Pitiful Performance at The Palace
Saturday 6th March
United's awful away record since Christmas continued at Selhurst Park. Don't be fooled by 'new manager syndrome', this was a totally lacklustre, disorganised performance which never looked likely to come away with anything other than another defeat.
On a sunny afternoon with the pitch looking well used, Blackwell brought back Stephen Quinn in place of Camara much to the disgruntlement of many of the 700 or so travelling Blades fans. The theory probably being that it gave United the options on formation. Ward seemed to drop in behind Cresswell in more of a 4-4-1-1 line up, with Quinn wide left.
Both teams struggled to create anything in the early stages of the first half, both defenses looking suspect. Palace's midfield began to get hold of the game where Williamson and Monty were having little impact. Ambrose and Carle were pushing the ball wide to Butterfield who put in a stream of good crosses, one of which fell nicely for LEE who scored from the six yard box after 23 minutes.
The half was littered with fouls and free kicks, the vast majority against a Blades team who seemed well off the pace and very lethargic. Long before Lee's goal, free kicks and crosses had rained into United's penalty area and the law of averages ment that one of these would be converted.
In Palace's defense Claude Davis was winning most balls in the air, punctuating this with frequent trips to the turf at the slightest hint of contact, whilst up front Alan Lee was putting it about very successfully as he usually does and getting away with most.
United continued to muddle their way through the half, with little evidence of any game plan, seeming to be second to every loose ball and almost never winning second ball. Quinn was getting nowhere down the left and on the other side Yates was anonymous.
On forty minutes the Blades fans stood and cheered as United were awarded a rare free kick. A minute later United had their first corner of the game resulting in a shot at Speroni which awoke him from his afternoon nap.
We were all hoping that the second half would improve, it certainly couldn't get any worse...could it? Derry shovelled Cresswell in minute one, got a yellow and from the free kick (!another!) Quinn and Yates combined to put a good cross just too far in front of Ward running in. Bunn then saved from Ambrose then Lee managed to lift a shot over from six yards with an open goal in front of him.
Camara replaced Quinn who had been totally off the pace and clearly lacking any confidence in his game. Ward then moved out wide but his dismal afternoon didn't improve.
Alan Lee then went through Montgomery with an elbow that referee Penn managed to miss despite being five yards from the incident. Frustration among the United players threatened to boil over at this incident and Williamson saw yellow then the subs board went up to remove him before he saw red, Ellis and Blackwell having to calm him down as he came off.
Despite the continuous whistle-happy performance from Mr Penn against United, there seemed to be little stomach for a fight from the players, with the notable exception of Morgan and Cresswell, the latter working hard and making himself available throughout the game.
Evans replaced Yeates with ten to go, showed some good first touch and lashed a volley inches wide of Speroni's right post in the final minute while Camara hit a shot well wide as United at last showed a bit of determination. Harper who had come on for Williamson earlier showed more control in the twenty minutes he was on than the combination of all United's midfield through- out the entire game.
Five minutes of painful added time produced little and the whistle brought to an end another dreadful performance on the road.
United never threatened Speroni in the Palace goal, for most of the game he could have been sitting next to me for all the work he had to do. A huge change in attitude, commitment and determination will be required in the last six away games if United are to stand any chance of sneaking into the sixth place. On todays evidence, that looks very unlikely.