Sheffield United 0 Southend United 3: Plenty for Chris Wilder to ponder as Blades are pole-axed

Sheffield Utd players seem shell-shocked after the third first-half goal against Southend United. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage.Sheffield Utd players seem shell-shocked after the third first-half goal against Southend United. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage.
Sheffield Utd players seem shell-shocked after the third first-half goal against Southend United. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage.
MONDAY was officially designated as National Relaxation Day '“ although you suspect that neither Chris Wilder or Phil Brown were putting their feet up.

Two days on and it is the Southend United boss who has been afforded a spot of respite after his Blades counterpart was forced to endure the sort of excruciating evening that all managers dread.

Former Hull City chief Brown arrived at S2 gasping for the equivalent of managerial air on the back of a crippling eight-match losing streak.

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He left it having been replenished with the oxygen of his side’s first three points since March 30, which ironically had arrived at the expense of the Blades in a 3-1 win at Roots Hall.

For Wilder, it was the toughest of evenings, with his wait for his first win as Blades’ boss continuing following a desperate first half which saw the visitors race into a 3-0 lead within 15 minutes.

Ahead of the game, Wilder acknowledged that Rochdale manager Keith Hill’s post-match weekend observation that the mood among Blades supporters is either ‘angry or ecstatic’ had struck a chord with him.

He certainly saw elements of the former during a horror opening 45 minutes last night, although in mitigation, most of the home contingent were fairly forgiving in the circumstances – and commendably kept with the side amid trying events.

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That said, it may have simply been the shock of witnessing a first half which few of them could have envisaged. Wilder is a pragmatic manager and his assertion this week that he would be naive to expect that things will click straightaway under his command looks a very shrewd one.

The quality and composure that he was demanding following a disappointing weekend draw was conspicuous by its absence, while his side’s defending in the first half left an awful lot to be desired.

The application at least improved on the restart, but by then the game’s outcome was well and truly over, with Southend afforded a stress-free evening en route to their first away win since triumphing at Barnsley on March 12.

Wilder had admitted that it was up to his players to ‘set the tone’ in terms of providing home fans with something to get energised by following a poor second-half showing against Rochdale.

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Three days on and things, briefly, started well enough with Matt Done hooking a volley just off target. But the mood music soon changed with the Blades hitting some thoroughly off-key notes in a torrid spell which incredibly yielded three goals in a bewildering 10-minute spell.

The case for the defence was completely underwhelming with the lack of communication alarming in the extreme as the visitors seized upon the collective hesitancy to plunder three first-half goals in a league game for the first time since November 2012 and leave Bramall Lane stunned.

The hosts’ descent began in desperately unfortunate fashion, with Luke O’Neill – afforded too much space down the right – seeing his cross diverted into his own net by Jack O’Connell just five minutes in.

George Long then had to be alert to tip over a rising shot from Jason Demetriou, but worse was to come on 13 minutes when a lamentable mix-up in the heart of the Blades back four allowed Southend to double their tally.

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Simon Cox was criminally allowed to saunter his way through towards goal before squaring the ball to the unmarked Stephen McLaughlin to tap home, although there was a suspicion of offside in the build-up.

There was no doubting the visitors’ third two minutes later as the hosts’ evening started to assume nightmare proportions – following more woeful defending.

Nile Ranger was afforded far too much time and space down the right flank and his low cross was tucked away from close range by Cox, the prelude to some fairly audible boos.

Goalkeeper Long fresh from making an unfortunate mistake on Saturday, was the target of some ironic jeers by some supporters in particular, but in the main, the home faithful showed a fair degree of patience.

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Thankfully, no further 
concessions arrived following the early meltdown with Wilder no doubt issuing a few choice words and reminders during the interval.

The Blades boss threw on Paul Coutts and Harry Chapman at the start of the second half and, with the Blades attacking the Kop, they at least showed more assertion and spirit, with Southend understandably happy to sit back on their considerable gains.

Captain Billy Sharp went close on a couple of occasions, with Chris Hussey off target with a free-kick, but the cutting edge was hard to detect, with clear and prevalent early-season issues at both ends of the pitch for the Blades.

Substitute Jason Williams was a whisker away from a late fourth for the visitors, with all the questions belonging to Wilder and not Brown at the final whistle.

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Sheffield United: Long; Brayford, Wilson, O’Connell, Hussey; Done (Chapman 46), Basham, Fleck (Coutts 46), Duffy (Scougall 72); Clarke, Sharp. Unused substitutes: McNulty, Ramsdale, Wright, Freeman.

Southend United: Oxley; Demetriou, Thompson, Barrett, Coker; O’Neill, Leonard McLaughlin, Leonard, O’Neill, King; Cox (Atkinson 76), Ranger (Mooney 24 (Williams 76). Unused substitutes: White, McGlashan, Bridge, Smith.

Referee: G Eltringham (Tyne & Wear).