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Blades Suffer Opening Day Defeat

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It was a defeat on opening day for the third consecutive season and seven from the last nine to open the season as the Blades also continued their poor-away form on the first day of new campaigns. This is a record which has only seen them once since 1989! Newly relegated Watford was quicker out of the blocks than the Blades and in the end, a winning goal from Pedro after the home side broke from a United corner saw the Hornets achieve a relatively comfortable victory in the end.

The first-day team news saw United once again having to deal with injuries even with a summer off with no places for Basham and Robinson. Anel Ahmedhodzic was suspended with a ban carrying over into the new season that United only found out about on Thursday! It meant Ciaran Clark playing on the right and Stevens/Norrington Davies on the left-hand side of the defence.

Manager Heckingbottom sprang another surprise when he named teenager Daniel Jebbison up front instead of record signing Rhian Brewster.

In terms of other newcomers, Reda Khadira was on the bench, a substitute pool that could be delved into more this season with up to 5 changes. He was joined by youngsters Amissah and Gordon and Sharp, Lowe and Osborn. There was no place in the squad for Ismaila Coulibaly.

Watford 1-0 Sheffield United
Monday, 8th August 2022 – KO: 8:00 PM
SkyBet Championship
Report by deadbat

Watford started with all three of the rumoured outgoings in an exciting trio of Sarr, Pedro and Dennis under new manager Rob Edwards.

The Blades wearing their new home strip, unveiled today, kicked away from their fans in the first half but it was the home side who came out looking the more purposeful. Dennis nearly got in after a Norwood giveaway and then Sarr’s run had to be checked. The first chance came when Dennis nutmegged Clark and was away. The ball was played into Sarr down the outside right channel and his shot went the wrong side of the post as far as the home side was concerned.

Pedro and Kaymenbe linked leading to a corner, but Egan cleared before Ndiaye showed some lively skill to find space to give United some breathing space. Watford came again with Dennis continuing to be too quick and skilful for Clark, but Dennis has his shot blocked. However, Clark’s hesitant debut continued as he was booked for a cynical foul as the home side broke. Dennis then had space but pulled his shot as Watford continued to exploit space in the gaps between United’s midfield and defence.

On 19 minutes Berge had United’s first effort as his low shot deflected into Bachmann’s hands. The home side continued to be the aggressor and Pedro, Sarr and Dennis interchanged and caused problems for the Blades who were getting pulled apart.

Ndiaye was United’s best player and was pulled by Cleverly leading to Fleck and Sierralta pushing each over in the chest to both stupidly pick up yellow cards.

Watford had not created any real clear chances outside of the Sarr effort but looked to be the more likely side and United was not keeping the ball up the top. Despite this they forced arguable the best chance of the game as Jebbison flicked on Foderingham’s kick and Ndiaye used his strength to get in but his shot lacked direction and was saved by Bachmann.

At the other end, the Hornets then had their best opening as Sema got away down the left and sent over an excellent cross that Pedro headed firmly goal wards but Foderingham sprang across to make the save. The game was opening up just before the break and Jebbison who had been quiet, did well to win the first ball and then was able to get onto the ball after Berge and then Baldock broke, and the effort towards goal was tipped over from the Watford keeper.

Ndiaye was clearly being targeted and Cleverley was finally booked for his third foul on the Blades man of the half. The halftime whistle came soon after Egan had headed over from a set play. Watford had shaded things in terms of ball retention, possession and movement but United had as many clear chances with a couple of either side and Bachmann being the busier of the two despite United lacking fluency.

The second half began with Clark headed out as Watford attacked down the right-hand side. The home side continued to press but the fans were frustrated by some refereeing decisions that seemed to go against them. Still, they continued to force the Blades back and swift movement had to be monitored closely by Clark and then Egan. Watford won two corners but failed to make anything of them before United broke to win one of their own. It was ironic that from this opportunity, it was the home side that broke to score.

Norwood tried to roll it to Fleck, and his fellow midfielder came onto it but checked his run somewhat may be distracted by the referee in close attention, but his effort was poor and easily blocked. Watford was off to the races and Dennis broke but his ball should have been cut out by Fleck and/or Norrington Davies but the former inexplicably seemed to dummy it and this let Sarr in. United had men back but no one spotted the one Watford man in the box and as the cross came in PEDRO converted coolly from close range. In truth, Watford had been the better side and deserved to lead but it was a very sloppy goal from a Blades point of view but for the home, the side showed the qualities of the front three as they broke at pace.

The next spell did not really see a Blades response and if anything Watford continued to look the more dangerous side and Sarr and Pedro both got away from United players twice and Norrington Davies was lucky not to be cautioned. The Blades simply could not offer anything really in response and had to make a triple change as Khadra, Brewster and Osborn came on for Jebbison, Clark and Norwood. United switched to a 4-4-2 seemingly and Khadra was lively after his introduction with a few darting runs.

The next spell was stop-start with a stoppage in the crowd due to a Blades fan being taken ill. After the game re-started, the Blades tried to force Watford back but had still not really hurt them. The home side now seemed to be settling for what they had but was relatively comfortable. Sharp came on for Ndiaye and United did have a half chance from a free kick, but Egan got caught between going across goal or for goal and it went harmlessly wide. Watford had a chance on the counter when Manaj hit a powerful shot at Foderingham.

The game entered 6 minutes of additional time but as much as United huffed and puffed, poor balls or decisions saw Watford run down time and in the end the game ended with Watford not troubled.

Watford: Bachmann, Cathcart, Kabasele, Sierralta, Cleverley, Kayembe, Kamara, Sema, Joao Pedro (Gosling 87), Dennis, Sarr (Manaj 81). Unused: Hamer, Ngakia, Ekong, Asprilla, Bayo.

Sheffield United: Foderingham, Baldock, Stevens (Lowe 55), Fleck, Berge, Egan, Norwood (Osborn 68), Clark (Khadra 68), Ndiaye (Sharp 78), Norrington-Davies, Jebbison (Brewster 68). Unused: Amissah, Gordon.

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