Sheffield United fail to respond to return of fans at Newcastle United

Even with the welcome presence of supporters, Sheffield United’s last away game of a season they cannot wait to be finished with still had a familiar feel to it.

One too many: The Blades trio of John Fleck, left, John Egan, centre, and David McGoldrick, right, look dejected after Newcastle opened the scoring. (Picture: Darren Staples/SportImage)
One too many: The Blades trio of John Fleck, left, John Egan, centre, and David McGoldrick, right, look dejected after Newcastle opened the scoring. (Picture: Darren Staples/SportImage)

They lost 1-0, as they have done 11 times in 2020-21 against teams as good as champions Manchester City and as bad as relegated West Bromwich Albion.

They had the chances to win – not a barrel-load, but enough – and were unable to take them. Newcastle United only really turned it on for a quarter of the game – the second one – but that was enough.

“We started really well and created chances which we did not take and then we got punished at the end of the half. That’s been the story of the season,” rued interim manager Paul Heckingbottom, showing an accuracy his players could have done with.

Jayden Bogle of Sheffield Utd heads over during the Premier League match at Newcastle. (Picture: Darren Staples/SportImage)

The Blades are now guaranteed to finish bottom of the Premier League. They have lost 29 times – more than any team in the competition’s history. Once is unlucky, twice is unfortunate but 29 does not happen by chance.

David McGoldrick missed a good chance in the early stages as the Blades carried over the momentum of Sunday’s victory at Goodison Park and whilst his 77th-minute chance was much harder, more ambitious and closer, the outcome was still the same.

“There was no lack of effort and those 15 minutes where we weren’t as good, we concede a header that puts us behind, Rammers (Aaron Ramsdale) makes a great save,” commented Heckingbottom.

“We huffed and puffed second half, threw everything at it, had a lot of the ball and we were vulnerable to counter-attacks throwing that many men forward, but you’ve got to.”

Aaron Ramsdale of Sheffield Utd shows his frustration for the goal after producing two world class saves minutes before (Picture: Darren Staples/SportImage)

Effort is all well and good but in the best domestic league in world football, you need a bit more.

It is perhaps churlish to be too critical of McGoldrick, who has 37 per cent of his side’s league goals this season, particularly after such a difficult 2019-20 in front of goal, but being unable to take their chances has been one of a number of reasons the Blades are bound for the Championship.

Over the course of the game Newcastle were the better side, overcoming a slow start to have more of the chances. But that is not the point. Premier League football is not always fair, it helps those who help themselves. Once again the Blades failed to keep a clean sheet although that had nothing to do with the quality of their goalkeeper, and quite a bit to do with some of the attacking players they were up against.

Seven minutes in Ben Osborn picked the ball up on the left and played it to wing-back Enda Stevens, who had popped up at centre-forward. He played it across to McGoldrick, who had started on the left of a Blades three.

With the goal at his mercy, McGoldrick pulled his shot wide.

With fans behind them for the first time since February, Newcastle were always bound to come into it at some point and it was clear where their inspiration was going to come from. The first time Allan Saint-Maximin had the ball at his feet, the crowd roared its encouragement and he lapped it up. When Jack Robinson was not blocking from Joelinton and Paul Dummett was not heading a free-kick wide, the Blades had a goalkeeper in outstanding form.

Ramsdale’s weight was perhaps going slightly the wrong way when Jonjo Shelvey bulletted a header goalwards in the 27th minute but the goalkeeper threw out his right hand to make a terrific save.

That his stop in the third added minute, rushing out to deny Joe Willock, was deemed irrelevant by an offside flag did not diminish it.

A goal, though, was coming. In the fourth added minute Saint-Maximin played the ball out for former Sheffield Wednesday loanee Jacob Murphy and Willock headed home the cross.

It was his sixth game running Willock had scored in. How the Blades would love a striker that clinical, never mind a midfielder.

Despite a flurry of opportunities at either end to restart the game, Ramsdale’s only difficult save of the second half came – predictably – from Saint-Maximin. Even without the fluorescent barrier in the way he would have struggled to find the net from the tight angle. McGoldrick clipped the crossbar from his half-chance. One positive was a late debut for Oluwafemi Seriki, 18, as Daniel Jebbison got another 90 minutes under his belt.

Their youngsters give the Blades some hope for the future but they will need to be sharper to make the most of it.

Newcastle United: Dubravka; Murphy, Krafth, Fernandez, Dummett, Ritchie; Willock (Carroll 85), Shelvey, Almiron; Saint-Maximin (S Longstaff 71), Joelinton (Gayle 46). Unused substitutes: Clark, M Longstaff, Lewis, Hendrick, Manquillo, Gillespie.

Sheffield Utd: Ramsdale; Basham, Egan, Robinson; Bogle, Norwood, Fleck, Stevens; McGoldrick, Jebbison, Osborn (Brewster 68). Unused substitutes: Lundstram, Lowe, Jagielka, Foderingham,  Brunt, Gordon, Boyes, Seriki.

Referee: R Jones (Merseyside).

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