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Nick Szczepanik's press verdict: Sheffield United

Saturday was another frustrating day for some of the Albion faithful. Not because of a highly creditable draw away to Sheffield United, but because some of the national media once again largely ignored the efforts of Graham Potter’s men in favour of concentrating on the opposition.

By Nick Szczepanik • 23 February 2020

By Patrick Sullivan
Nick Szczepanik delivers the media's verdict on Saturday's game.

In fairness, the Blades have been one of the stories of the season, but credit to the men in green for denying them victory was in short supply. Even those who led on Neal Maupay’s goal, such as friend of this column Arindam Rej in the Sunday Telegraph, could not keep it up.

“Neal Maupay, Brighton’s top scorer this season, ended a two-month wait for a goal by heading in an equaliser that edged his team further away from the relegation zone,” he wrote, before looking at it from a home perspective.

“It was a disappointing, route-one goal to concede for Sheffield United, who remain in the hunt for Europe - and whose defensive record is only bettered by Liverpool in the Premier League this season.

“Gareth Southgate, the England manager, is not an unfamiliar sight at Sheffield United games and he was here again, in the padded seats, and would have seen some positives among the English contingent in the home backline, including goalkeeper Dean Henderson - despite that concession.”

No mention of the England defender in the Brighton side?

By Paul Hazlewood
Aaron Mooy drives forward from midfield.

Craig Hope wrote an almost entirely Steel City-centric report in the Mail on Sunday.

“[Chris] Wilder’s namesake Deontay will be trading punches with Tyson Fury in Las Vegas overnight, but the Blades chief was left frustrated as his side failed to land their own knockout blow, despite having the visitors on the ropes for decent periods.

“Yes, the point sees them move level with fifth-placed Spurs with Jose Mourinho's stuttering side due here in early April, but this, you feel, was an opportunity missed.

By Paul Hazlewood
Lewis Dunk plays the ball out from defence.

“The stadium announcer quite rightly roared before kick-off that there has never been a better time to be a Blade and they took a deserved lead on 26 minutes through defender Enda Stevens.

“United were smart in working a quick corner - short and allowing Ollie Norwood space to pick out a man - so Brighton would have been relieved when Dan Burn rose to head clear.

“But such respite was short-lived and Stevens took one touch to control before dispatching left-footed into the top corner from 18 yards. It was a stunning execution and one that brought a collective gasp of appreciation when shown again inside the ground.

“The Blades were up into fifth position on the back of Stevens’ blast but their elevation lasted just four minutes.

“By the half-hour Albion were level when Neal Maupay broke a nine-game goal drought as he stooped to head in from Adam Webster’s knock-down, the defender having climbed to connect with Aaron Mooy’s deep free-kick.

“It was a soft concession from a home perspective and Wilder’s disappointment told on the touchline. That annoyance had not eased by the time he came to reflect.

“‘We gave away a cheap goal and didn’t deal with the second ball,’ he said. ‘That leaves you open. You can’t do that when they’ve got so many six-foot-four-inch lads. And Maupay is someone we tried to get in the summer, so I’ve got plenty of admiration for him’.”

“Wilder was just as fraught moments after the equaliser when George Baldock, having done well to intercept and kill a promising Brighton counter, then decided to dribble across his own six-yard area. Ezequiel Schelotto slid to challenge Baldock and the defender was lucky to see the ball squirm by the post at the expense of a corner.

“Brighton were limited to just two shots on target, but Potter [said]: ‘We fought and we battled but we’ve played better and lost.

“‘It wasn’t that we didn’t want to play, we just couldn’t, and you have to credit the opposition for that.’

“Wilder, it seems, would not have been impressed had Potter suggested anything other.”

By Paul Hazlewood
Neal Maupay celebrates equalising for Albion last weekend.

At least Yorkshire-based Louise Taylor had a fresh and amusing angle on Sheffield United in The Observer.

She wrote: “Chris Wilder is an unusual manager in all sorts of ways. Not least because he lives so close to his club that he often avoids Sheffield’s traffic jams by either running or catching a bus to work.

“Saturday was a jogging day but Wilder, disguised by a hoodie and Blades scarf, found himself interrupted by an earnest young man clutching a clipboard and pen who clearly did not have a clue who he was.

“What did he think about the matchday experience at Bramall Lane? Could it be improved? How was it for him? It would be a great help if he contributed to the survey.

“By 5pm Sheffield United’s manager could probably have given his interrogator a one-word answer: ‘Frustrating.’ Back in August Wilder would have probably been delighted to think his side would reach the magical 40-point mark by late February but expectations have been heightened to the point that there was dismay at having to settle for staying sixth, behind José Mourinho’s Tottenham on goal difference.

“These things are relative though and Graham Potter would happily swap places with his South Yorkshire counterpart.

“Potter’s consolation was that, bar an early chance dragged wide by Billy Sharp, his back three generally shielded Mat Ryan so well that the goalkeeper sometimes seemed to exist in a footballing oasis, somehow detached from the attacking blitz raging all around him.”

By Paul Hazlewood
Ezequiel Schelotto looks for a way past Enda Stevens

In the Sunday Times, Ian Whittell wrote that “Maupay’s eye was in, and the Brighton striker unleashed a half-volley that flew just over the crossbar before Schelotto had a strong penalty appeal rejected after his cross struck Ben Osborn on the arm. McBurnie wasted two more good openings, mishitting wide when unmarked at the end of Osborn’s cross, and then being denied by Mat Ryan following a deft near-post touch.

“United were also fortunate to finish with 11 men, after substitute John Lundstram survived a check from the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) for a red card after a flying challenge on Dunk.”

15:09

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Extended Highlights: Sheffield United 1 Albion 1

Neil Johnston of the BBC, who made Maupay his man of the match, summed up the value of the result: “Brighton remain without a Premier League win in 2020 - a worrying statistic as they try and keep some distance between themselves and the bottom three.

“Yet for the third successive game they demonstrated they have the character for a scrap as they came from behind to take a point.

“A return to goalscoring form for French forward Maupay could be critical, especially in view of Brighton's tough run.

“Although they are four points above the relegation zone, six of their remaining 11 games are against Wolves (away), Arsenal (home), Leicester (away), Manchester United (home), Liverpool (home) and Manchester City (home).

“Maupay, who started the previous two games on the substitutes bench, was at his sharpest to score after Aaron Mooy's long ball forward had been flicked on - the former Brentford player's eighth league goal of the season and his first in nine top-flight appearances.

“While Brighton have forgotten how to win, their tenacity to come back from falling behind has not been lost on boss Graham Potter.

"'We came back from two goals down in our last away match [against West Ham], and came from behind again.

"'The resilience of the group is fine but we have to show more quality with the ball’."

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