Sheffield United 2 Blues 4 .. report

By Richard Barker
Last updated : 25 October 2006

Goals from DJ Campbell, Nicklas Bendtner, Cameron Jerome and Seb Larsson sealed Blues' passage through to the last sixteen of the competition after an entertaining game between two ‘weakened' sides.

Anyway, this is what it's all about – the magic of the Cup! Lower league clubs like Blues getting to go away to big Premiership clubs like Sheffield United with their state of the art stadium packed to the rafters, international class players throughout their side, and the humble little minnows turning them over - Ronnie Radford, eat your heart out. This night has opened my eyes to the magic of Cup competitions again. Or something.

Anyway, Steve Bruce made seven changes to the Blues side that won at Derby, leaving only the back four unchanged. Colin Doyle came in between the sticks, whilst Larsson, Neil Danns, Fabrice Muamba and Julian Gray occupied the midfield positions, with Campbell and Jerome up front. Sheffield United made eleven changes to the team that lost at Goodison Park on Saturday, including ex-Blues goalkeeper Ian Bennett coming in in goal.

Blues started the game pretty well, playing some neat and tidy football, and Sheffield United struggled to get hold of the ball. However, it was they who took the lead somewhat against the run of play (although moments earlier Doyle had made a good save from a Nicky Law free-kick). Ade Akinbiyi had “he's got a pineapple on his head” sung at him by the visiting fans for approximately 58 out of the 66 minutes that he was on the pitch, but he had a brief riposte with a fine opener from Danny Webber's cross. This only made the Blues fans sing even louder though.

United got themselves into the game a bit more after this, although Blues still looked lively. Campbell tested Bennett with a long range strike, whilst Jerome had much better service and looked more of a threat than of late, although his finishing was about as impressive as Quorn. He missed a good chance after getting himself into a fine position later in the second half too.

Shortly before half-time Blues were level, somewhat fortuitously, through Campbell. The Blues striker charged down a defensive clearance, and his block tackle looped back up over Bennett's head and into the back of the net. People often ask what Bruce works on in training, but in fairness, it's obvious that fortuitous looped goals have been on the agenda over the past week or so. Credit where it's due.

The second half started fairly slowly for both sides, and for ten minutes or so the game was absolutely shocking. After some poor Blues defending, United went close through David Unsworth, who looked as though he'd finally got to grips with Britain's motorway network by visiting KFC branches in each service station thereupon. The portly left-back's fierce strike was saved bizarrely yet effectively by Doyle.

Blues began to take control again, and Campbell hit the post when he should have done better. His heavy first touch meant Bennett was able to get close to him, and in a collision Campbell picked up a knock and so had to be replaced by Bendtner.

Not long after his introduction, Bendtner put Blues ahead. Blues cleared the ball forward, and whilst Jerome was yards offside, he sensibly put his hands up and carried on walking back, which allowed Bendtner to spring the offside trap, round Bennett and knock the ball home with all the coolness of a Zanussi fridge freezer.

As I discussed with those around me how Bendtner made such a finish look so easy, and how Jerome would never be able to do that, Jerome did it too. A poor ball back towards Bennett by David Sommeil was latched onto by Jerome who knocked the ball past the ‘keeper expertly, stopping it dead just beyond him. In doing this he tweaked his calf before knocking the ball into the back of the net and then pleading with his team-mates (mainly those excitable young Arsenal chaps who seem to love celebrating) not to jump on him too much due to his injury. He tried to run it off, and did begin to move more freely, but was replaced by Neil Kilkenny who supported Bendtner up front. Jerome was back on the pitch at the end and not receiving any treatment (unlike Campbell) which suggests he should be ok for the Albion game on Saturday.

As Blues began to knock the ball around in moves of 30+ passes (I kid you not) to Ole!'s from the travelling fans, it seemed the game was over. However, Blues began to take the mickey a little too much, and United pulled a goal back with five minutes to go. A nicely worked free-kick led to Nick Montgomery hitting a fine strike that left Doyle unsighted and flew into the back of the net.

United obviously chased an equaliser, but tellingly Blues chased a fourth, and it was Blues who won their particular chase. Kilkenny made a bright run in behind an advanced defensive line and Matt Sadler found him with a long throw-in. Kilkenny cut inside and superbly picked out Larsson at the far post who tapped home. Moments earlier Larsson had somehow missed a similar chance, but made up for it this time.

So, that was that – a fine victory for Blues. Whilst much may be made of Sheffield United's changes, Blues made plenty too. Add to this the fact that United still had the likes of Unsworth, Sommeil, Craig Short, Montgomery, Steve Kabba, Akinbiyi, Webber and the impressive substitute Christian Nade out there, and it wasn't a bad side at all – plenty of Premiership experience and experience of doing very well in the division Blues now find themselves in.

Credit to Blues for a good performance – Julian Gray excepted (he showed less interest than I did recently when listening to some debate on school dinners on the radio, certainly in the first half. Second half he was a tad better, but that wasn't hard) – against a decent side. Blues played some neat football, and the ‘fringe' players who came in (again, sorry Jules, but you're excluded) certainly did themselves no harm, whilst the back four from Derby again looked pretty solid, a few hairy moments apart. Noticeably the full-backs seem to be settling down, and Martin Taylor (who captained the side) again looked impressive. United may feel that they could have had a few more goals, but Blues could easily have had more. Had Blues won 9-4, it would have been a fair reflection. And very exciting.

Again, it's not an answer to lots of things, and it didn't provide Blues with a much needed three points in the league, but it was a step in the right direction, was a very pleasing result and will have sent out a message to Albion prior to the huge game (and it is a huge game) on Saturday.

Your mother's into Tupperware, and all that…

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