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Madine opens his account, as United stick four past Reading

Opting to start the game without top goal scorers Billy Sharp, and David McGoldrick, Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder was ecstatic that his selection gamble paid off after they hammered Reading to temporarily go second in the table. 

Wing-back Kieron Freeman opened the scoring just after 38 seconds, following a six-week absence from the first team, which was the beginning of a ruthless performance from the Blades.

United soon made it two when on-loan striker Gary Madine scored his first goal for the club, leathering the ball into the top-left corner, after some outstanding pressing work from John Fleck who forced an error from Reading’s backline.

Madine added to his tally late in the first half, latching onto a perfect first-time cross from Marvin Johnson. His shot was unstoppable as it rippled into the back of Emiliano Martinez’s goal, giving Wilder’s side an impressive 3-0 lead.

Additionally, Martinez was left stranded in the centre of his goal for United’s fourth, as a long-range effort from Fleck took a deflection off Reading defender Matt Miazga en route to goal, putting an end to the one-sided encounter.

When asked about his team’s impressive performance, and the reasoning behind his team-selection changes, Wilder responded: “The easy call was to keep the same team. I feared a slow game and a tired game, it was important we had an energetic performance. I wanted us to play a little more forward, Gary Madine and Scott Hogan allowed us to do that.”

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Moving forward, during his time at Bramall Lane Wilder has be known for his adopted progressive attacking style, and possession-based tactics. However, this game painted a totally different picture compared to a typical Sheffield United performance.

Whilst, the Blades commonly exit fixtures with a dominant possession percentage, especially on home soil, on Saturday Reading enjoyed a much more time on the ball than the hosts. Predominantly focusing on the Royal’s weakness in midfield, Wilder set out his side to constantly press the opposition forcing an interception of play, which would then be followed by a quick, and direct counter-attack through either Johnson, Fleck, or Mark Duffy.

This is also evident through the more laid-back approach from midfield maestro Oliver Norwood. The Northern Ireland international would usually be used to sit deep, controlling the tempo of the game, alongside creating time and space for his teammates to slowly push the ball forward into the opposition’s half. Subsequently, Norwood only made 50 successful passes from his usual 70 passes per game on average, proving how he was told to focus more on his defensive duties, and wait to pounce on an error in midfield.

Undoubtedly, Madine’s magnificent performance in front of goal, providing two goals and one assist, cannot be ignored. However, his performance shouldn’t overshadow how much of an impact Scottish midfielder Fleck had on the game.

fleck-5c-20vs-5_36555713.pngIntercepting the ball more than any other United player, alongside attempting the second-highest amount of tackles. Fleck’s engine-like work-rate was a pivotal part as to why the Blades so easily dominated the play. Playing a typical box-to-box central midfielder, Fleck didn’t tire for the entirety of the game, as well as covering more ground than any other player for either side.

Seemingly the best player on the pitch, defensively and moving the ball forward, Fleck undeniably will have to continue putting in man of the match performances like against Reading. As, Wilder must now prepare his side for an automatic promotion six-pointer against Midlands club West Bromwich Albion next weekend.

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Does Gary Madine warrant a starting place in Sheffield United’s front line?

Being consistently tagged as ‘a handful at this level’ by many Championship defenders including Sheffield United’s own Jack O’Connell and John Egan, the loan signing of Cardiff City forward Gary Madine has caused nothing but split opinion between Blades fans since his arrival.

The 28-year-old has been heavily criticised before even touching a football in a United shirt, due to his foolish off the field antics early into his professional career. However, with Chris Wilder praising his professionalism and enthusiasm to play for Sheffield United, the only question that needs answering is does Madine have the footballing ability to lead United’s strikeforce to Championship glory?

Early in his career, Madine saw minimal success with stints at Carlisle United, and Sheffield Wednesday which included various short loan spells at Rochdale, Coventry City on two occasions, and Blackpool. It wasn’t until his move to Bolton Wanderers in 2015, where he first started to flaunt his strong presence, and aerial ability, which has carved him into the perfect Football League target man.

