BELIEF FUELS THE BLADES
Disciplined United avenge last season's manic play-off defeat
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