards the near-post an effort the goalkeeper needed two attempts to get to. Gave Birmingham a touch of quality in the final third and helped bring Colin into play. 7
Craig Gardner (on 83) – the midfielder is a cult hero at St Andrews, but it has to be said that is based on romance stemming from his previous spell, rather than admiration for performances since returning in 2017. Did little to influence this game in a positive sense. 5

Sheffield United

Dean Henderson – the Manchester United loanee might have done better for the goal, because he pushed an initial effort back into the box rather than dealing with it more convincingly – although the defence might also have reacted better collectively. Plus, Henderson made three impressive stops: one in the first half following a deflection, one from Adams’ instinctive second half effort and then one awkward, low, near-post save to deny Adams. 7

Chris Basham – when Baldock (or Kieron Freeman) is not attacking the flank, Basham tends to be the one doing that on the overlap but that did not quite happen in the first half here. The former Blackpool man got forward more towards the end as the Blades pushed for a winner, but was unable to produce more than one quality delivery. Basham’s main selling point is his drive and willingness to try a bit of everything rather than technical output, so he needs to get into a greater number of attacking situations across 90 minutes than he did on Wednesday to increase the chances of him making a telling contribution. 6
John Egan – a mixed performance. Forced back at times by Adams, without allowing his opponent space in behind; attained a 92% pass accuracy – and his ball retention helped the Blades conserve energy for that strong push towards the end – yet did not show the ability to use his left foot and change the direction of play. 6
Martin Cranie – the ex-Barnsley centre-back showed his ability to carry the ball forward in the 1-0 win at West Brom a month ago, but that was on the right of a back-three, his natural side. Here, Cranie was playing on his unnatural left side and that limited his ball-playing capabilities – although he still bailed out Stevens against Mahoney on one or two occasions and was arguably United’s best defender in terms of the basics. 6

George Baldock – the wing-back was arguably more noticeable last season, when he made powerful, direct runs down the right that opened opposing teams up. This season, it appears that Baldock is more often undertaking a slightly more inverted remit not unlike the one we associate with Enda Stevens. Clearly, that has not affected United generally because of their results, but one cannot help but feel the ex-Oxford man would be more comfortable if given the freedom to attack the flank. 5
Oliver Norwood – the Northern Irishman showed the positional discipline to give the visitors frequent control of the middle third and his wide range of passing from deep was valuable, as was the quality of his set piece deliveries. One first half free-kick nearly picked out Sharp, while a second half corner found the head of McGoldrick. 7
John Fleck – given that Norwood and McGoldrick can be considered to have had good games, it is perhaps puzzling that Sheffield United did not create more than one clear opening until the final quarter of the contest. Questions therefore, could be asked of Fleck. Over the previous two seasons, he has been the one dictating play for Sheffield United but, with Norwood showing a superior passing range, he perhaps needed to adapt his game slightly and make more brave runs into the final third. 4
Enda Stevens – the Irishman played with poise and composure, which enabled him to pick out one or two lovely diagonal balls and of course make that inverted run to score the winner, following a one-two with Duffy. Normally, the fact Stevens pauses in possession to find the right move does not matter in terms of the momentum of play because he has Jack O’Connell overlapping him, but Cranie was not quite as able to do that from the left, which might have been a factor behind the slow tempo. 6

Mark Duffy – a pantomime villain to home fans for unknown reasons, Duffy spent much of the first half stuck on the left channel. Assisted the opener but because the opposing holding midfielders were cordoning off the kind of central attacking areas he can do damage in, the ex-Birmingham man was unable to have his usual influence as some of the fancy tricks and flicks he attempted did not quite come off, much to the Tilton’s amusement. 5

David McGoldrick – although the initial line-ups would list McGoldrick as a striker, there was a huge distinction between the nature of his performance and that of his would-be partner. McGoldrick was one of the Blades’ better players due to his willingness to track back, help his team in the defensive phase, come short to receive the ball and generally try to spark something off in his teammates. Unfortunately, a lot of his teammates did not quite respond to the ex-Ipswich man’s endeavours in the right way. 7
Billy Sharp – there is no question that Sharp has been the best six-yard box poacher in the Football League/EFL so far this century and his 23 league goals, as well as his leadership qualities, have been key for Sheffield United. However, unlike other top false nines in the Championship this season, the quality of Sharp’s performances – perhaps Leeds away aside – hinge on whether he has chances and takes them. The Blade by birth did not offer a great deal outside the penalty area and that can sometimes be problematic for a striker in the modern game. 4

Kieran Dowell (on 60) – the Everton loanee injected some pace and drive from the left which helped lift the Blades’ performance towards the end, although he could have made an even bigger contribution from the start and in a more central role. More of a direct runner than Fleck and those kind of qualities may have been needed to complete the equilibrium with McGoldrick dropping deep. 7
Gary Madine (on 60) – the target man initially came on at a time when the hosts were on top and thus he struggled in isolation, without the pace to lead counter-attacks. As the Blades started to keep hold of the ball though they found more opportunities to deliver crosses and that’s when Madine’s physical presence began to come to the fore. 7