Sixer’s Sheffield United Soapbox: death by a thousand cuts as the Blades take the spoils

Malcolm Dawson writes…….there were several reasons why I decided not to renew my season card over the summer.

1) The number of home games I wouldn’t get to because of other commitments.

2) The painful walk to the ground and back to the car owing to my arthritic knees.

3) The fact that after my surgery in January when I couldn’t get to the Spurs game even if I’d wanted to, I realised that I didn’t really miss the disappointment and frustration of yet another inept display.

4) The negativity of a sizeable minority of the home crowd, booing the manager and the team then walking out early en masse. (I could never boo my team or leave early no matter what and I felt embarrassed and uncomfortable every time that happened.)

5) But most of all my firm belief that whilst Ellis Short controls the purse strings this club is only going one way and that I no longer wished to contribute any of my meagre pension to that part of the beautiful game that has become as corrupt and decadent as the dying days of the Roman Empire.

I wasn’t enjoying the Sunderland experience and decided that I needed a break from a relationship in which the love was becoming decidely one sided. So it was Esh Winning v Penrith for me yesterday.

Pete Sixsmith on the other hand is still suffering and as he almost always is, was there to witness another disappointing afternoon at the “fortress” that is the Sunderland Stadium of Light. A fortress that hasn’t witnessed a home win in the whole of 2017. His report of yesterday’s game arrived by pigeon post this morning with the return address of Sixsmith Towers, Slough of Despond, Shildon, County Durham. It’s content might not make for pleasant reading but as always Sixer’s prose style does.


On a day when Henry Bloefeld’s last “dear old thing” rattled around the Test Match Special commentary box, I was reminded of the late Fred Trueman’s stock phrase, used whenever he was confused by a bowling change or some odd field placings. He would incant into the microphone the words “I don’t know what’s going on out there” and the public school boys he shared the space with would giggle in the background. Fred’s phrase came to me when I heard the team news, when I saw the line-up, when United scored the first goal, when Kone failed to appear for the second half, when the Blades easily snuffed out our feeble second half attempts to get back into the game, when Donaldson waltzed through to settle the game and finally, mercifully, when the game ended.

The immediate cause of this defeat was the team selection and the tactics (or lack of) and for this the fickle finger of fate points clearly at Simon Grayson. A man who, on his appointment and after his first few games, was identified as “a man who knew this league,” he showed worrying signs of not having a clue what his best team was or having any idea of how to play with the admittedly poor hand of cards he has been dealt.

Only he knows why he decided to split up a reasonably competent central defensive partnership and bring in Marc Wilson, a player who has had zero first team minutes this season.

Only he knows why he opted to expose Brendan Galloway to yet another public humiliation.

Only he knows what he saw in the last two weeks that prompted him to recall Jack Rodwell.

Three new players were brought in before the deadline for the princely sum of nowt. Of those three, Wilson looked distinctly rusty and (hopefully) can only improve. He found Clayton Donaldson a handful all afternoon as the 33 year old Yorkshireman roasted the 30 year old Irishman on several occasions not least when scoring the opening goal.

Johnny Williams was busy in midfield and tried to push us forward but had no assistance from any of those around him. Didier Ndong had his poorest game of the season, lacking any kind of intensity or bite and looked like a player suffering from a bout of “What the hell am I doing still stuck at this bloody place, my agent is a tosser” syndrome.

Callum McManaman gave us a cameo when he came on for an increasingly ineffective James Vaughan and at least took on defenders. He may prove to be a useful acquisition – but we have no time for “may’s” we need “will’s”.

Like a magician’s assistant who walked into the cabinet and mysteriously vanished.

The rest of them were as uninspiring as they were at Barnsley. Grabban gave up and slouched around for much of the second half. Ruiter showed that, while he might do well in friendlies, he is struggling in league games and was beaten at his near post for the second game running.

Kone disappeared at half time, relinquishing the honour of following in the footsteps of Raich Carter, Stan Anderson, Charlie Hurley, Bobby Kerr and Kevin Ball as captain. He will not be remembered as fondly as that august list. Browning struggled in his third centre back role and his fellow Evertonian, Galloway was completely out of his depth and spent the first half looking around and wondering where he should be. A caller to BBC Newcastle’s summed him up perfectly – an athlete but not a footballer.

Vaughan’s lack of goals and worthwhile attempts at opening his account is becoming embarrassing and Honeyman ran around a lot without achieving anything. And as for Rodwell………

Here is a player who at one time had the world at his feet. A regular place at Goodison Park, in the England squad and playing for the team he had supported as a boy. Life must have looked great for the Southport born Rodwell. A big money move to Manchester City failed dismally as he made 16 appearances in two years partly due to injury. He pitched up here as Gus Poyet’s marquee signing as we sought to build on the League Cup/Great Escape season and he has failed dismally in his three years at Sunderland.

For many supporters, he is seen to personify all that is wrong with the club. Four managers have tried to get something out of him and all have failed. For people who may be “just about managing”, it is enormously frustrating to see a footballer being paid huge amounts of money and producing so little. I cannot remember coming away from any game thinking that Rodwell had made a difference to it other than in a negative way.

After Donaldson’s second goal, he became the target for terrace anger and was booed every time he touched the ball. He took his goal well but nobody cared by that stage and it would probably be in his best interests and that of the support if he tore up his contract and looked elsewhere. A fresh start at a club that is not as riven as Sunderland appears to be may well be what he needs.

A word about the Blades: they were very well organised and knew exactly what their roles were. Chris Wilder has built a good side here and he has 100% backing from the support. Clayton Donaldson, signed from Birmingham City for a ”nominal” fee, will get them through the autumn months and I was impressed with Chris Basham at the back but what impressed me the most was the collective spirit that they showed. We had none.

An increasingly familiar site

This was a thoroughly wretched afternoon which leaves me desperately worried about the next few weeks. No home win since December, a crowd who are close to giving up, a managerial team who must be wondering why they left the safety and security of Deepdale for the snake pit of the Stadium of Light and players who are struggling for form and confidence.

Simon Grayson likened this to Groundhog Day, a film where the leading character commits suicide several times. After sitting through ninety minutes of this rubbish, I know how Phil Connor (played by Bill Murray) feels as he tries to break the cycle of endless repetition which leaves him angry and frustrated and with no chance of getting what he wants. For Bill Murray it was the heart and body of Andie McDowell.

I’ll settle for a home win on Tuesday night and then I might have some idea of what on earth is going on out there.