John Lundstram sees Sheffield United past Crystal Palace
Four Republic of Ireland internationals in Blades starting lineup at Bramall Lane
John Lundstram of Sheffield United celebrates with teammates after scoring his team’s first goal during the Premier League win over Crystal Palace. Photo: Jan Kruger/Getty Images
Sheffield United 1 Crystal Palace 0
The smell of fresh paint and the warmth of the August sun hinted at exciting new beginnings but there was also a lot that seemed reassuringly familiar about Sheffield United as they hosted Premier League football for the first time in 12 years.
While Bramall Lane enjoyed a £5m summer makeover, Chris Wilder simply kept faith with the philosophy which won his Blades two promotions in the last three seasons and furnished him with the best win percentage of any manager in England.
Such consistency entailed Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace being left bamboozled by his counterpart’s now famous overlapping centre-halves as England’s manager looked on admiringly and John Lundstram’s deserved winner was cheered to the rafters.
Gareth Southgate was in the posh seats, equipped with notebook and pen. Maybe England’s coach had come to take a first hand looks at the Premier League’s latest tactical innovation, namely those overlapping centre-halves? Or perhaps a Sheffield United starting XI consisting solely of British and Irish players was the principal draw?
Whatever the reason, Southgate surely cannot fail to have been intrigued by the sight of Chris Basham, the right sided element of Wilder’s central defensive trinity, accelerating beyond his wing back, George Baldock, as he scooted out to the right flank.
Back in his own days at centre half, Southgate – once a Palace player – would probably have been rather good at interpreting the role in typically elegant, measured fashion but this system does leave a lot of responsibility resting with the sitting defender who stays back and holds things together while others rampage forward.
John Egan plays that role for Wilder and, from it, the Republic of Ireland international read the game very well, frequently second-guessing the attacking manoeuvres conjured by Christian Benteke, Wilfried Zaha and friends.
It is not so long ago that Egan’s career seemed over when he was released by Sunderland following a horrific leg break sustained during a loan stint at Bradford so it was heartening to see him at the nerve centre of a formation which appeared to be causing Roy Hodgson considerable technical area frustration.
Hats off, too, to Oliver Norwood who excelled in the centre of Wilder’s midfield, the home captain playing a significant part in Palace’s travails on a day when the unsettled Zaha’s heart did not seem to be in it and his teammates exhibited the sort of collective sluggishness which does not bode well for the potential relegation battle ahead.
In theory Zaha, Andros Townsend and company should have been able to pick their hosts off on the counterattack but, with Egan subduing Benteke and Palace looking extremely confused as Wilder’s backline often morphed into a quartet as the visitors advanced, Dean Henderson was barely tested in goal.
The downside for Wilder involved Vicente Gauita’s similar under-employment. Granted Sheffield United did menace on the break – and particularly when those attacks came down their right where Palace’s left-back, Patrick van Aanholt often seemed caught out of position, but a generally underwhelming final ball dictated that Hodgson’s goalkeeper was rarely called to arms.
Guaita did make one very important save late in the first half though. When Van Aanholt lost possession in incessantly slapdash fashion, John Lundstram was able to deliver a dangerous cross which appeared to be dropping perfectly for David McGoldrick to polish off. Instead, McGoldrick’s connection proved faulty, the ball possibly bouncing off his shin and facilitating the goalkeeper’s vital intervention.
The second half had barely begun before Lundstram showed McGoldrick how to polish off a chance, lashing his shot into the net after Guaita had palmed Luke Freeman’s drive into the midfielder’s path.
Unerring as Lundstram’s finish was, Freeman – a first half substitute for the injured John Fleck – deserves immense credit for skipping effortlessly past his marker at the end of a move initiated by one of those overlapping centre halves – the left sided Jack O’Connell this time.
As all eyes turned towards Wilder – dressed down for the occasion in a steel grey gilet – Hodgson wore a look of utter bewilderment. He will surely not be the last manager to be “Wildered” here. – Guardian