Helping the Trotters gain promotion back to the Championship in 2017, he then followed up the promotion campaign, with a magnificent start to life in the Championship. Being the focal point in Phil Parkinson’s long ball system, Madine would hold up play, and have the ability bring two central defenders out of the game at one time, to allow Bolton’s widemen to cut inside and worry the goalkeeper. The English forward’s remarkable start to the 2017/18 season, then opened the eyes of Cardiff City’s manager Neil Warnock, who in the January transfer window splashed a reported £6 million on Madine, making him the Bluebirds most expensive transfer since the 2013/14 season. Despite, not scoring a league goal for Cardiff, he still showed glimpses of his best, as many blades fans will remember Madine knocking the ball down to Anthony Pilkington who scored a last-minute equaliser at Bramall Lane last term.

So, now having the lowdown on Madine’s most successful Championship campaign, how does he compare to Wilder’s current frontline?

Apps Goals Shots per game Assists Key Passes Pass Succession% Dribbles per game Aerials Won
Madine (17/18) Bolton 28 10 2.7 5 1.5 58.2 0.3 8.8
Madine (17/18) Cardiff 5 (8) 0 0.8 2 0.8 59.7 0.2 4
Sharp 21 (4) 16 2 1 0.8 75.8 0.1 1
McGoldrick 22 (5) 10 2.7 3 0.6 73.9 0.9 2.6
Clarke 9 (14) 3 0.9 3 0.4 61.8 0.1 2.6
Washington 3 (9) 0 0.8 1 0.3 83.3 0.2 0.3

When comparing Madine’s clinical nature in front of goal against United’s current forwardline, obviously the skipper Billy Sharp outshines every other striker with his impressive goal to game ratio this season. Although, comparing his time at Bolton with David McGoldrick shows how put into the right system, Madine may prove to be as effective as the Irishman. Also, with him slightly averaging more shots per game than Sharp, placed in Wilder’s free flowing attacking system, with the likes of Mark Duffy, John Fleck, and Oliver Norwood supporting the tall striker, he will more than likely flourish in their presence.

Additionally, it is evident that Madine is bestowed with a creative flair that our other forwards lack. Averaging more key passes than our current front line, alongside an impressive seven assists for both Championship club’s last term, suggests his quality in the air, and ability to link up with another striker, which may bring even more goals out of Sharp and McGoldrick.

Looking at the most pivotal part of Madine’s style of play, his ability to dominate the football in the air, and use his powerful physique to hold of defenders, allowing more space in the penalty area. Madine clearly would be Wilder’s best option to utilise as a target man, with Leon Clarke usually being the forward to operate the role. The 28-year old obliterates his competitors by a large margin with the number of aerial duels he wins per game, proving with Madine in the side, Wilder will always have the option to resort to a route one, direct style of play, if his team is struggling to break down a resolute back line.

Apps Aerials Won
Kieffer Moore (Barnsley) 16 (4) 9.6
Gary Madine (Bolton) 28 8.8
Steve Morison (Millwall) 38 (6) 7.5
Sean Morrison (Cardiff) 38 (1) 7.2
Matt Smith (QPR) 17 (24) 6.9
Harlee Dean (Birmingham) 34 6.4
Joe Garner (Preston) 29 (3) 6.3
Tom Elliott (Millwall) 8 (16) 6.2
Shaun Hutchinson (Millwall) 46 6.1

Interestingly, comparing him against the rest of the Championship on aerial duels won alone, there is only Barnsley’s forward Kieffer Moore that had the ability to control the ball in the air, at a better standard than the Blades’ new signing. Justifying how even compared to the most dominant aerial central defenders the Championship had to offer last season, Madine was always able to use his height and physical advantage to command and even separate the more structured back lines.

Withal considered, Madine does have the grit and technique to maintain a starting position in Wilder’s front line. Granting this, with the consistent nature in front of goal of Sharp, and the skilful attributes that McGoldrick brings, Madine may just have to make his mark off the bench and win over the critical Sheffield United fans.