Sheffield United 2 West Bromwich Albion 0
It was always going to be a tough ask to win at Bramall Lane against a team that needed the three points to confirm their return to the Premier League, but it looked eminently possible in the first half as the visitors dominated possession. However, once the hosts went ahead after an unfortunate error from Taylor Gardner-Hickman, the familiar mental frailties of this team took hold and the game was limply surrendered.
It leaves Carlos Corberán’s team two points off the top six with two games left – two wins against two teams just below them in the table will put them on 69 points, leaving them reliant on the teams above them dropping points. It’s by no means impossible but it would be the second lowest points total to qualify a side for the top six this century with the 68 points achieved by Leicester City in 2013 the lowest total to make the top six since the second tier moved to a 46-game season in 1988.
It was heart-breaking that it was a mistake that led to the Blades’ opening goal, and that it was made by Taylor Gardner-Hickman. The youngster is a true Baggie and it was obviously a devastating moment for him. I did notice one or two players console with him at the time but he was reportedly in tears on the pitch at the end of the match and only Jovan Malcolm offered him support – Corberán has reported that the rest of the team offered consolation in the dressing room, but it wasn’t a particularly good look on the pitch. After players failed to console Josh Griffiths after his error a few weeks ago, it does seem to be something that the players need to work on, even if it is to just demonstrate to the fans the togetherness that may be felt in the dressing room.
The most disappointing aspect of the match, however, was how the team capitulated after going a goal behind. Corberán suggested that fatigue played a part, and the hosts evidently gained confidence from the goal, but they looked a shadow of the team they had been in the first half.
As Don Goodman stated numerous times in commentary on Sky, Sheffield United are a team that have been able to get the job done, even when not playing well. Unfortunately, Albion are a team that frequently fail to get the job done even when they are playing well! They could have easily been a goal or two in front in the first half with Grant’s fluffed early chance, his shot that was well saved from a corner and numerous other promising positions where the wrong decision was taken, but they weren’t and, while I was pleased with the performance at half time, there was always that feeling that United would be stronger after the break and Albion’s chance may have gone. As it was, the visitors continued strongly after the break and it was the goal that changed the game, as goals so often do.
While the current feelings of frustration and disappointment are understandable and warranted, we must not forget how far the team has come in the past six months. After Corberán’s first game in charge, Albion were bottom of the table and staring an ignominious drop to the third tier in the face – I’m sure we would have all taken being two points off the play-offs with two games to go at that point!. The Spaniard’s impact has been remarkable and, were it not for the financial concerns off the field, most Albion fans would be optimistic for the future.
Those thoughts can come in a few weeks time, but for now it is time to offer the team as much support as possible for the final two games of the season. By the time Albion kick off on Saturday evening, they will have a better idea of how likely a top six spot is – if teams above them drop points in the earlier fixtures, it could give us all a timely boost to take into another massive game.