It took a goal late into stoppage time from Ched Evans to spare Sheffield United`s blushes against an impressive Rotherham United team at The Don Valley Arena tonight. In a game that left more questions than answers from a Blades point of view, Chris Porter was on hand to grab an early lead for United goal only for Rotherham`s Alex Revell to turn in a Lewis Graban cross for a deserved Rotherham equaliser. Then with the game seemingly heading towards extra-time, a Ched Evans strike from just outside the box snatched victory for United and put them through into the last eight of the northern section of the competition.
A massive following of four thousand Unitedites made their way across the city to Rotherham`s temporary home and witnessed another uninspiring performance from a strong Blades side. With only four changes being made from the defeat at the hands of Charlton on Saturday, a 4-4-2 formation saw Nick Montgomery return to his natural central midfield spot for Michael Doyle and Richard Cresswell was drafted in to play on the left wing. The Blades also gave starts to youngsters Ryan Flynn on the right wing for former Miller Lee Williamson and Goalkeeper George Long deputised for Steve Simonsen.
After finding their way to their seats (A running track width away from the action) the first eight minutes did little to quell the feeling of annoyance in the Blades fans. From the off the Millers took hold of the game and it would have been hard to judge for the ignorant viewer which team was in the higher league. All the football was being played by the Millers and for much of the early exchanges the Blades were camped in their own half. Rotherham attempted to exploit their pace down the wings as a means to unlock the Blades defence. This almost proved successful when Newey`s deflected cross flew agonisingly wide of the far post.
In retaliation the Blades pumped aimless long balls up to Evans and Porter who were usually two or five steps away from these hopeful punts. It became seemingly clear that the Blades had been asked to take a more direct approach and it also became seemingly clear that this was highly ineffective. However, with the Blades fans growing more restless a long ball (more through luck than judgement) found its way to PORTER who had the strength and pace to take the ball away from his marker and slide it with his left foot through the legs of the onrushing Warrington into the far right corner?. Queue the confidence streaming back to United?
It was in fact Rotherham that seemed to grow through conceding a goal. They once again targeted the flanks as their hope for any success in attak. This was exemplified in the first chance of note on the Blades goal, as former Millwall winger Lewis Grabban used his pace to cut into United`s eighteen yard box his venomous strike produced a good save from United`s second string keeper Long. United`s defence seemed to have started where they left off on Saturday and miscommunications and errors littered the back fours performance as Rotherham grew in confidence.
The Blades through Porter did manage one more noteworthy chance though, but after being sent through with only the goalkeeper to beat the former Oldham man ballooned his effort over. However, it was the Millers that finished the half stronger and if it wasn`t for another solid save from Long United could have gone into the break level.
The second half did create a change in United`s approach, if but a small one, and it was they who came closest to extending their lead. A pinpoint ball from full back Lescinel unlocked the Millers defence and left Evans one on one with the keeper. Nonetheless, for the third time in the last three games Evans` effort cannoned straight back off the woodwork and Rotherham were given a life line.
This produced a reaction from Rotherham and the increasingly influential Grabban was integral to this. After already skilfully creating a chance for teammate Pringle that was crucially blocked by Maguire at the last moment, his assist minutes later for another team mate and bring Rotherham level. Some poor challenges in the United midfield allowed Rotherham to break in numbers and when Taylor found himself in acres of space on the left he put Grabban through behind the Blades defence. Under pressure from an on rushing Long, Grabban calmly squared the ball for REVELL who was left to side foot the ball into an empty net.
The goal did put a greater urgency into the Sheffield United`s play and as a result came a period of sustained pressure. A cross from Flynn fell to Cresswell who inextricably miscontrolled in the six yard box, which was soon followed up by a Mendez Laing curled effort that was impressively tipped wide by Rotherham`s veteran keeper Warrington.
As a result of an injury to the replaced Mendez-Laing six minutes were put up on the fourth official`s board. These were met with groans by Blades fans that could not bear another minute of this tedium never mind six and potentially 30 on top of that. However, with the game annoyingly heading for extra time, Lescinel went on a penetrative run through the middle of the Rotherham team before laying the ball square. EVANS then let the ball run across his body before letting fly with a shot that inevitably hit the post but this time found its way into the back of the net. A sense of relief seemed evident in players and fans alike. The Blades had scraped through an extremely tough tie by the skin of their teeth.
Although there were a few positives to take out of the defeats on Saturday and at Wycombe the week before, I cannot find one to take from tonight`s performance. In the first half we were a shambles from front to back. The defence looked like four strangers playing together with Jean Francois (Don’t let it bounce) Lescinel looking more and more Nosworthy-esque in his decision making with every game and Lowton`s positioning and distribution once again awful at best. The midfield was none existent for the most part. Monty was obviously lacking matches, Flynn reminded child playing with his older brother`s mates and McDonald one again floated around the Pitch not looking like he could be bothered. Up front both Porter and Evans seemed to be attempting to out do each other for who could do the best impression of Claude Rains ‘The Invisible Man`. The second half showed a slight improvement and as McDonald got more involved more chances were created. In terms of attack I liked Mendez-Laing`s energy but his defensive work leaves a lot to be desired. We did win but we are going to have to play a hell of a lot better if we are to even draw with the pigs on the 16th.
Danny Wilson- Put it this way that performance has done nothing to silence the critics. Unfortunately he could not substitute the whole team, but I do feel he should have brought on Mendez Laing sooner. He looks muh more of a threat than Flynn but seems to be overlooked. He also seemed to encourage a more direct approach earlier on in the match. If you want your team to ‘play like Brazil’ why not let them practice against so called ‘lesser’ opposition.