SHEFFIELD UNITED 2 NOTTS COUNTY 1
Flynn '31 Judge '17
Sheehan OG '51
Someone out there says that the definition of madness is repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting different results. Notts' matches against the better sides this season have proven this beyond any reasonable doubt, with 2-1 defeats having now been suffered against four of the top five. The other game there being an anomaly at Milton Keynes, where Julian Kelly was sent off within moments of the game kicking off. As with Charlton and Sheffield Wednesday back in August and the more recent trip to Huddersfield, Notts' festive saunter up the M1 to Bramall Lane followed a depressingly predictable pattern in that we actually played reasonably well, apart from in the extremes of the pitch where the Magpies were once again found hopelessly lacking.
As with most of the games mentioned, it all started vaguely promisingly, with Notts riding the first few minutes of high tempo Sheffield United pressing and settling into a decent rhythm, with Alan Judge blazing a shot over the bar. After Stuart Nelson received some treatment after being absolutely clattered by a United player at a corner, Notts even got themselves in front. Alan Judge clipped over a free kick, which seemed to graze Lee Hughes' head before nestling in the top corner. Replays proved inconclusive and there may well be a bit of squabbling about that one, but the visitors did have a surprise lead. As with the early season game a couple of miles away at Hillsborough though, they failed to really build on it.
Indeed, there was a certain inevitably about United's equaliser, even though little threat had been posed by the hosts in the fifteen minutes or so between the strikes. Following the pattern, it was a host of horrendous individual errors that led to Matthew Flynn's equaliser for the Blades. Firstly the Notts midfield put absolutely no pressure on their counterparts, allowing a simple ball to be played into Richard Cresswell. The real failing though was on the part of Sam Sodje, who allowed the experienced frontman to turn and drill in a low cross without so much as the threat of a challenge. Having decided not to try and win the ball before Cresswell got into the box Sodje had to do all he could to block the cross, but his attempt was half-hearted at best. Krystian Pearce could also have done more to stop Flynn getting across him and sweeping home, but in truth the damage had already been done.
This lifted United, with Matthew Lowton's slaloming run ending with a shot that was comfortably repelled by Nelson. The Blades should've been ahead soon after, with Notts again entirely to blame for their near downfall. From the resultant corner, the ball was clipped into the danger area and a United player was, inexplicably, left with a free header from just inside the six yard box. This was the sort of warning that you'd hope Notts would heed, but more on that failure in the second half. As it was, Notts nearly regained their lead on the strike of half time when the industrious Judge broke free and forced a sprawling save out of Steve Simonsen. The ball squirmed free and, had any of the Notts team bothered to gamble and get themselves anywhere near the opposition penalty area they would've had a tap in. As it was, United were able to clear comfortably.
Another déja vu moment arrived with United taking the lead, as Notts' infuriating inability to start the second half without gifting the opposition a simple chance to score rearing it's head yet again. It was a goal that was steeped in controversy and then coated with numerous defensive errors - not one that either Notts or the officials will look back on with much pride. A hopeful ball down the line looked to have been dealt with by Krystian Pearce, with a United player clearly knocking it out of play. Of course, the officials missed this and Pearce commited one of football's cardinal sins - he assumed the decision had gone his way and turned his back on the play. As he realised his error and remonstrated, the hosts took the throw in quickly, Stephen Quinn crossed and Alan Sheehan could only bundle the ball over his own line. Pearce has rightly taken much of the flack for this, but the sluggish reaction of the rest of the Notts side was equally painful. Looking at the highlights, Neal Bishop, Charlie Allen and Sam Sodje all fail to get back into position and there was three United players queueing up to turn the ball home. A comedy of errors indeed.
Notts once again decided that a bit of marking wasn't necessary from a United corner and Kevin McDonald headed over the bar, before Ishmel Demontagnac replaced the ineffectual Charlie Allen. This gave Notts something approaching an impetus and Simonsen had to be alert to tip Jeff Hughes' deflected drive around the post. On the break, the impressive Ched Evans forced Nelson into a low save and Hughes did well to block a long range McDonald effort, before the moment that summed up Notts infront of goal. Burgess' knock down from a ball in found Hawley six yards out, but his acrobatic volley was comfortably saved by Simonsen. A yard either side and Notts would have been level. Evans struck the post late on and Notts had plenty of pressure, only to be let down time and time again by a particularly hopeless final ball. Demontagnac then rounded things off nicely by getting sent off for a mindless act of off-the-ball stupidity so ridiculous I can't really be bothered to describe it (that and I didn't actually see it happen). As full time came, the post-match dissection sounded a little bit like groundhog day.