Sunday saw two of League One’s heavyweights in Sheffield United and Coventry City face off at Bramall Lane. The television cameras were there to capture all of the action from a controversial contest. It was a tightly fought affair, but the decisions of the officials certainly cost the away side dearly.
With a bumper crowd of 18,074 including 1200 supporters from Coventry watching from the stands, the game certainly provided some entertainment. It’s just a shame that the match was influenced so heavily and that the subsequent talking points will overshadow a decent game of football. The Blades’ fans will definitely feel like more than a hint of luck was on their side.
The game got underway after a fitting minute’s applause to commemorate the lives of ex United keeper and Coventry coach Alan Hodgkinson and club photographer Martyn Harrison. It was the away side who started the more positive of the sides, keeping possession well and stretching the game. On 7 minutes, the first glimpse of menace was provided by The Sky Blues as some neat interchange allowed Rubén Lameiras to drift into an attacking position, his cross was blocked, however.
Sheffield United seemed to settle into the game soon after and they began displaying some patient passing also. They had a chance to take the lead on 11 minutes as a cross was whipped in from the right. Connor Sammon was lurking in the box but Reice Charles-Cook bravely advanced from his line to punch the ball clear and win a foul to relieve the pressure.
After some more duelling in the middle of the park, Coventry created the first real opening of the affair on 18 minutes. Lameiras showed quick feet and brilliant vision to thread a pass through to Adam Armstrong, the striker could only force a save from George Long though after beating the offside trap. From this point on, the away side’s confidence seemed to rise as they controlled proceedings for a while.
On 23 minutes, the biggest talking point of the game came about. Ben Turner played a perfectly weighted diagonal ball out to Lameiras on the right wing, he was then upended via an awful Jay McEveley challenge which warranted a red card. The referee, however, only brandished a yellow to the disgust of the travelling fans situated in upper tier.
Despite being livid with the decision, Coventry’s players remained composed to knock the ball around with ease. The home side were organised though and they denied City any space in behind, whilst playing some tidy football themselves. It wasn’t until the 33rd minute that the next opportunity came about, Turner seeing an initial shot blocked before his rebound sailed over the bar following a Lameiras corner.
The final period of the first half didn’t provide too much action as neither side managed to gain a foothold. McEveley did put in a dangerous low cross for The Blades on 37 minutes but a combination of Turner and John Fleck managed to thwart the danger. Chris Stokes then fired one over for Coventry from 30 yards on 41 minutes before United were denied a shot at goal on the stroke of half-time as Turner pulled back Matt Done. The defender was fortunate that somebody was covering, otherwise it would have been a sending off.
As the second half began it was evident that The Sky Blues had a fire in their belly and they opened up a chance on 48 minutes. Some slick passing involving Stokes, Romain Vincelot and Armstrong led to O’Brien firing wide of the far post, although he was deemed to have fouled his marker prior to taking aim anyway. Fleck then fired wide himself just minutes later after an O’Brien layoff teed him up.
The home supporters were becoming increasingly nervy as Coventry began to look rather threatening, and on 56 minutes they were a touch away from an opener. Lameiras’ excellent passing ability was on show again as he found Jacob Murphy to the left of the area with an eye of the needle ball, he then drilled a low cross but nobody was on hand in the centre to tap home with the goal gaping.
Just 2 minutes later and Lameiras was at the centre of things again. Murphy provided yet another low cross which ricocheted off of a defender and into the air, the Portuguese midfielder then struck a powerful volley on target which Long managed to tip over with a fingertip save.
On the hour mark, Joe Cole was introduced at the expense of O’Brien as Mowbray’s side looked to take advantage of a positive spell. With 63 minutes played, Armstrong showed blistering pace to pressurise and rob the defender. He then showed good control to drive into the box before drilling a ball across the face, nobody was there to capitalise again though.
