Sheffield United 1 Bournemouth 3: Limp Blades make life far too easy for relegation rivals

Even the 16th best team in the Premier League have quality players when you allow them to play, as Bournemouth showed when Marcus Tavernier, Antoine Semenyo, Dominic Solanke and Justin Kluivert strutted their stuff at Bramall Lane.

What was so frustrating about Sheffield United's 3-1 defeat to their supposed near-rivals was how easily they did allow them to play.

When the opposition are better than you, at the very least you have to make their lives as difficult as possible. That is supposed to be what Sheffield United were all about but theirs was a performance to suck the life out of supporters only recently given hope.

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Rarely in Paul Heckingbottom's two years in charge can they have produced a limper performance – they even started the 8-0 defeat to Newcastle United competitively – on one of the days they needed it more than most.

That they were only trailing 2-0 as their fans booed them off was a Godsend but unlike in the last two matches there was no moving up through the gears in the second half, just more of the same.

They may technically have drawn the second half thanks to Oli McBurnie's header in the seventh added minute, but it was another non-contest.

Bournemouth under Andoni Iraola are supposed to be all about high-intensity football but a Blades team who themselves are supposed to be about front-footed aggression applied so little pressure that they were able to knock the ball about at a very leisurely pace in a game so flat you would never have realised its importance at the bottom of the Championship.

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What spark there was in the game came from the exasperation in the standards, partly at referee Andy Madley but mainly at the players.

FRUSTRATION: Sheffield United's James McAteeFRUSTRATION: Sheffield United's James McAtee
FRUSTRATION: Sheffield United's James McAtee

It took 12 minutes for the Cherries to take the lead, Semenyo gliding in off the right wing and playing a pass which could have picked out Kluivert but was collected by Tavernier, who had also run in behind the flat-footed Blades back three. The former Middlesbrough player casually stroked the ball in.

The reaction never really came. The hosts picked up one first-half booking, but for Oliver Norwood holding the ball too long, then throwing it away.

As the half went on, the fans began pleading with their players to do something when they got the ball, but when Norwood picked it up with grass in front of him in the 38th minute, no one heeded the demands to make a run for him. The midfielder did as he was told when Cameron Archer squared the ball for him, but his shot was strangled at birth.

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Earlier, when Lewis Cook hauled Gustavo Hamer down, the Blades could not even get their free-kick into the box. It was desperate stuff.

ERROR: Wes Foderingham allowed Bournemouth to double their lead when he came out of his areaERROR: Wes Foderingham allowed Bournemouth to double their lead when he came out of his area
ERROR: Wes Foderingham allowed Bournemouth to double their lead when he came out of his area

Meanwhile, Tavernier, Semenyo, Kluivert and Solanke attacked at will, pulling home defenders out of positions and running into the gaps that were left. Iraola will have been unhappy they did not make more of it, their shots lacking power or direction.

Even able to play most of the second half in low gear, the visitors still managed 23 shots, 11 of them on target. It took until the 89th minute for the Blades to put a shot on target, substitute Will Osula forcing Neto into a save.

You could not even say McBurnie's far-post header from George Baldock's cross salvaged any pride – not when the home fans greeted it by sarcastically chanting "We've scored a goal" before quickly switching to boos at the full-time whistle.

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But if the Cherries were wasteful, their gracious hosts laid a chance they could not miss on a plate for them in first-half stoppage time. Wes Foderingham came out of his area and tripped on the ball, allowing Kluivert to find the empty net.

SLICK: But it was far too easy for Bournemouth striker Dominic SolankeSLICK: But it was far too easy for Bournemouth striker Dominic Solanke
SLICK: But it was far too easy for Bournemouth striker Dominic Solanke

Heckingbottom brought the fit-again McBurnie and Anel Ahmedhodzic on a half-time to try and change things, but it made no difference.

There was a huge roar when the Blades won a 49th-minute corner but it failed to clear the first man.

Two minutes later Bournemouth killed the contest, if they had not already.

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It came from a drop ball deep in their own half when Hamer tried to switch the play but could only hit referee Madley. Bournemouth won it and moved the ball out to the left and all the way across to the right with consummate ease, Tavernier popping up in front of the dozing Ahmedhodzic to score.

Foderingham made low saves to deny Semenyo, Kluivert and Ryan Christie, but the horse had bolted three fields away by then.

Baldock was booked for kicking the ball against a prone Milos Kerkez after the whistle had blown for a foul, and Jack Robinson and Philip Billing for the handbags that followed. Blades assistant manager Stuart McCall was booked for dissent later.

But over the course of the game, it was alarming just how little fight there seemed to be in the Blades, and how easy it was for a Bournemouth side who are themselves relegation candidates.

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This was a sobering defeat from a team who came into the game with a breath of wind at their back. Carry on like this, and it promises to be a bleak winter indeed.

Sheffield United: Foderingham; Baldock, Trusty, Robinson; Bogle (Ahmedhodzic HT), Souza (McBurnie HT), Norwood, Thomas (Osborn 66); McAtee (Osula 81), Hamer (Fleck 81); Archer.

Unused substitutes: Davies, Lowe, Traore, Slimane.

Bournemouth: Neto; A Smith, Zabarnyi, Senesi, Kelly (Kerkez HT); Christie, L Cook; Semenyo (Sinisterra 66), Kluivert (Billing 66), Tavernier (Brooks 81); Solanke.

Unused substitutes: Mepham, Rothwell, Ouattara, Moore, Travers.

Referee: A Madley (Huddersfield).