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BLIND, STUPID AND DESPERATE
 
97/98: Reports:

Coca-Cola Cup 2nd Round 2nd Leg, 23/9/97
Sheffield United 4(1)
Scorers: Day (18 og), Whitehouse (49, 80), Deane (56)
Watford 0(0)
Team: Day 2, Gibbs 3, Kennedy 2, Page 3, Palmer 2, Mooney 3, Rosenthal 3, Hyde 3, Lee 2, *Johnson 4*, Slater 2
Subs: Easton (for Rosenthal) 0, Chamberlain, Noel-Williams
 
Sing when we're losing
Report by Ian Lay

In a match over two legs when you are playing superior opposition, you have to take advantage of the home leg to get some kind of lead. Last week Watford failed to take their chances and a scoreline which could have read 3-1 or 4-1 ended with us scrambling a last minute equaliser from a superb Kennedy free kick. That is where we lost this tie; not last night. Donít get me wrong, I had a good feeling about the game as I was being driven up to Sheffield by Pete Fincham. I felt we could pull off a result and make it one of those special nights you remember for years to come. It wasnít to be.

Up until half time we were still in the game, frustrating Sheffield United, with Hyde and Johnson working particular hard in the middle of the park. At the back Mooney was getting his head on everything. And Ronny and Jason both had chances to put us ahead.

Their first goal, letís face it, was a farce. The ball was played in from the right wing and Mooney stuck out a leg to send it looping what appeared to be safely into Chris Dayís arms. But as he jumped up to catch it, Brian Deane impeded him and Day lost his balance. He caught the ball, but as he was coming back down it popped out of his grasp and over the line for an own goal. Some will question whether Day was fouled. I myself didnít see a foul and had to rely on observations from other people. But I wonder if Chamberlain would have made the mistake of dropping the ball if he had been fouled in the same way.

After the first 45 we were still in the game. Within four minutes of the restart we were out of it. A thunderous 25 yard strike from Whitehouse seem to take Day by surprise, and it hit the underside of the bar and bounced over the line.

GT had made a tactical change at half-time and pushed Mooney up front, allowing Kennedy to slip in the left back role, and Ronny and Slater thus playing on the wings. It was a gamble, but this time the Taylor magic wasnít there. United added a third though Brian Deane. He swivelled neatly in the box to send a low shot past Day (who, in my opinion, should have got to it). And then with only a few minutes to go, Whitehouse got his second with a well-placed side footed shot from 15 yards after a good build involving several Sheffield players.

Let's be honest here, we were outplayed by a better team. United are definitely going to be pushing for promotion this year, and on the evidence of last night they could go up as champions.

I personally think that we played the wrong tactics. I would have had Slater on the bench, to bring on for the last twenty or thirty minutes if things werenít going well. I would have had Ronny in the free role and Gifton up front with Lee. As it was Gifton was on the bench, Slater had a poor game and Lee seemed to miss his striking partner. But Iím no football manager, so what do I know? And would I be saying the same things if the plan had worked, and weíd won comfortably? Probably not.

Only a few players came out with any credit last night. Mooney was excellent in the first half, but once asked to play the striker's role after half time, he lost the plot a little. Not his fault really, heís got used to being a defender now! Ronny ran and ran and never gave up, though he was guilty of some bad shooting.

But the only man that can truly hold his head up high and say "I had as good a game as I normally do" was Richard Johnson. His tackling was hard, his passes rarely went astray and he chased and hassled Sheffield for the full ninety minutes. Most of our attacks went through him, as were many started by the young Australian. What a difference from twelve months ago when he would have probably gone to pieces.

So out of the fizzy cup, but still top of the league. I know which one I prefer.

A last word on the support last night. You couldnít hear the United fans hardly at all. There was supposedly over 7,500 people in the ground. But it didnít look it. We out sung them most of the night. And even in the dying seconds, when even the most hardened Watford fan would admit that we were going out, we were singing our hearts out. GT said he wanted to hear all the singing even when things arenít going right. I hope last night he realised that he will hear it.