Man we were poor. I can't believe we followed a really bad defeat (in terms of importance) against Watford with such a dreary performance. And once again we were facing a team in less than average form, a great chance was missed to bounce back and get the season back on track. We can only wonder what game we might have played had Davis not conjured up that howler after 3 just minutes. Not a bad decision and not really an error, just a mishap simple as that. These things happen and often, but of course the 'keeper usually gets away with it. Not today, when Davis slipped as he took his kick, the ball hit a retreating Furlong on the back, and when the QPR striker turned to see what was going on, I bet he couldn't believe his luck to see Kelvin on his arse and the ball dropping before him with not a Town defender in sight. Unlike Davis, he made no mistake. You can argue that if things like this are going to happen, then the earlier the better, it gives you time to regain composure and recover. Town though, after a brief spell of positivity, looked like they'd given up for long periods in the match. The visitors were not exactly brilliant, they came to defend, that was clear. There were few chances for either side, and little creativity. Every time a QPR player had a chance to go down, he stayed down. Referee Andy D'Urso, not the most popular face at many grounds, let it happen of course. He made some strange decisions throughout, chucked in some random bookings and generally made a mess of it. Not good enough for the Prem, so we have to suffer it instead. Of course, we can't even remotely begin to blame the officials for the defeat. We weren't at the races, we didn't have any imagination, any aggression, any passion, a certainly no way back after conceding the second goal. Now this one Davis was at fault for. When the free kick was floated in, he apparently called for the defence to leave it for him to deal with, they did, he didn't. Danny Shittu steamed in out of nowhere and headed the ball home. A clear error of judgement to which Davis did at least hold up his hands (shame he didn't hold them up at the time!). One thing Town and Joe Royle were short of too, was options. Joe had decided to bring in Pablo from the cold and put him on the bench, and he felt the out of favour striker deserved another throw of the dice, and brought him on in the second half. Pablo got a good reception, the North Stand sang his name which was exactly what Pablo needed to hear I suspect. He certainly looked to try, but although he created some opportunities and played a few good passes, he never made enough difference to give us any chance. Unfair to judge though, as one player was never going to change the fate of this game in which the entire team under performed on a disappointing scale. Briefly 6 points clear a little over a week ago, we now find ourselves 3rd in the table, albeit "joint top". Wigan stumbled which was very fortuitous, but Sunderland have charged up to pull level now, and look very well placed indeed for a late push. Wigan next week? Is there such thing as a ten pointer?
At this point in the season, and in the position we find ourselves in, these are exactly the games we should now be able to look at in the fixture list and think '3 points'. Town don't seem to have developed that killer instinct however, and we always seem to make heavy work of it. If you'd only seen some of the recent performances from Ipswich, then it would be hard to fathom how we have remained at the top. But we are better than that, and I hope we find some form quick before we drop back completely into the playoff positions. As Joe Royle seems to have to say all too often, "on a different day" we might have scored 6 by half time. Our finishing was not at it's sharpest though, and it was very frustrating to watch as there didn't seem to be that urgency about the team, there wasn't that bit of extra effort. Chances were always a yard away, or a second too late. We've seen it before, if we don't take our chances when they come then we run out of momentum they stop coming. The opposition become wise to it and tighten up. This isn't what exactly happened though, we totally dominated the game for the entire first half but it brought nothing, and we found ourselves playing a very predictable game. The ideas just ran out and we played left to right, right to left, backwards, and predictably, hoof up over the top. Strangely though Watford didn't really counter it, and scoring opportunities came throughout the whole half. Then the *other* thing that always happens, happened, Watford scored against the run of play. 2 minutes were held up on the board at the end of the half, and we all pondered where they had come from, Watford time-wasting was the general consensus, how ironic. In the dying seconds a cross came in and somehow it ended up evading Davis off the head of either Naylor or the Watford player climbing on his back. Typical. That really had us rattled, and although from the restart we pushed harder, it was like tightening your fingers on a fistful of sand. From the midfield forward, we just were not creative enough and lacked the grit to force errors from our opponents. That's where we miss Shefki of course. I doubt anyone predicted that Town would be so reliant on him when we signed him (even after he scored on his debut against Watford!). But I think there's no doubt we need him back to scare the living daylights out of the opposition. Watford's second was somewhat inevitable, they floated in a decent enough corner, and a completely unmarked Dyer jumped and powered a header beyond Kelvin Davis who must've felt pretty let down by his defence. Even our late penalty had some doubt over it, with many saying that it was in fact Scowcroft who handled in the box. Watford almost summed up our day immediately from the restart by going up the other end and scoring, but with 2 forwards with acres of space and time in the box the chance was squandered. Scant consolation our goal anyway though, and a late rally in the 4 minutes added time was as ever, too little too late. I'm thinking of trying to get my season ticket changed, as I want to see us play on these much mentioned "different days" again instead of the "one of those days" ticket I currently have.
