BELIEF FU­ELS THE BLADES

Dis­ci­plined United avenge last sea­son's manic play-off de­feat

The Football League Paper - - LEAGUE ONE - By Alex Smith

SHEFFIELD United emerged from Swin­don vic­to­ri­ous and man­ager Nigel Ad­kins was quick to credit the sense of self-belief within the Blades’ dress­ing room.

Hav­ing lost their open­ing League One match 4-0 at Gilling­ham, Ad­kins’ side have won each of their next four to sit sec­ond in the ta­ble, a point be­hind lead­ers Wal­sall.

Swin­don were put to the sword by sec­ond-half goals from Neill Collins and Billy Sharp, par­tially aveng­ing the Wilt­shire out­fit’s play­off semi-fi­nal vic­tory over the same op­po­nents in May.

In the sec­ond leg of that en­counter, United shipped five goals in a crazy 5-5 draw but a dis­ci­plined de­fen­sive per­for­mance en­sured they picked up all three points at the County Ground for the first time since 1994 and Ad­kins was de­lighted with his team’s dis­play.

“We kept com­pact and made sure they have had to go all the way around us and slowed the game down,” he said. “The gaps were blocked off re­ally well, the shape was ex­cel­lent. We have de­fended as a team, start­ing from the front two. Ev­ery­one is play­ing a part. There’s a belief about ev­ery­body.

“It was a very, very good, dis­ci­plined, pro­fes­sional per­for­mance against a good side who, if you give them space, will give you prob­lems.”

“We have come with a plan to win away from home. We played with two up front de­spite be­ing away from home.We had two wingers out there.

“We were very se­cure. We knew Swin­don would pass it about. We’ve had six or seven op­por­tu­ni­ties to score goals. It was a very good per­for­mance by the play­ers.”

While Swin­don en­joyed much of the pos­ses­sion in the early mo­ments of the en­counter, with Nathan Byrne fir­ing straight at Mark Howard in the 16th minute, the Blades had the best op­por­tu­nity to open the scor­ing mid­way through the first pe­riod.

Conor Sam­mon turned quickly in­side the penalty box but his volley bounced back off the Swin­don cross­bar be­fore Louis Reed brought a good save out of home goal­keeper Lawrence Vigouroux from 25 yards, with the on-loan Liver­pool stop­per launch­ing him­self to his left to turn the ef­fort away for a cor­ner.

Hav­ing gone into the break level, United found the break­through with 20 min­utes of the game re­main­ing.

Collins out­mus­cled Raphael Branco at the back post, with his header tak­ing a small de­flec­tion which helped the ball loop over Vigouroux. Sharp wrapped up the points with a tidy fin­ish in the 75th minute af­ter Swin­don’s de­fence went AWOL in search of an equaliser, but Robins man­ager Mark Cooper felt that his side’s per­for­mance war­ranted at least a point.

Cooper said: “I thought it was a very tac­ti­cal game, es­pe­cially the first half. I thought we had the bet­ter of the first half and had a cou­ple of half-chances. The worst re­sult that should hap­pen for us should be a 0-0 draw.

“We shouldn’t be los­ing that game and it comes down to pure con­cen­tra­tion.

“Fair play to Sheffield United, you could see they came and waited for us to make a mis­take. When you’ve got peo­ple like Billy Sharp and Conor Sam­mon in your team they only need half a chance and it’s a goal.”

Cooper lamented the lengthy ca­su­alty list that has stretched his squad to break­ing point of late. Nathan Thompson, Bran­don Or­monde-Ot­tewill, Jon Obika and Jer­maine Hyl­ton all missed the visit of the Blades through ei­ther in­jury or ill­ness.

“As well as we played in patches, we’ve prob­a­bly only got 12 or 13 play­ers to pick from at the minute,” he said.

“I went to watch Sheffield United the other night and they changed ten play­ers to play­ers who’d prob­a­bly still fin­ish in the play-offs in this league.

“That’s great for Sheffield United but we have got four of our front­line play­ers out and it re­ally, re­ally dam­ages us.”

OPENER: Blades’ Neil Collins heads them into the lead at Swin­don

ON THE AT­TACK: Blades’ Conor Sam­mon hits the bar and Che Adams shoots but his ef­fort is saved by Swin­don’s Lawrence Vigouroux STAR MAN DRISSA TRAOR

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