Sheffield United 1 Oldham 1: Blades aiming to make most of home advantage in bid to cut gap

Sheffield United midfielder Stefan Scougall believes a poor first-half display cost the Blades the chance of cutting the gap on League One leaders Bristol City.

STALEMATE: Sheffield Uniteds Stefan Scougall comes up against the impressive Daniel Johnson, the Oldham midfielder on loan from Aston Villa, at Bramall Lane on Saturday. Picture: Martyn Harrison

With the Robins losing at home to Preston North End, victory over in-form Oldham would have taken United to within four points off the summit.

But, other than Jose Baxter going close after just 30 seconds – when his fierce low drive forced a save from visiting goalkeeper Paul Rachubka – the Blades were second-best in the opening 45 minutes.

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Sheffield-born Jonathan Forte, a former Blades striker, pounced from Daniel Johnson’s well-executed pass to slot the ball beyond Mark Howard in front of a stunned Kop after 15 minutes.

Neither side had a plethora of chances, but Lee Johnson’s team were slick with the ball and 
negated much of what United 
attempted.

In Johnson, they had the outstanding player, the on-loan midfielder from Aston Villa proving a constant threat. It was only last month that Johnson had featured in the Chesterfield team which had beaten the Blades, so United will be glad to see the back of the Jamaican playmaker.

It took the enforced introduction of Jamal Campbell-Ryce –who came on after Baxter limped off with a back injury – to restore parity.

The winger had only been on the field for a minute when he picked up the ball on the right-hand side and created space for himself before drilling a low shot past Rachubka.

United had chances to grab all three points, Chris Basham going close, and at the other end it took a stunning covering tackle from Jay McEveley to deny Forte his second.

Oldham were reduced to 10 men in the closing stages when Jabo Ibehre picked up a second yellow card, but it mattered little.

It left Blades midfielder Scougall to reflect on how costly the opening 45 minutes had been.

“We have been in good form recently, and the first half was well below par,” admitted the 21-year-old. “We all know that.

“We did get a positive reaction, but it wasn’t enough and I think a point was maybe a fair result.

“We have had a few games recently, so maybe the boys looked a bit ‘leggy’ in the first half, but that’s no excuse.

“We know we have to be a lot better. We actually started the first five minutes really well, but other than that I think Oldham were by far the better team.

“You could say we were unlucky in the second half, but I think a point was a fair result.

“We have great character, togetherness, and we will fight to the bitter end. But that wasn’t enough in the first half, and that cost us. They outplayed us and outworked us in the first half.”

Scougall praised Campbell-Ryce – the former Barnsley and Rotherham United winger netted his third goal of the season – and believes United must now make amends in their next two back-to-back home games.

On Friday, United welcome fifth-placed Notts County to Bramall Lane – the visitors are just below the Blades in the table – before third-place MK Dons 
arrive four days later.

“Jamal has been brilliant in the last few weeks,” said Scougall.

“You see what he can come on and produce, he can change games.

“We wanted to beat Oldham, but it wasn’t to be, but we have a few home games coming up.

“Hopefully, we can make them count and get up towards the top of the league.”

The Blades are desperately short of a striker – with Michael Higdon and Marc McNulty sidelined with injury – and manager Nigel Clough unsuccessful so far in the loan market.

The pre-match build-up had been hogged by the Blades’ 
decision to go back on their decision to allow former striker Ched Evans to train with the club.

Not that Clough would allow the media circus surrounding the Blades as an excuse. “We’ve always concentrated on football,” he said. “That’s always been our focus all the way through.

“We haven’t let anything off the field affect us and that isn’t the reason for our poor performance at times.

“I thought Oldham were better than us for large portions of the game so in that context it’s a very good point for us.

“To play as poorly as we did at times and get a point out of the game is a good result, believe it or not.

“We can’t take any credit for the decision to send on Jamal Campbell-Ryce because it was enforced. Jose (Baxter) got a whack on his back and was struggling at half-time so he only lasted 10 or 15 minutes.

“Jamal came on and got us the goal. The most disappointing aspect was what we did after that.

“We got in some great positions and Jamal was as guilty as anybody because he didn’t put the ball in the box.”

Sheffield United: Howard, Alcock, McCarthy, McEveley, Harris, Flynn, Basham, Doyle, Murphy, Scougall, Baxter (Campbell-Ryce 62). Unused substitutes: McGahey, Reed, De Girolamo, Turner, Kennedy, Adams.

Oldham Athletic: Rachubka, Kusunga, Dieng, Wilson, Mills, Johnson (Poleon 80), Jones, Kelly, Forte, Philliskirk, Ibehre. Unused substitutes: Dayton, Mellor, Winchester, Tidser, Lockwood, Etheridge.

Referee: A Davies (Hants).