Both sets of fans were cheered by the result from the early game at Pride Park as the match kicked off.
There was little evidence of Baggies recent inconsistent form in the early minutes of the game as they began at a high tempo with some slick one touch football. United started in a 4-5-1 formation with Henderson’s early contributions looking a bit rusty.
The half soon settled into a pattern with Albion dominating possession and getting the ball out wide at every opportunity, where ex owl Blunt was giving Stewart all kinds of problems but usually over playing by having to beat him twice every time. On the other side Jerome Thomas was working Kyle Walker over at a level not experienced so far this season by the young full back. Every move down Walker’s flank looked dangerous with the winger alternating cutting in to try a shot, with dangerous balls across United’s six yard box.
Carson saved well from Cresswell after Henderson’s quick throw, then at the other end, referee Russell awarded Baggies a penalty which baffled both sets of players and surprised and delighted the Albion fans. If the ball did strike Monty’s hand – and only the referee seemed to see the offence – it was most certainly ball to hand, unlike a couple of much clearer hand ball offences by United defenders later in the game. The swaggering DORRANS converted the penalty easily.
Ward’s snap shot after 27 minutes tested Carson, then to the delight of the travelling fans, Bednar missed an open goal from six yards which could have been game over after half an hour.
Harper tried a long range shot which sailed over, then from the break away Albion had two men over, Thomas fed BEDNAR who glanced his short into Bunn’s far left corner. Right on half time Quinn’s short back pass to Bunn left the keeper stranded, but from a tight angle Bednar could only hit the side netting. The half ended with Morgan’s goal-saving tackle on Bednar as the striker was clean through on goal.
Half time was greeted with relief from Blades fans, the game could have been well out of United’s reach when the whistle went.
There must have been a few harsh words at half time because the Blades players attitude in the opening minutes of the half was noticeably more determined. Quinn was hauled down following a Montgomery free kick and referee Russell awarded what appeared to be another soft penalty. HENDERSON hammered the spot kick past Carson but within a minute the game had got away again as THOMAS tore United’s right flank apart again, jinking in to score despite Morgan’s desperate tackle which deflected the ball over Bunn’s arm.
Tempers boiled over with a WBA player writhing on the ground, Quinn & Jara saw yellow as referee Russell was unpopular with both sets of fans and teams with some baffling decisions throughout the game.
Harper and Quinn were struggling to make an impact in mid field. Monty’s usual tireless running was having little effect as he struggled with Albion’s pace and movement. United were succeeding in getting more balls into Albion’s box but the formation change with Cresswell joining Hendo up front never really produced a clear chance. A tired Henderson was replaced by Camara after 70 minutes. Henri’s contribution was frustrating as he often tried to do too much rather than play the easy ball.
With a few minutes left Baggies Olsson was lucky to stay on the pitch after he clearly slapped Camara at the back of the head in full view of the linesman but referee Russell took no action after consulting the official.
Quinn was replaced by Yeates with ten minutes left but with Albion cruising at this stage he had little time to make any kind of impact.
Fortunately United don’t have to play WBA every week. In the kind of form the Baggies were in yesterday few teams can live with their high tempo, slick passing and off the ball movement. Before the Blades cynics start wringing their hands and screaming rubbish, those fans at The Hawthorns will say that the simple fact was that United were out played by a team of Premier League quality. United never let their heads drop and competed well in the second half, but on the day Albion were easily the better side with the quality they have managed to retain after relegation was the clear difference between the two sides.
The left back position continues to be a real concern. If we are to maintain the challenge for the play off positions, Blackwell has to find an answer in this position, especially with Gary Naysmith’s recent set back. Stewart was ripped apart yesterday, he is certainly not the answer, although his partner on the right side, Kyle Walker, had probably his most testing examination since breaking into the team. Kyle will hope ‘arry doesn’t look at the video tape of the game!