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Ice Cold in Sheffield
By: Chris Smith
JUST when you think you've been to the coldest ever game in your lifetime, another one crops up. After a freezing Friday night at Doncaster, Sheffield United beckoned. This game was never going to be in doubt with undersoil heating at Bramall Lane as long as the snow kept away.
United did lose a home game a few weeks back but 18 inches of snow in the city centre (a December record) had plenty to do with that.
The maximum temperature was forecast to be minus three and it felt every bit as low as that as I walked into the icy air outside Sheffield station. Given the train was delayed getting in, food options were limited but I heartily recommend Munchies opposite the Shoreham Street End. We may be ambivalent at best towards Yorkshire but the snap is top notch. It’s the only city I know where you can get an entire breakfast in a bun (including the tomato juice) and I knew I was on a winner when I asked for a roast pork bap with all the trimmings and was asked if I wanted roast potatoes to add to the stuffing, apple sauce and onions. I wonder if you can get Christmas dinner baps in Sheffield (complete with sprouts?)
Suitably stuffed, it was time to pick up my ticket and head around to the Kop where the tickets are £4 cheaper. I normally prefer the side stand but United aren't playing well this season and Swansea are hardly prolific goalscorers so if the game was a bit duff I could at least keep the damage down a bit. Besides that, the Kop is a good old fashioned stand and it must have been some experience standing on it in days gone by. Also, the Blades Superstore must be brilliant for United fans with its range of stock and for once I resisted the temptation to buy yet another excellent book though I think I'll succumb on my next visit and get the history of Hallam FC.
Sheffield United entered the game without a manager, Gary Speed having departed for the glamour of the Wales job. He certainly didn't get that post on the back of results for the Blades although the fans seemed to be patient with him and were glad to be rid of the previous incumbent, Kevin Blackwell.
I've had a phone call from Gary Speed pleading with me to buy a Blades season ticket. It was actually a mass marketing ploy with a pre-recorded message as the Blades are struggling to pull crowds this season such has been the perceived poverty of the performances. I'd gone off them after Scunny did the double over them last season although they did turn over our uncultured neighbours at the tin shed this campaign.
The Blades started the day in twentieth place with three wins and a draw from nine home games with nine goals scored and sixteen against and a not so grand total of twenty two points. Swansea meanwhile were sitting in third place with thirty seven points and five wins and a draw from ten away games with fourteen scored and thirteen conceded. A win could take them within a point of QPR at the top if they lost at Leeds (which they did). It made for an intriguing contest and contrast in styles. The Blades have been a bit more direct whereas Swansea play a very effective counter-attacking game with incisive passing. They scored a last minute equaliser at Doncaster on their last visit to South Yorkshire and shredded Sheffield Wednesday up here last season.
Similar to the previous night, I managed to find myself sat next to those pesky kids. Well one, and to be quite honest this particular young lad was brought along to entertain his family with his rather forthright views on the game being quite startling for a four year old or so. The Blades keeper was implored to shoot each time he picked up the ball with any number of his mates instructed to tackle even when nowhere near the ball. The best bit was when he ran up the Kop from the front row where we were sat and down the other side towards Shoreham Street and came back to announce the number of steps to which his mum said she didn't believe him so could he do it again. We knew he'd gone as it went mercifully quiet.
Anyway, I digress so on to the game itself. To be quite honest the early exchanges made me wish I hadn't bothered as the temperature dropped and I thought this might be the shortest match report ever. In fact I likened it to watching a poor Town game last season only more expensive. However, the game did start to take some shape as the first half progressed. Just over ten minutes had passed when United had the ball in the Swansea net although it was disallowed, presumably for offside as no-one got particularly excited although they may have been welded to their seats by ice.
Swansea’s passing game was somewhat blunted by the Blades’ uncompromising style whose own moves were frequently ruined by numerous passes to the twelfth and invisible man (on a free transfer from Grimsby last year?)
Just as the first half looked as though it was going to peter out into a relative bore draw, the Blades put a long ball over midfield which Ched Evans latched on to, ran with and then produced a really good strike from the right and at a narrow angle. One nil to the Blades and something to warm the crowd up including the young tyke who ran up to the advertising hoardings to large it up. The small away contingent must have wondered why they had bothered and wished they'd been turned back as the supporters coaches had been due to snow in South Wales.
Half time Blades 1 Swans 0
I had a wander to the back of the Kop to see if there was a downstairs concourse to warm up in but no such luck. As what passed for sunshine disappeared, the temperature dropped like a stone and my brief exploration of the open area at the top of the stand ended.
A rousing chorus of the Chip Butty song greeted the home team as they came out for the second half. As the Blades were attacking the Kop, the atmosphere promised to rise above the near morgue level of the first forty five minutes.
Early on, the Swans showed how dangerous they could be a low shot cleared and a defence shredding move posing problems. Swansea were obviously the most accomplished side when it came to passing but the Blades huffed and puffed as Stuart Hall would say and were making their promotion chasing rivals work hard. Chances were few and far between but as the minutes went by, the crowd sensed a win was within their grasp.
After Swansea had blasted a good chance over, hero of the first half, Ched Evans had a great chance with five minutes left. After getting the ball in the Swans’ penalty area and teeing himself up well, he shot only for the ball to be blocked pretty much on the line when a goal looked certain. That would have sealed it and Swansea were to show a flash of danger a few minutes later and won a corner which thankfully came to nothing.
Extra excitement was provided by the scoreboard which had showed the hated rival Owls drawing at Exeter at half time. As the second half progressed a steady procession of Exeter goals warmed hearts and each update was greeted with loud cheers and a call for more.
Oddly enough, it was the Blades who made the running as the game came to a close with a frantic Kop willing them on as a series of corners were won. Optimist of the year award goes to the steward who was trying to persuade fans to move on from the front row as they delayed their passage from the ground. Four minutes of injury time were added by the possibly sadistic referee in a game which hadn't had any noticeable delays.
The final whistle was to go to immense relief at three points gained and a chance to get in the warm again.
Full time Blades 1 Swans 0
Had the rest of the game been like the last ten minutes, it would have been an entertaining game but it really met my expectations in that it was a low scoring affair with the Blades relying on application rather than smooth flowing football. However, a trip to Bramall Lane always serves to remind me of the level at which we played. This was the lowest crowd of the season but there were still over 17,000 braving the elements.
Swansea will look at this as an opportunity wasted given QPR’s defeat and their general lack of goals must hamper their bid for automatic promotion. United crept up to nineteenth until Ipswich’s win later in the evening took them back above them. Next up are Hull City at the Lane on Boxing Day and I'd go if I could get there if our game at Mansfield is called off (as looks likely). If the cold spell continues, I'll probably be watching a few more games at Sheffield venues but it isn't the same as watching Town. Still, Saturdays are made for football and I'm not fussy when there aren't many games on.
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