Sheffield United last night made a winning start to pre-season, as La Liga side Real Betis were beaten 1-0 in Portugal. Richard Sutcliffe reports.
Just what the Spanish visitors made of being told to “shove your tapas up your ****” during the first half is anyone’s guess.Richard Sutcliffe
A SIGHT familiar to the many thousands who fly to Faro Airport for their summer holidays, the Estadio Algarve sits isolated and unloved between the municipalities of Faro and Loule.
Surrounded by nothing but scrubland and with its distinctive two roofs designed to look like sails making it hard to miss from the main road that leads to the Algarve’s multitude of resorts, a venue built for Euro 2004 has long been regarded as a white elephant by the local ratepayers.
Last night, however, a stadium that has most recently doubled as the temporary home of the Gibraltar national team acted as a magnet for Sheffield United supporters getting giddier by the day at the prospect of returning to the Premier League.
A little more than 1,000 fans made the long trip from south Yorkshire to this corner of Portugal.
Seville is 120 miles from Faro but the La Liga side’s followers were hugely outnumbered in the 1,520 crowd.
There was also no contest in the vocal stakes, though just what the Spanish visitors made of being told to “shove your tapas up your ****” during the first half is anyone’s guess.
On the pitch, it was a similar story with David McGoldrick’s calm finish just after the hour enough to beat a Betis side who had beaten both Barcelona at the Nou Camp and Real Madrid at the Bernabeu last season en route to finishing tenth in La Liga.
To some, Sheffield United’s presence in the Premier League is as incongruous a sight as the Algarve’s 30,000 capacity venue.
But the Blades are back in the big time and determined to make their mark.
Callum Robinson, the Preston North End forward, yesterday joined for £7m as United broke their record transfer fee for the second time in nine days. He was presented to the travelling Blades fans before kick-off.
The Republic of Ireland international followed Phil Jagielka, the former England defender, and QPR winger Luke Freeman in signing up for the club’s top flight adventure.
Further additions are on the way with Ollie McBurnie and Neal Maupay both on the radar along with Dean Henderson, who Chris Wilder is determined to bring back on loan from Manchester United.
The indications are that Ravel Morrison, the one-time Old Trafford prodigy whose career went awry, will also be offered a chance to be part of the Blades’ first season at the top level for 12 years.
Fans were denied a chance to watch Morrison against Betis due to the heel injury that had prevented him training for much of the week.
But, in his absence, United applied themselves well.
Wilder, the man whose arrival three years ago has so transformed the club’s fortunes, gave 19 players time on the pitch in this opening pre-season friendly.
The first half was a slow affair, almost as if both sets of players were shaking off the rust of summer.
Billy Sharp did get the ball in the net just before the half-hour but referee Joao Bento pulled play back.
Betis’ best moment came on the stroke of half-time when Simon Moore had to save smartly from Bartra and then Kieran Freeman blocked Loren’s follow-up on the line.
Supporters had to wait until after the break for their first glimpse of Jagielka and Luke Freeman as both Wilder and Betis counterpart Juan Francisco Ferrer Sicilio made wholesale changes.
Freeman had a great early chance after being set up by Enda Stevens but his shot was weak and easily saved.
McGoldrick also fluffed a good opening, Marin making the save, before Jagielka, sporting the captain’s armband on his return after 12 years away, and Richard Stearman denied Juanmi in quick succession at the other end.
The night’s decisive moment came on 63 minutes, as a poor clearance found John Lundstram and his cushioned header allowed McGoldrick to finish from close range.
Betis pushed hard for an equaliser in the closing stages but Lainez struck a post from 20 yards and Juanmi curled a free-kick over.
It meant the fleet of buses that had brought the Blades fans to this isolated stadium could return to Albefeira in good mood.