Leicester are a better team than their league position suggests at this point in the season, and we were never going to get anything less than a real tough test with this game. A couple of former blues lined up for the visitors, Scowcorft's reception was warm and he got a round of applause, Makin's was as icy cold as the weather. Makin was considered to have left for reasons none other than greed, and was booed on his every touch. A few rounds of "There's only one greedy bastard" also rang out through the match. [interestingly Scowie may soon become a former-former blue]. Town came out of the blocks running, and in the first minute Currie found himself on the edge of the box and unleashed a shot towards the far corner. It looked close to the top corner, and Leicester 'keeper Ian Walker tipped it wide for a corner. Jim took the kick which swung into the centre and was met by a flying Shefki Kuqi, who could not have delivered a more powerful header. There was a loud crack as it broke the sound barrier on it's way into the back of the net. Leicester were obviously caught napping, but were determined to get themselves in gear, but despite their efforts Town were still getting chances and 20 minute later we doubled our lead. From another corner, this time sent in by Darren Currie, Leicester's De Vries made some sort of undecided contact just a yard from the line and the ball hit a surprised Ian Walker who was unfortunately (for him) behind the line. He did the honourable thing of course, and tried to scoop it out with that "what goal?" look on his face but the linesman was sharp to it. 2 nil, was this going to be easy after all? The conditions were terrible for a game of football, not long after the game had started the strong winds were joined by heavy rain. As always though, both teams had to deal with it, and to be honest I think Leicester handled it better. Town's distribution was very poor at times, and Leicester were being allowed quite a few chances on goal. It was Kelvin Davis who kept us in front for so long. He made at least 2 spectacular saves from excellent shots he had no right to save. There were several more first class stops too throughout the game. He wasn't to be beaten though until less than 10 minutes from time. The visitors had been threatening, but it took a free kick to create their goal. Unsworth was not happy with the decision for the foul on the wide outer limits of the box, and would've been even unhappier to see an superb free kick by Stewart curled expertly into the very top corner. Davis leapt like Makin after money, but it was still beyond his reach. The goal was deserved, and in the last stages of the game many Town fans were convinced we were going to be punished for not killing the game with a third goal in the second half. This was largely down to the forced withdrawal of Shefki Kuqi just before half time. An innocuous (i.e. I missed it) challenge left the Fin floored, and with a deep thigh wound. Bugger, there goes the leading goal-scorer for a month. Without him we seemed light up front, well all over the pitch actually, and it'll be unervingly interesting to see how we cope without him. Just how much do we rely on him? Will Bent pick up the conch and over take him as leading scorer? Is Pablo the answer? Find out, in next week's episode...
Shefki Kuqi was given a rousing reception by the Blades on his return to the city of his previous club, unfortunately with him having played for the Owls the home fans considered him to be from the wrong side of the tracks. His name was loudly booed when the teams were read out, and he was given a hard time for the whole afternoon. It is of course the kind of thing Shef U are renowned for and have been since they've had "Colin" at the helm, and we would've been disappointed had it been otherwise. Before kick-off, there was an announcement which drew the attention of all four sides of the ground, and from the Town end, sympathies. One poor sole was celebrating his birthday at the match, he'd reached the ripe old age of 102 and had the misfortune of spending most of it as a Blades fan. Well done that man. Our debutante David Unsworth was on from the start and with Jim starting too, both Kevin Horlock and Daniel Karbassiyoon dropped to the bench. Pablo stayed at home. The new guy was pretty lively and keen to get involved right from the off. It was obvious that the home team were pumped up and ready to give Town a very hard game. They set the pace early on, and got in a few chances that they probably should've scored from. The Town back four were under pressure and taking time to get their game straight, they did soak up the majority of it but were allowing Shef U shots on goal. Davis was called into action during this early period, and this was to be the start of a busy game for him. He made a string of first class saves throughout the game, some pure reactionary stuff, and arguably kept us in it at times. As seems to be the done thing these days, the opener was scored by the new boy. Unsworth found himself very deep in the opposition's box and at an angle which surely limited his options to seeking out to pass, he wellied the ball beyond Patty Kenny into the roof of the net. The celebratory huddle involved almost all the Town players, apart from a lonely Kelvin Davis at the other end! This gave us more confidence, and maybe dented Shef U's a bit, and Town were more creative. The home team were by no means silenced though, and almost equalised either side of the break. Their chance after the restart was a real wake-up call for the defence who had let Tonge trick his way through the defence before getting in a shot which forced Davis into yet another fine save. I guess the second half started pretty much as the first, with Shef U making most of the chances. Another bit of typical Blades nastiness happened 10 minutes into the 2nd, when Fabian Wilnis went down injured after a challenge (not itself unfair) Shef U refused to put the ball out to allow the physio onto the pitch. Play went on and on, until the jeers grew so loud it almost forced them to put it into touch. As Horlock got ready to come on we all thought that Fabian was going to have to go off, he'd been having an excellent game at the back, but thankfully not and it was Currie who made way. Again as with the first half, Town stayed calm and gradually got back into the game, enjoying long periods of possession to the delight of the million or so travelling Tractor Boys. Almost as inevitably as the new man Unsworth getting on the scoresheet, locally-hated Shefki Kuqi was to be the next. From a Magic corner (apparently itself disputed) there was confusion in the Blades box, the ball found Westlake who's shot was deflected to Shefki who easily tucked it in. Cries of offside were ignored by the officials, and Kuqi ran along the Kop in front of the home faithful, ears cupped in hands in "that" way. We couldn't really tell from opposite end about the offside, but walking back to the car, the Shef U fans behind us discussed and concluded that it was deflected to Shefki off a defender, so the lino had made a good decision. Shefki treated the fans to a Flying Fin Flop, but only after the final whistle had gone, amongst genuinely jubilant scenes on the pitch. I thought both teams had played this one out well, but apparently not, according to local and national reports we were completely outplayed. Well I enjoyed it. Colin wasn't happy though.XML error: mismatched tag at line 66