Sunday 19 November 2023

Sheffield United (U21s) 4-4 Coventry City (U21s)

Sheffield United (U21s) 4-4 Coventry City (U21s)
Professional Development League
Friday 17th November 2023

A Friday night in Chesterfield, plenty of good players on show, eight goals and loads of unpredictability and entertainment in this game as Sheffield United and Coventry City played out a 4-4 in the PDL (North).

Despite being top of the table, the Blades were nowhere near at their best and if it hadn’t been for Sydie Peck (very impressive, epitomised everything he’s all about, and had one of the best individual performances I’ve ever seen from him) then I don’t think they would have got anything whatsoever from this game.

For two-thirds of the 90 minutes, Coventry were the better team and looked good with plenty of stand-out players. Aidan Dausch’s double and Marco Rus’ sweeping strike helped them into a 3-1 lead; they then led 4-2 in the second half thanks to a goal by Callum Perry and looked to be absolutely coasting towards victory, only for United to finally get their act together in the last 20-25 minutes and hit back in style to earn a point.

Bizarrely in the end, the Sky Blues can probably count themselves a bit lucky to have not lost - such was the manner of United’s late performance, and I’ve got little doubt that both teams will have felt a bit frustrated in the dressing room afterwards.

Match Report

Having not seen much football recently (compared to my usual standards), I was really looking forward to this game!

Coventry, despite a few crap and inconsistent results in recent weeks, have always impressed me when I’ve watched them - the last time I saw them play, they beat Hull (partly inspired by Aidan Dausch’s late impact). Callum Perry was also good that night. Riccardo Di Trolio is a solid centre-back with lots of qualities who I’ve liked ever since his U21s debut at Barnsley back in February, whilst Marco Rus (bags of talent and ability and always capable of making something happen) was the Sky Blues best player in this fixture two years ago.

They were all in the starting 11 for Coventry and in Sheffield United’s team were various players who I’ve watched so many times - including a few who’ve made decent impressions at different points such as Evan Easton (who has settled in brilliantly since signing in the summer), Ben Drake (impressive in most games this season), Sydie Peck (back from injury and such a good player), Antwoine Hackford (one of the top scorers in this league this season), Jili Buyabu (the best LWB I’ve seen in Category Two football over the past year) or Andre Brooks (always capable of changing a game with a flash of quality).

So the tone was set nicely!

Coventry also named three over-age players in their line-up (Liam Kelly, Callum O’Hare and Simon Moore) which is permitted under Premier League rules yet despite their extra ‘experience’ it was a familiar story early on as table-topping SUFC drew first blood and went 1-0 up thanks to Sydie Peck’s first of several good involvements as he beat a couple of players on the edge of the box, was really direct, used a bit of trickery to match his tidy footwork and technique, and played a ball towards the back-post which was tucked home by Antwoine Hackford who slipped in between two to convert.

Nevertheless, from that opener up until about five minutes before half-time, it was ALL COVENTRY as they got at the Blades and put them under relentless pressure which was really impressive to witness.

Callum O’Hare used his experience and know-how to create space and wreak havoc. Marco Rus looked sharp and really up for it. Aidan Dausch was a persistent threat showing glimpses yet again of what he’s all about, and the Blades’ youthful three-man defence of Evan Easton, Ben Drake and Dovydas Sasnauskas were given the runaround to a large extent.

Soon enough the latter two of Coventry’s impressive trio combined for a quick equaliser with Rus bursting down the right and sliding in a low ball for Dausch to finish off at the near-post. Well-worked. Well-taken and back on level terms!

Coventry remained on top and Dausch was soon very unlucky not to make it 2-1 when he seemed to sliced a shot narrowly wide of Luke Faxon’s left-hand post having moved well to create half-a-yard of space inside the box and get a quick shot off, but the Sky Blues didn’t have to wait too much longer to go 2-1 up as Rus and Dausch combined once more.

Having jinked past his man to cut inside and into a shooting position, I’ve got no doubt that Marco Rus intended it as a shot when he released the ball goalwards from the edge of the area. It wasn’t a good shot but turned into a brilliant pass as it fell straight into Dausch’s path and what happened next was remarkable as Dausch worked off pure instincts by flicking it up, spinning away from Ben Drake who was perhaps too tight to him, and then cushioning it mid-air on the volley straight into the bottom corner for an absolutely brilliant goal - unbelievable technique!

If 2-1 was good, 3-1 would have felt even better for Coventry and that’s what the scoreline soon became...

In attempting to deal with the ball in the air, Ben Drake and Dovydas Sasnauskas contrived to concede a throw in line with the edge of their own box. When it was taken, Aidan Dausch got the ball inside the area and this time turned provider by laying it back for Marco Rus on the edge of the area, who swept it at the first time of asking up and over Luke Faxon straight into the top corner for a goal which was equally as impressive as the last one.

Devastating from Dausch; Remarkable from Rus… I think Coventry’s Twitter feed was absolutely spot on with that description of both the goals and when you watch them back it just makes you appreciate the quality of the finishes even more! Take a bow lads because if you scored them goals infront of the TV cameras, the commentators would be purring!

