Harps in Tune with Late Strike
Saturday 20th March
It was the proverbial 'game of two halves` as Rovers dominated the first half spurning a number of chances to put the game well out of United`s reach, followed by a determined fight back by United in the second.
United`s awful away record looked in danger of being extended to none from eight as Rovers well drilled, slick, one touch football threatened to blow United away for half an hour at The Keepmoat yesterday. On a rough looking pitch, United never got to grips with the movement and passing of Sean O`Driscoll`s settled side. The benefits of a tight knit group of players all playing to a disciplined plan against United`s Foreign Legion troops was clear for all to see.
Sure enough in their first meaningful attack, following a corner Coppinger saw his shot blocked and despite the penalty area being full of United shirts, HAYTER found enough space to poke home past United`s 22nd debutant of the season, keeper Simonsen.
Rovers were dominating all over the pitch. United seemed unable to work out how to handle the movement and high tempo. Even on the occasional periods of possession, Rovers well drilled back four kept a very high line and trapped United`s front men off side repeatedly. A dangerous tactic with the pace of Yates and Camara.
Simonson was in action to make a fine save down to his left hand post then a fist away from Woods. United briefly hit back through a Cresswell effort, then a couple of crosses into the box which came to nothing.
In midfield Quinn was having a quiet game, Harper was involved and working hard but not creating much with some wayward passing, Monty was being Monty and trying to lift his team by example.
Rovers continued to dictate the pace of the game. Throw-ins taken quickly and always finding a man, set pieces were executed at speed always with a choice of Rovers players in a position to receive the ball. Compared to United`s ponderous efforts it was very much dancers against the carthorses. United were standing off and almost always second to the ball. The large travelling Blades support were becoming frustrated and were giving Blackwell some stick as Rovers contrived to miss at least three glorious chances midway through the half.
Toward the end of the half, United had the occasional foray forward, Camara with a good late chance as Blades players at last were beginning to see a bit more of the ball. Half time came with a sigh of relief from the Blades fans; it could have been all over as a game by then.
Forgotten man Glen Little replaced Yates at half time and had an immediate impact. He held the ball well and inspired his team mates with confidence as he repeatedly took on defenders and passed or crossed. Steadily, United were pushing Rovers back as their own much faster paced game and much greater bite in midfield began to pressurise the Rovers defence.
Bartley replaced Siep after an hour, instantly adding more pace and control to the back four.
Up front Cresswell's constant running and harassing saw a good effort headed over, then what appeared a clear penalty for a push in the back on him by Martis was waved away, probably because Cresswell made a little too much of his fall. The same push outside the box would certainly have been given as a foul.
Camara limped off with what looked like a groin strain to be replaced by Andy Taylor at full back, Stewart moving into mid field and Quinn up front with Cresswell, who had another appeal for a penalty turned down as United continued to push Rovers back, their play being reduced to long ball as their defence struggled under the mounting pressure.
With the clock running down, Bartley added his height to the attack and put a half chance over the bar. Harper was getting forward at every opportunity and Quinn was winning balls and snapping at defenders. Monty was having more and more influence breaking up any random Rovers attacks in front of his back four.
With Blades fans roaring the team on and just a couple of minutes to play, Taylor swung in an excellent free kick which Bartley back headed to Cresswell who despite a push managed to bring it down for HARPER to hammer into Sullivan`s bottom left corner from just inside the box. Queue scenes of delirium from Blades fans. Phew, at last!
Despite United`s long periods of domination in the second half, Rovers could have won it at the death when Hayter`s determination to score the spectacular winner would have been much better served by a bit of control when in a clear scoring position.
Five minutes of added time passed with United still trying to win the game and Rovers hitting two late corners into United`s box.
Having survived the first half still in touch with the game, United then set about doing what they should have been doing from the start. Stop Rovers playing; use their all round physical advantage and up the tempo. Little had a tremendous impact. He might not be the quickest but he has the ability to find a pass and beat a man. His confidence on the ball had a direct influence on the team. Despite having little success in midfield, Harper never hid and gradually his influence grew in the second half, as did Quinn`s who showed greater tenacity and attitude as the game moved on.
United got the point their second half battling display deserved, but it could have been very different if their fearful, lethargic attitude in the first half had been punished.