Whilst never professing to be exponents of ‘the beautiful game’, Sheffield United at least demonstrated glimpses of their intent to combine industry and invention in their pursuit of Coca-Cola Championship promotion at Reading on Friday.
Goals from Stephen Quinn, Jamie Ward and David Cotterill, an exquisite long-range strike to seal the victory, responded perfectly to Matt Mills’ opener and broke United’s hoodoo at the Madjeski Stadium, extending their unbeaten league run in the process.
United, perhaps unfairly, have acquired an unenviable reputation as a long-ball team, and went some way to dispel that myth against a side viewed by many as a team who play the game ‘as it should be’. Although the ‘Total Football’ mantra will not have been invented with Reading Football Club in mind, it is nonetheless a principle that manager Brendan Rodgers steadfastly refuses to abandon.
And the script appeared to have been written for United’s travelling supporters when Reading’s new signing Matt Mills put Reading ahead. Winning only twice at Reading since 1998, some lacklustre marking from United’s defence was true to form and allowed the high-profile signing from Doncaster Rovers to ghost in unnoticed and bundle Gylfi Sigurdsson’s cross past the helpless Mark Bunn.
Stephen Quinn, on the receiving end of some rough treatment from the crowd recently, answered his critics in the best way possible by firing United level. Ched Evans, United manager Kevin Blackwell’s marquee £3m summer signing, fired the ball across the face of goal and the Irishman reacted quicker, showing admirable composure to steer the ball past Adam Federici and into the roof of the home goal.
“Once we got our goal we never looked back,” Blackwell said.
“We were a little bit sloppy at the start and that gave them a foothold.
“We wrestled that off them, though, and showed good tenacity by not feeling sorry for ourselves.”
Not content with drawing level, United pressed to forge an advantage in the game and Jamie Ward was the man who delivered – albeit with generous assistance from goalkeeper Federici. On the day his fellow Australians saw the Ashes slip away from them at The Oval, Federici suffered similar fortune when he allowed Ward’s shot to squirm through his body and into the goal.
After being teed up by Andy Taylor, Ward’s shot was straight at Federici and should have caused the goalkeeper little problems, but from there United never looked in danger of letting their fortuitous advantage slip away.
“It was one of those things that happens in this business,” Blackwell, a former goalkeeper himself, said.
Federici redeemed himself somewhat with a good stop to deny substitute Ryan France, but was powerless to stop Cotterill’s 20-yard strike in injury time which sealed the points – a goal fit to grace any fine footballing encounter.
“Anyone who has seen us realises that we’ve got a bit of style,” Blackwell added.
“There’s no point in having pre-conceived ideas about how you must go about things. You react to circumstances and situations.
“We showed good movement of the ball and could, on another occasion, have ended up with four or five.”
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