At this point, with Coventry looking so commanding and Sheffield United really not looking at their usual standard, you felt as if the game might really start to get away from the Blades.

Instead, step-forward Sydie Peck (literally) because within a minute of having gone 3-1 down, he brilliantly made his second massive contribution of the night to make it 3-2 with a sensational piece of play in which he slalomed his way into the area, past two or three defenders (again) and duly slotted home in a great example of what he can do when he’s given the ball and is at his best. Superb from Sydie!

United suddenly looked rejuvenated and in the five minutes between Sydie’s strike and the half-time whistle, Coventry were hanging on - and the Blades even shouted for a penalty in one of those dubious instances where the ball may have been handled by a defender inside his own box. The appeals were vocal. The referee was unmoved and that was that! 

Breathless stuff but it remained 3-2 at half-time!

Despite Sheffield United initially looking good in the first five minutes after half-time - including another incident where they should have been given a free-kick on the edge of the box when Sydie Peck was charging through in possession and was pulled back only for the referee to close his eyes and wave play on (horrendous how he didn’t give it because it was that blatant), it wasn’t look until Coventry took charge of things again and began to dominate.

And soon enough, they extended their lead to 4-2.

Luke Faxon had just pulled off a fingertip save from Brad Stretton who let fly with an effort from the edge of the box which looked to be curling in until the very last moment, but from the resulting corner, Stretton turned provider for Callum Perry who smashed one in from about eight yards when the ball dropped fortuitously at his feet.

With things looking ominous again, it seemed like the Sky Blues might go on to rack up maybe six or seven goals. Luke Faxon was forced into more good saves, Evan Easton also had to put his body on the line a couple of times to stop other attacks from leading to something more dangerous and Coventry were well in command.

Past the hour mark both teams made a couple of changes. Nicksoen Gomis replaced Ben Drake which gave United a bit more experience they needed, Billy Blacker came on for Fernando Macedo upfront when the Brazilian had to go off injured, and a big change for Coventry occurred when Liam Kelly went off having held things together well in the spine of the Sky Blues team and was replaced by Elliot Betjemann - purposeful and a good player in his own right but without that 400-game experience or know-how (or the bald head) that Liam Kelly has.

These changes set the tone and from about 65-70 minutes all the way through to full-time, the Blades slowly started to get on top, turning that into DOMINANCE and lots of pressure and they were miles the better team who looked more like scoring in the latter stages.

Having been quiet, Jili Buyabu started to push high up the left channel and look more troublesome - especially in one-v-one scenarios where he was a real threat. On the opposite flank, Andre Brooks began to get more involved (after a very quiet first 45 minutes) and he’d already weaved his way past several players on a mazy run and got all the way into the box but just couldn’t quite provide the finish for what would otherwise have been another great goal. But in his next involvement on 78 minutes, Brooksy helped pull one back as he took on his man in open-play, put in a delivery towards the back-post area which ricocheted off the post and back to Nicksoen Gomis who steered the loose ball into the net.

It was now ‘Game On’. Coventry were looking ‘wobbly’ and they were the team now hanging on. Dermi Lusala made a few last-ditch tackles as the pressure intensified in the last quarter-of-an-hour, Riccardo Di Trolio applied himself equally as determinedly in his efforts to keep the ball out by heading away from various set-pieces as Sydie Peck and Sydie Peck remained instrumental in open play where lots of things went through him high up the pitch and he showed lots of threat.

Eventually, the Blades pressure paid off. Surprisingly, it wasn’t Sydie Peck who instigated the equaliser; instead it was Brooksy again as he cut inside and let fly with a vicious 25-yard strike which swerved in mid-air and was parried by Simon Moore only for Billy Blacker to gobble up the rebound at the first time of asking and earn the Blades a deserved point.

The final minutes were played out with a good intensity as both teams went for it.

Again the application of the Coventry backline was top class as they committed everything and put their bodies on the line to make sure they got a point, yet at the other end the Sky Blues went close to carving out a couple of chances on the counter-attack albeit they didn’t come to anything. It was really entertaining and absorbing to watch, you half-wanted the referee to keep until someone scored, but neither team could ultimately find a winner.

Overall Thoughts

On the whole, Coventry will feel disappointed that they played so well in parts and didn’t win - some of the goals will probably frustrate them individually, but likewise such was the ferocity with how Sheffield United fought back they’ll feel disappointed themselves that they couldn’t find a late winner to cap off a good high quality last 20-25 minutes.

Individually, there were lots of contenders for a ‘Man Of The Match’ award.

Marco Rus was good; tidy on the ball, got two assists, proved his end product with his sweeping strike (top technique) for the goal he scored, and it was good to see him make the same kind of really positive impact that I know he’s capable of making. Playing at his best with confidence and with his head up. Even though he only did 45 minutes, long may it continue because when he’s in form and flourishing, he’s a class player and capable of being one of the very best at this level.

