16/12/2014: Sheffield United 1-0 Saints
Saints were knocked out of the League Cup following a dismal showing at Sheffield United. The away side created precious little against the League One outfit, who fully deserved their win.
The first 15 minutes of the game were very scrappy. Sheffield United pressed well in midfield, allowing Saints precious little time on the ball. Ronald Koeman's side saw a lot of the ball without really doing anything with it. James Ward-Prowse had the first effort for the visitors, shooting low straight at the keeper from distance.
Saints had a couple of half chances from set pieces. Sheffield United really rattled their opponent with their tough tackling approach. Louis Reed shot over on the break for the Blades. Just before half-time Shane Long made a good run down the left, but Sadio Mane couldn't get on the end of his cross.
The game livened up slightly at the start of the 2nd half. Ryan Bertrand moved back to left-back, having started further up the pitch. Lloyd Isgrove came on for Matt Targett. On 47 Florin Gardos headed down into the ground from a free-kick. Sheffield United immediately went down the other end and came close.
Ward-Prowse had a couple of good efforts go close. At the other end Fraser Forster was forced into a brilliant save after the ball had been cut back for Michael Doyle. On 63 the home side were ahead. Bob Harris' free-kick was spilled by Forster, with Marc McNulty there to follow up as the ball trickled along the line.
On 69 Saints had what was probably their best chance of the game, when Mark Howard saved at the near post from Mane's low shot. The Senegalese attacker was then withdrawn and Saints ran out of ideas going forward. There was very little method to Saints' attacking play. The visitors resorted to playing long-ball football, which completely played into United's hands. Sheffield United looked the more likely in front of goal during the last 10 minutes of the game. Forster prevented a second goal in the 87th minute. To make matters worse for Saints, Gardos was sent off with stoppage time approaching as he hauled down McNulty.
The performance and the result wasn't a complete surprise given Saints' recent form, but even with all the injuries you would have expected more against a team two divisions lower. Sheffield United expended an incredible amount of energy and were also well organised. The side that Koeman put out still contained more than enough top level experience. There was no excuse for such a lack of creativity going forward. Without Graziano Pelle, Saints had no focal point in attack. The build-up was far too predictable for the most part. Sheffield United's keeper was rarely seriously tested. Things are bound to turn around at some point, but right now it's very difficult to see where the next win is coming from.
Forster: 6. Made several good saves, but didn't cover himself in glory for the goal he conceded
Clyne: 6. One bad tackle in an otherwise reasonable showing
Fonte: 6. Not at his best
Gardos: 5. Red card pretty much summed up his evening. Never looked entirely convincing. Distribution a bit wayward
Targett: 7. Good first-half performance. Made his way out of congested areas with some positive runs
Wanyama: 6. A few decent moments, but nowhere near his best. Picked up his 5th booking of the season
Schneiderlin: 7. Strong early on. Tactically astute as you would expect. Late booking means another costly suspension
Ward-Prowse: 7. Most of Saints' efforts on goal came through him. Some good delivery
Bertrand: 5. Didn't look at ease in his advanced role in the first half. A bit wasteful in possession
Mane: 5. Involved in a couple of chances, but mostly quiet
Long: 6. Worked hard and pressed well, but didn't really use the ball that well
Isgrove: 5. Started the 2nd half brightly, but pretty much anonymous during the last half-hour or so as Saints chased an equaliser
Mayuka: 5. Made very little impact
Alderweireld: 5. Briefly helped Saints to retain the ball a bit better
Sheffield United - McNulty (63)
Attendance - Michael Oliver
Sheffield United: Howard, Flynn, Basham, McEveley, Harris, Reed (Wallace 81), Doyle, Campbell-Ryce (Adams 46), Cuvelier (Baxter 73), Murphy, McNulty
Subs not used: Turner, McGahey, Higdon, Kennedy
Saints: Forster, Clyne, Fonte, Gardos, Targett (Isgrove 46), Wanyama (Alderweireld 74), Schneiderlin, Ward-Prowse, Mane (Mayuka 71), Bertrand, Pelle
Subs not used: K Davis, Yoshida, Reed