Match Report: Sheffield United 1 Walsall 1

Chris O'Grady scores
Chris O'Grady scores

Sheffield United supporters won’t care to be reminded but Chris O’Grady knows exactly what it takes to reach the Championship.

The centre-forward, signed on emergency loan from Brighton and Hove Albion, identified persistence, conviction and, most importantly, patience as three essential ingrediants of any promotion-winning team after scoring his first goal since arriving at Bramall Lane last month.

So little wonder that O’Grady, who helped Sheffield Wednesday pip his new club to second place three seasons ago, cut a phlegmatic figure as he dissected United’s fourth draw in five League One outings.

“I am someone who has played football for a long time and have been involved for long enough to know that, if you do certain things and they don’t work, if you think about it you get results for changing,” he said. “And, as a group, the management staff think about this meticulously.

“We are ticking along nicely, picking up points but it would be nice to pick up three by getting wins.

“We are in contention, though. We are still in touch and I understand that’s the important thing.

“If you go on a run later in the season, but are nowhere near the top, then it’s obviously not going to matter too much. But that’s not the case here.

“We are not far off the leaders. Trust me, the gap isn’t the type you aren’t going to close.

“We know the finer details need to be tweaked and hopefully we can put that into practice. But the games are coming thick and fast, which is a good thing, and we will be looking to put a run together.”

This result, which ensured United remained fifth in the table entering the Christmas period, prompted the inevitable questions about how a squad capable of ending Southampton’s Capital One Cup hopes only four days earlier could fail to dispatch opponents boasting neither the threat or stature of Ronald Koeman’s side.

The answer, O’Grady explained, is dynamics. Walsall made the journey north having won plaudits for their expansive approach and, in the shape of Tom Bradshaw, boasting one of the competition’s most exciting attacking talents.

But they adopted an altogether different set of tactics here. Manager Dean Smith ordered them to stay compact, mass bodies behind the ball and look to hit on the break, a plan they executed perfectly when the former Wales under-21 international exploited a rare moment of indecision among United’s rearguard.

“It’s roles reversed,” O’Grady said. “I had the same when I was at Sheffield Wednesday in League One a few years ago.

“It was the case that, early in the season, teams would do that but eventually you do figure it out. You basically have to do what they don’t want you to do.

“They are happy for us to play in front of them and let them sit behind the ball. If we don’t do that, don’t give them an easy ride, we will start picking up wins.

“Football, ultimately, is about winning. It’s not always pretty.

“You have to do what it takes to win and that’s what we are building towards now.”

Nigel Clough also subscribes to the theory that United, despite trailing second placed MK Dons by eight points, are agonisingly close to realising their potential. Once again, they dominated in terms of chances created but, after O’Grady’s clinical finish had broken the deadlock, failed to translate that superiority into a positive result.

“We are not losing, that’s the good thing, I think it’s one out of nine,” Clough said. “But we have to start turning these draws into wins, which we need to do on a couple of occasions.

“We were 1-0 up at Fleetwood last weekend before being pegged back and the same happened out there. We know we are pretty close.

“Usually it’s that first goal. That’s the frustrating part, we have got the first goal and just a lapse got them back in the game.”

United, who handed Che Adams a full debut following his recent move from Ilkeston, saw Stefan Scougall and Jose Baxter both go close during the early exchanges with the latter, demonstrating a delicate touch and appreciation of space, also hitting the woodwork moments before half-time.

O’Grady’s intervention, after Baxter’s pass had split Walsall’s defence, appeared to have swung the contest decisively in their favour but when a back four, which lost Ryan Flynn to a hamstring injury, allowed Jordan Cook to cross, Bradshaw halted that momentum.

“It’s not going to always be sparkling, just look at the pitch, it’s cutting up a bit and is very difficult to play fluent football at times,” Clough continued.

“But I thought there was enough good stuff out there.

“Jose had a great chance with a header. It was about headers today.

“They scored with one, we missed a couple, and even at the end at the far post I thought Flo (Cuvelier) was going to get on the end of one.

“I think the next six weeks are going to be a grind. There are a lot of big games coming up for us and a lot expectation on our shoulders, which is fine.

“It’s important that we are not losing, I know we want to win, but it’s important we are not losing too.”

“We were delighted with Chris O’Grady out there,” Clough, acknowledging Tuesday’s quarter-final victory had taken a mental and physical toll, added. “We would have loved Marc McNulty to perhaps start or play a bit more but he was carrying an injury.

“Louis Reed played ever so well (against Southampton) but couldn’t make this one because he had a couple of knocks.

“When we are playing so many big games, cup games as well as league games, it’s going to be that sort of enforced rotation.

“Jamie Murphy looked a little bit tired. I think you could tell the fresh legs - Stefan Scougall, Chris O’Grady - out there on the pitch.”

Walsall, who have conceded fewer goals than any other team in the division, should have fallen behind when Baxter, unmarked near the penalty spot, glanced Flynn’s centre over the crossbar before Scougall followed suit from a Bob Harris cross.

Adam Chambers, who together with twin brother James was excellent for the visitors, enjoyed a lucky escape when he deflected Jamie Murphy’s shot just past the foot of Richard O’Donnell’s near post after Baxter had seen an earlier attempt spiral off the woodwork.

O’Grady, who hopes to extend his agreement with United until the end of the campaign, did find the back of the net just before the hour but, three minutes later, Walsall were back on level terms when Bradshaw netted for the ninth time in 12 appearances.

Harris responded with an excellent long-range attempt while O’Grady again went close before substitute Cuvelier headed wide seconds after entering the fray.

“It might sound strange but, another thing about this division, is knowing when to strike, knowing when to seize the moment and really make it pay,” O’Grady added.

“I’ve not been here a long time but I can already see there’s the quality and the character here to do that. Once we get the momentum going, which we will do, no doubt about it, that’s when we can start hunting people down.”

SHEFFIELD UNITED: Howard 6, Harris 6, Basham 6, Flynn* 7, Doyle 7, Murphy 6, Scougall 6, Baxter 7, McEveley 7, Adams 6, O’Grady 6. Substitutes: McNulty, McGahey*(46) 6, Higdon, Turner, McCarthy, K Wallace, Cuvelier.

WALSALL: O’Donnell 6, Purkiss 6, Downing 6, A Chambers 7, Bradshaw 7, Sawyers**** 6, Baxendale* 6, Cain 6, J Chambers 7, Cook** 6, Henry 6. Substitutes: O’Connor, MacGillivray, Benning**(76), Flanagan, Grimes***(86), Forde*(57) 6, Manset.