Town fail to disprove Blackwell theory

IN THE build-up to this game Sheffield United manager Kevin Blackwell pointed out that Jim Magilton had been given �12m to spend by Marcus Evans but that money can't always buy you a team.

Derek Davis

IN THE build-up to this game Sheffield United manager Kevin Blackwell pointed out that Jim Magilton had been given �12m to spend by Marcus Evans but that money can't always buy you a team.

It was hard to argue with him after seeing his side, funded in part by the sale of strikers James Beattie and Jon Stead, totally outplay the Blues in the first half and almost contemptuously hold them at bay in the second.

While United looked fluid, bright and dangerous, after a few days' break training in Malta, Town looked leggy and uninspiring.

Although they worked until the final whistle they lacked any conviction and did not look a team that had been built over three years at considerable cost that should be genuine promotion challengers.

Yet again they looked far from that.

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They looked the mediocre side they are, consigned to mid-table for some time to come, as indeed their league position shows.

A draw for QPR meant Town dropped to 11th which makes a change from the 10th spot they have held for most of the past five months.

Magilton disagreed with the travelling Town supporters who suggested 'you don't know what you are doing' when he made a double substitution 10 minutes into the second half, replacing David Norris and Jon Stead.

The manager made it clear he did not much care for their views and that he did indeed know what he was doing.

That will be why he picked Veliche Shumulikoski and Owen Garvan in midfield after both had returned from international duty when in the past each have admitted they come back weary and not at their best.

In the past Magilton has acknowledged that and steered clear of starting with them.

This time he dropped Tommy Miller, who we were assured had got over his dead leg, to the bench. He filled Luciano Civelli's absence by putting Alan Quinn wide left, where he has never been comfortable, and stuck Norris wide right where he is rarely effective.

It did not work and United enjoyed the freedom of the Bramall Lane pitch with Greg Halford roaming effortlessly around the midfield coming in from the right and causing mayhem. Left-back Gary Naysmith and left-midfielder David Cotterill were making hay down their side with Norris failing to close either down.

It was from there that the Blades' opener came and it was simplicity itself, aided by poor marking.

Cotterill and Naysmith, who clearly had not spent their international duty with Scotland staying up all night drinking, were blocked from a direct approach to the area by right-back Alex Bruce, assisted by Norris, so Naysmith opted for the simple ball back inside to Halford.

The rangy lad from Chelmsford took a couple of touches and with all the time in the world picked his spot from 30-yards with a wonderfully-struck curling shot that beat Richard Wright.

The Blues keeper, skipper for the day, made his feelings known as Ivan Campo in particular, looked away sheepishly.

If you accept the Halford goal was down to great skill from the wandering midfielder then the second owed more to poor Town defending.

Campo needlessly conceded a free kick on Henderson near the touchline and even though Bruce got a header to Cotterill's initial free kick it was only cleared by Stead as far as Kyle Naughton.

The full-back clipped the ball back into the area and Darius Henderson rose above Pim Balkestein and Bruce to head down and wide of the despairing Wright.

The ageing Spaniard almost cost Town a third when he played a poor pass to Shumulikoski, who lost control and Jamie Ward pounced. He hit his shot early from 25 yards and fortunately for Town it was off target.

Ward, a bargain buy from Chesterfield where he had impressed against Town earlier in the season in the FA Cup, was always a threat.

He hit a post with a fine effort and forced Wright into making another good save down low.

The Town captain also denied Cotterill and Henderson in the first half.

Insipid Ipswich were allowed more of the ball in the second half as Championship manager of the month Kevin Blackwell settled for the two-goal lead and shut up shop after the interval.

Unadventurous as it was to drop Ward into a five-man midfield with Henderson as the lone striker, it was effective and they were able to see out the game without too much drama.

Town's best chances came from corners with Balkestein twice winning headers only to be denied by the ever-reliable Paddy Kenny.

Danny Haynes replaced Norris but never really got free of Naysmith while Pablo Counago took on big Chris Morgan and aggravated him the way a mosquito might an elephant but was generally swiped away.

There were some classy touches for the Bramall Lane crowd from Stead and Quinn, who both got a warm ovation when their names were read out just before kick-off and when the striker was substituted.

Town clearly missed the assured presence of skipper Gareth McAuley and the composed and consistent David Wright but the defence in the first half looked awful.

It settled better when Campo was taken off, Moritz Volz went in at right-back and Bruce moved to his more accustomed centre-half position.

It is easy in hindsight to argue that Town should have started that way but the way the Blades played in that first half they would have still cut them to ribbons.

The worrying thing for Town fans is there may be another season of this to come, even with more investment from Evans and time for Magilton.