Another contentious decision was then made by the referee on 68 minutes to deny the away team an opener. Stokes charged forward before finding Murphy out wide, he then shimmied past his marker before playing a cross that deflected off of a defender’s arm towards goal. Long then managed to gather the ball but it was already over the line, the officials were unmoved, however.
Following the dispute and despair, the game settled down again and the two sides began to scrap for possession. Sheffield United then won a corner on 79 minutes as Aaron Martin blocked a cross from the left. The dead ball was then whipped in and Charles-Cook decided to come off of his line in attempt to mop up, he failed to get out quickly enough though and Billy Sharp was given a gift of a header that looped into the back of the net. Euphoria in the home end, frustration in the away.
As for the final 10 minutes, they petered out rather quickly with nothing of note occurring. Coventry did attempt to snatch an equaliser but they never looked like scoring past a rugged defence. To rub salt in the wounds, however, Sam Ricketts was given his marching orders after picking up a second yellow card in the 90th minute. It turned out to be a tough day at the office for Mowbray’s men.
I’m used to being aggrevated and disappointed as a Coventry fan, but today I was left seething leaving Bramall Lane. Don’t get me wrong, Sheffield United are a decent side and it was always going to be a tricky fixture. I would have taken a loss had we been outplayed, but to lose after such refereeing blunders is a different story.
We can’t blame the defeat entirely on the amateurish officiating though, we weren’t incisive enough going forward. However, if McEveley sees red on 23 minutes it’s a different ball game. That extra pocket of space gives the likes of Armstrong, Kent and Murphy room to exploit and I would have backed us to score goals. It is what it is though I guess.
In regards to the football played over the 90 minutes, I thought both sides strung together some neat moves. Possession seemed to be high on the agenda in both camps, but there’s no doubting that we were slightly the better of the teams. The only way United could stop us from causing problems was by kicking lumps out of our players, particularly Lameiras.
This continued throughout the game, with a handful of home players receiving cautions. Maybe that was Adkins’ tactic, to kick us out of the game? Anyway, despite not being aesthetically pleasing it worked. Armstrong was marked out of the game, Murphy didn’t have as much of an influence as he can do and we struggled as a result.
Defensively ourselves, I thought we were exceptional. Sheffield United possess a host of attacking threats and we nullified them expertly for the large part. Of course, the goal we conceded was again schoolboy and the blame has to lie with Charles-Cook. His starting place is now in jeopardy after making fatal errors in consecutive games, it’s a shame for the young lad who has been impressive this season.
It’s doubly annoying that minutes before this happening, we had a perfectly good goal not given up the other end of the field. It just wasn’t our day. Every team has days like this, it’s how we now respond versus Oldham at the Ricoh in a week’s time. The sense of injustice we are feeling currently has to be transferred positively into motivation.
It was a battle of a football match and we stood up to what was asked of us, bar one error. A lot of our players put in a decent enough performance that gives us hope. At home we’ll be more attacking in our play, we should have enough to defeat a struggling Oldham side. Let’s start another unbeaten run.
Reice Charles-Cook – 6
Chris Stokes – 7
Ben Turner – 8
Aaron Martin – 8
Sam Ricketts – 7
John Fleck – 7
Romain Vincelot – 6
Jacob Murphy – 6
Jim O’Brien – 7
Rubén Lameiras – 8
Adam Armstrong – 6
Joe Cole – 6
Ryan Kent – 6
Marc-Antione Fortune – N/A
Coventry City: Charles-Cook, Ricketts, Martin, Turner, Stokes, Vincelot (Fortune 82), Fleck, Lameiras (Kent 70), O’Brien (Cole 60), Murphy, Armstrong.
Unsure Substitues: Burge, Haynes, Kelly-Evans, Tudgay.
Sheffield United: Long, Brayford, Basham, Coutts, Done (Flynn 84), Collins, Woolford (Scougall 55), Sammon (Sharp 65), McEveley (C), Edgar, Hammond.
Unused Substitutes: Howard, Reed, Wallace, McGahey.