The dream continues, but not for us. Good luck to Sheff Utd in the semis, they’ve earned their day in the sun (possibly two of course). A very tight game of few chances ultimately came down to who scored first; although whether we’d have got back into it if we hadn’t conceded a second in double-quick time we’ll never know, with that cushion helping them to avoid what might otherwise have been a nervy final 10 minutes or so. We can’t quibble about the result as we failed to score. We all know the pivotal moment of the game for us, the second-half Harriott miss, but there was also one in the first half when a set-piece ball seemed to go through Morrison a couple of yards out. We had the breaks against Sheff Wed, but not today.
I’m not going to go for a full report. Surely every Addick saw the match or by now is well aware of what happened. And it’s been a long day. So just a few reflections from me.
I wasn’t surprised by the ‘two banks of four’ set-up with which we started the game, although the repeat of shifting Cousins wide right to bring Jackson into central midfield and have Harriott start on the left was slightly surprising, given the difficulties that creates for Cousins himself and for us to get much going down the right side, especially as Tudgay tended to work on that side and consequently we saw little of Wilson as an attacking threat. On the other flank, Wiggins was similarly constrained. In any event Sheffield’s two wingers kept them busy enough defensively. It all meant it was very hard work for Church and Tudgay up front to get anything going against larger central defenders, although both were to have their moments.
Defensively, although Sheffield were lively and often more accurate with their passing (they knew each other well enough and each guy knew his job, where to be and what to do), we were seldom stretched in the first half (the one put into the net by them was well offside) and really until the goals came. Harriott’s pace always carried promise, but for the most part it was a case of two teams prioritising not giving the opposition space in the final third and looking to nick something at the other end, from a mistake, a set-piece, or something out of the ordinary.
If anything the second half was even tighter as the importance of any first goal grew. We did have our moment as quick thinking by Tudgay to make a move and be picked out well with the free kick saw the ball knocked back across and their keeper out of position. It seemed to get to Harriott as he was stretching for it, a little off-balance, but the effort only had to go the right side of the post for it to count and it didn’t.
The game was getting to the stage when you wondered which manager might make a change first, who might decide to take the risk and go for it. We made our first change, with Church replaced by Ajdarevic, but he’d barely got on the pitch when the deadlock was broken. It was one of those crosses that you think can’t really get to the far post but was angled and bounced in such a way that Hamer was tempted but couldn’t get there and the central defenders hesitated. When it did get to the far post their guy steered it in the opposite direction to leave Hamer stranded.
OK, so be it. It’s a different game now. But thoughts of regrouping quickly went out of the window as while we were still reeling a little we failed to deal with a move down the left, defenders got pulled towards the ball, and when it was squared their guy had plenty of time to line up a shot. The deflection it took was just one of those things.
If anything disappointed me today it was our reaction after their second goal. There was still time. If we got one back the final minutes would be very interesting. Instead we seemed to be squabbling on the pitch, the further changes made to chase the game - with Poyet and Wilson replaced by Green and Ghoochannejhad, us going with three at the back and effectively a line of four, sometimes five, up front - caused confusion. For a while a third for Sheffield was far more likely than us getting back into the game. We did finally force their keeper into a superb save in stoppage time, but the game was up before then.
Nobody had a great game. Poyet was generally effective but did get caught out a couple of times, Church and Tudgay worked very hard with little reward (and the latter was responsible for creating our real chance). Jackson may have been constrained for much of the game by the yellow card he picked up for a poorly-timed challenge. Until their goal(s) I’d marked down Wiggins as man-of-the-match for us, as he’d stopped his man all afternoon. But even he had a bad 10 minutes or so after they took the lead and seemed to lose some composure.
When you set up in a one-off game to keep things tight and come away losing there’s always the feeling that you might as well have gone for it from the start, couldn’t have turned out worse. Their manager commented on the BBC site that they looked nervous in the first 20 minutes or so and that he was glad to get into the break at 0-0. With hindsight, a more adventurous approach to try to take advantage of their apprehension may have seen a different outcome. But I’ve no real complaints on that front; go ahead and we probably would have won. Also, it was unfortunate that we made our first change just as they scored their goals and then found ourselves having to make fresh adjustments as the game had changed.
We’ve only got a couple of days to lick our wounds as we all know what’s coming up now to the end of the season. Like on Saturday on Tuesday night we have to watch and hope that results go a little more our way before the visit of Huddersfield and then the trip to Millwall. Sheff Utd have ensured that whether or not they can make the play-offs their season still has another high; we have to ensure that our season too ends on an upbeat note. And we all know what that means.