Yesterday I got my first look at Danny Wilson's Blades. Unusually, I haven't seen one minute of pre-season through work commitments and then a family holiday and I was quite looking forward to it.
Despite my reservations about Danny Wilson, I am firmly in the everyone should be given a chance camp. I was reasonably happy with his work in the transfer market over the Summer and a 2-0 away victory at Oldham was a good start to the season. Arriving at the turnstile at about 2:40pm via The Earl I was in good spirits, then it all went temporarily awry as this other post explains.
So when I did eventually get into Bramall Lane, what did I make of the Blades and the opposition provided by the Bees? Here are my post-match reflections.......
I thought the Blades opened up smartly and at a good tempo, with the freshly signed (that morning) Kevin McDonald making an instant impression in midfield. Making himself available and keeping play moving, maintaining possession. Composed on the ball, keeping it simple and providing much needed height in a midfield that seems to have comprised dwarfs for far too many years.
Playing one natural winger in Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, it was disappointing to see so little of the ball played down his side. Even temporary switches to the left wing saw the ball follow Stephen Quinn to the side of the pitch Mendez-Laing had previously been patrolling. As the game developed he started to see more and more of the ball and displayed a willingness to run at the Brentford defence that was always going to get the Blades fans quickly on his side.
In fact, I would say he was having his most productive spell, just as he was substituted and taking both him and Slew off, immediately stripped United of pace and an element of unpredictably that the Bees defence were finding it increasingly difficult to handle. There was much praise of his performance on twitter afterwards, although I feel that the level of praise was perhaps somewhat heightened by the fact he could be name-checked with an @MendezLaing and the fact he has interacted with the fans on there quite a lot in the last week or so.
He certainly has talent and raw pace. Rather like forward Jordan Slew, I think he has much more to offer than we saw on Saturday. Fast running at defenders, with the quick feet to beat them, excited the crowd, but we need to see it more frequently and consistently, both throughout the match and from match to match. There also needs to be an end product more frequently and some of that can be put down to naivety that will hopefully be eradicated with experience.
For instance, Slew ran in from the left wing first half and took on a shot from a narrow angle when teammates were better placed. Having said that, what I really like about Slew is his willingness to turn/roll his defender and shoot and he took the goal well, although there was a deflection.
Of the other young prospects; academy graduate Harry Maguire continues to grow with experience and at times showed more composure than experienced colleague Neil Collins, who looked much more comfortable in a lower division. Matt Lowton looked better going forward than in his defensive duties and I can't help feeling he would be better deployed in midfield, but then who would play right back?
Understandably Wilson is playing experienced players ahead of youth where he can and seems content to rotate the bench each week. Of those yet to start, I would like to see more of David McAllister (who impressed greatly on debut last season) and, given the lack of contribution of Daniel Bogdanovic from the bench, I think Danny Philliskirk could offer something up front.
The final new boy to comment on is Lescinel Jean-Francois, who showed some nice touches but also a lack of concentration that could have left him exposed by better right wingers. He has clearly ingratiated himself to the fans and on one of his forays forward he demonstrated he has one hell of a shot on him. He just needs to lock on to his target!
Getting back to the match, after the bright first 15/20 minutes the Blades seemed to lose a bit of drive and were drawn into a scrappy midfield tussle. We saw this last season, where we don't profit from these spells of dominance, then pay the price. It didn't happen yesterday, but it could have.
Brentford battled hard in midfield, with Jonathan Douglas the main driving force, although an increasingly vocal and frustrated one as the match wore on. Yet they created little, one effort just over the bar, until an opening for Niall McGinn who curled a shot within a whisker of Simonsen's far post. That could have so easily been the punishment for our profligacy. Despite possession, Richard Lee was rarely tested until the final seconds of the half, when a great save led to pinball in the Bees' box.
That aside, Brentford offered little and the substitution of the busy McGinn (always wanting the ball for the Bees) and the surprisingly ineffective Clayton Donaldson, did little to change things in the second half. It felt like the match would either drift towards a draw, or the Blades would have to up the ante around the box and pick up a win. The fact that there was neat and quick inter play leading to both goals, showed what was required and what we will need to break down teams this season.
It was hard to judge Brentford. I think they set up as many will at Bramall Lane this season. Keep it solid, work hard and look for a draw, or steal a winner. Few players stood out and Uwe Rosler said post-match that his players perhaps froze a little. I think they did as well.
The Blades showed in long spells a willingness to keep the ball on the deck and play out from the keeper, although that did provide some hairy moments. I can see a style of play developing and it will be interesting to see how the team settles down, particularly after the transfer window closes. Nick Montgomery and Stephen Quinn were integral to the win yesterday, yet both could be gone in weeks as the wage billis slashed. Certainly replacements will be sought and on current form I would be more concerned about the loss of Quinn.
Montgomery has a ready made replacement in Michael Doyle, you could even argue that McAllister could/should also come in. I think given the youngsters peppering the squad an experienced central/left sided midfielder will be on Wilson's list.
The other factor that might affect how we settle down is the willingness of the manager to chop and change. He certainly set up the side differently away at Oldham and maybe we will see a grafting central midfield partnership away, with creativity applied at home. Who knows?
What I do know is that the signs are promising. There is still plenty that can be improved upon, but that will be the same across the country two games in. Most Blades fans would happily accept two 2-0 victories to start the season. Now can we back the manager, continue to back the team and build on it? Please!