Aidan Dausch was impressive. His first goal was simple. His second was ridiculous; touch, turn and BANG and the technique he showed was just way above the standard of what you’d expect from someone his age. Having now seen this performance by him; having watched his impact in the U21s game at Hull, knowing about his four goals in the 8-0 win over Hull in the U18s too, he is a tremendous footballer with bags of talent which you can only appreciate and a player who fans should keep an eye on. Class for his age!

Amongst others in Coventry shirts, Callum O’Hare brought all his experience into the game. Brad Stretton worked hard all the way up to the final whistle which was noticeable - and was only denied a goal due to a great save. Callum Perry was good on the left side; different to where I've seen him play before but he'll be happy to have scored too. Liam Kelly’s influence and experience didn’t go unnoticed. Dermi Lusala put a shift in and it’s always good to watch Riccardo Di Trolio (no fist-pumps or raw passion in this game) but plenty of headers he won; lots he competed for, he won many of his duels and has all the aggressive characteristics and qualities that I like in a defender. He won’t be happy to have conceded four goals but his application was very good as it always is!

And in Sheffield United’s team, Charlie Staniland in the CDM spot rolled his sleeves up and put in a typical ‘grit and graft’ performance which he always does (a likable trait) - nothing spectacular like his goal against Cardiff a few months back where he morphed into Gazza for a few seconds, but tenacious qualities. Andre Brooks was very good in the second half and played a key part in the comeback which he deserves credit for. Jili Buyabu (the best LWB at Category Two level) got better as the game went on - showed his sharpness and quality as the game wore on. Billy Blacker made exactly the impact he was brought on to make which will do his confidence wonders. Femi Seriki was strong; nothing sensational (just another game for him) but he adds to this team with the bit of experience he's got from his previous loans. Nicksoen Gomis was strong and improved the overall performance of the team. And Evan Easton was probably just about the best of the CB’s in Sheffield United’s line-up (a couple of situations where he read situations perfectly and committed himself to win the ball). Bits for Ben Drake and Dovydas Sasnauskas to learn from this game but they’ve shown their qualities in other performances, are in this team on merit, and it’s nothing too much to worry about right now - and the whole defence will get better from experiences such as this one where they come up against quality players.

And without Luke Faxon’s saves, the eventual comeback wouldn’t have been possible because when Coventry were on top at 4-2, Fax made a very impressive save - reacting well to save an effort when Liam Kelly tried to lob him from about 40 yards out which was a very good piece of goalkeeping. He did himself a lot of justice with his performance and it was decent, even if the scoreline at first glance might suggest otherwise.

However, the stand-out player by a mile was Sydie Peck.

The thing I remember most about Sydie is after the PDL Play-Off Final last year when Sheffield United lost to Millwall, he stood alone at the side of the pitch, absolutely gutted and dejected, but deliberately put himself through the ordeal of watching Millwall celebrate way after everyone else had disappeared. That’s his psyche! He was hurting that night but used that scenario as fuel to drive himself to do even more. He wants to be a winner!

And wearing the captain’s armband in this game, he took his personality and character onto the pitch and didn’t hide away when it wasn’t going well for SUFC. Throughout the 90 minutes, he showed a purpose to get the ball (plus get in positions to make himself available to receive it as well - all noticeable), combined with a drive, a desire, an angry and focused determination, an aggression, a proper tenacity, and he took the situation by the scruff of the neck more than anyone else. In adversity (and, believe me, at 4-2 and 3-1 down and playing crap there WAS adversity in this game), those qualities were exactly what was needed. It’s why he’s a leader and why I’ve so much respect for him. On the ball he provided quality (one goal, one assist - fantastic examples of his ability and what he can do). His flight and balance, sharpness, and link-up play was all really good but it was his willingness to just work hard and give EVERYTHING to get back in the game that was superb and what stood out the most.

Without Sydie’s desire (plus also Brooksy’s bits of skill in the second half), then I think Sheffield United would have got hammered in this game. He set such a high benchmark; covered loads of ground as well, during his time out injured he seems to have bulked up with his upper-body strength (certainly compared to last season) and used that at times to keep hold of the ball, and playing like this then I’ve got no doubt he’ll have a good career - he’s found another level and all the characteristics he showed in this game was a pleasure to witness. It’s probably the best I’ve ever seen him play and this performance is one I’ll remember from him for a long time - not just solely due to his goal, but due to his attitude and application. Top quality and a joy to watch!

Sheffield United: Luke Faxon, Femi Seriki, Jili Buyabu, Dovydas Sasnauskas, Evan Easton, Ben Drake (Nicksoen Gomis), Sydie Peck, Charlie Staniland, Antwoine Hackford, Fernando Macedo (Billy Blacker), Andre Brooks. Unused Subs: Ryan Andrews, Jayden Prunty, George Dickinson.

Coventry City: Simon Moore, Dermi Lusala, Riccardo Di Trolio, Luis Binks, Callum Perry, Liam Kelly (Elliot Betjemann), Marco Rus (Kai Andrews), Evan Eghosa, Bradley Stretton, Aidan Dausch, Callum O'Hare. Unused Subs: Finley Osborn, Rylie Siddall, Jayden Smith.

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