Tilbrook shines as Blades Fans Victorious

On a muggy yet damp evening at the New York Stadium, the Blades fans came out triumphant in a game which was slightly more one sided than the score line suggested.

Debutant skipper for the Blades Tyler Ledger and Wednesday keeper and SFD stalwart Neil Tilbrook lead out the two fierce rivals, greeted by warm applause from a 400+ following housed in the main stand behind the dug outs. United wearing the red and white pin stripe anniversary shirts, the Owls in this seasons home strip, lined up for the customary hand shakes and obligatory photos. There was a great sense of intrigue as the Owls fans passed across the Blades line up offering good luck gestures, for the two sets of fans the time had come for the talking to stop, the hard yards in training to come to fruition and the game plans to be followed, meaning the overall outcome would be that the best team would reign triumphant on the night!

The Blades started brightly, zipping the ball around at ease, keeping hold of possession and looking to execute the game plan set in motion by gaffer Matt Phillips. As the first half went on the first chance fell the way of Lewis Reid, a quick break down the left started by LWB Matt Betts dropped at the feet of Adam Lake who played the ball through to Lewis Reid who’s tame shot was saved comfortably by Tilbrook in the Owls goal.

As the rain fell, the Owls grew stronger into the game. Olly Heafield causing all kinds of problems for the Blades back line, cutting in from the left hand side with his silky skills and with Danny Wilcox beginning to get on the ball and dictate play in the middle of the park the Wednesday fans began to press higher up the pitch. A clumsy foul on half way allowed the United Fans an opportunity to load the box for the first time and with Lee Worrall and Chris Clifford moving forward from the back, the attention of the opposition defenders was firmly on them allowing George Thompson a free header at the back post, his header back across goal fell invitingly at the feet of SFD debutant Pete Greaves, who fired the ball across goal and into the top corner. The perfect start for United who had identified set pieces as a means of causing problems for the opposition.

The opening goal celebration was one which had been rehearsed, a tribute to manager Phillips, who had recently become a father for the first time, with players lining up and cradling their arms a la Bebeto circa USA 94.

As the game got back underway, both sides rang the changes and a number of new faces were introduced into the fray. With this, the SW fans began to dominate and were deservedly on level terms. A long ball from the Owls defence was brought down by Heafield who travelled from inside his own half unchallenged before unleashing a thunderbolt from all of 25 yards into the top right corner of Adam Russell’s goal, a strike worthy of the professional game! Nothing the Blades ‘keeper could have done to keep it out. Whilst the inquest into the conceding of said equaliser was underway amongst the Blades backline and midfield, Heafield wheeled away in celebration in front of the main stand, although he will be the first to admit that his routine needs a little work, a knee slide turned flop with which he ended on his back in front of the blue and white side of Sheffield’s dug out, but the jubilation was clear to see as Iain Atkins, Stevie Kitching amongst other Owls fans joined in with the congratulations.

With the first half drawing to a close, the Blades missed a plethora of chances, some more difficult than others with beating Tilbrook proving a mammoth task for the men in red and white. However, a break through the middle started by David ‘Dee’ Young resulted in a mix up between Tilbrook and the Owls RB, somehow allowing the ball to drop to yet another debutant Richard Dye, 12 yards out on the angle and with options in the middle screaming for the ball, chose to go it alone and blasted the ball into the back of the goal. A goal out of nothing. The Wednesday fans looked stunned, wondering how they’d managed to give away such a sloppy goal, but one thing was for certain, once the ball dropped to Dye, the master poacher was never going to pass up the opportunity to get on the score sheet and after rifling in his first SFD goal there was only a few moments after the restart before time was called to end the opening 45 minutes, teasing to become an explosive affair.

SW Fans 1 (Heafield)

SU Fans 2 (Greaves, Dye)

The rain continued to fall as the half time exhibition game provided much entertainment for the fans in the main stand, Fans whom had all supported an individual or two at the event and to who the players of both sides owe great gratitude to for turning out in their numbers.

The players re-emerged from their changing rooms, the words of managers Atkins and Phillips fresh in their minds and ringing in their ears.

The SW fans kicked off the second half and started the better, with a second equaliser at the fore front of their aims.

The Owls pressed high up the pitch, having a large share of the possession but disappointingly failed to create a worth while chance. A couple of balls across the face of the goal were cleared by the SU defence before the last set of changes came around. The Blades reverting back to their familiar 3-5-2 formation whilst the Owls threw men forward in search of an equaliser.

This only proceeded to help United who counter attacked at will, creating chance after chance with Lanzel Reid wreaking havoc with his electric pace, the SW backline including Dale Vella struggled to contain the forward who missed a number of guilt edged chances, including rattling the crossbar from 12 yards out when it looked maybe easier to hit the back of the net on the volley.

‘Keeper Tilbrook, who ‘had’ planned to retire after the game, showed the watching public that there is plenty of life left in him yet, making save after save after save to keep the score line down and giving his team mates the chance to snatch a goal against the run of play and take the game into a dreaded penalty shootout. No-one would have batted an eyelid had the score been 4,5 or 6 in favour of the red and white wizards as the Wednesday fans tried in vain the muster a significant chance in the closing minutes to sucker punch the Blades with a late leveller. Neil Tilbrook, giving the performance of his life, as many former Blades players can say they’ve faced similar in the form of Owls legend Kevin Pressman who seemed to save his best games for the fixtures against their local rivals, but a number of the players and supporters in the crowd must surely have been impressed with Neil’s performance, surely showing he is prematurely hanging up the gloves and showed age is just a number, he’s not bad for 50!

With time ticking down and the Owls getting desperate, a number of long balls into the Blades box from deep and wide were dealt with comfortably, with goalie Max Vogelsang-Sczupack having little to nothing to do, as the men in red and white kept hold of the ball on the lush green turf of Rotherham United, the referee blew for full time. The Blades fans rejoiced, as for a number of them the horrendous memories of losing last time out on their hallowed turf at Bramall Lane were erased, fresh memories of victory could be talked about instead of the despondency of the previous event.

Both sets of fans sportingly shook hands, congratulating one another on the wonderful success of get another SFD. Iain Atkins and Matt Phillips embraced on the side lines as the two managers, who both deserve huge amounts of credit for their hard work and dedication to the event, briefly had a minute to discuss the game.

The Man of the Match awards were deservingly handed out to Neil Tilbrook for SW and Lanzel Reid for the Blades, the latter had proceeded to be caught offside a record number of times for any kind of competitive football game.

Then finally, skipper Tyler Ledger lifted the SFD trophy, a fitting end to a night where the Sheffield United men’s side were on the town hall steps lifting a trophy of their own for gaining promotion to the Premier League, the United songs began to ring around the lads and supporters in jubilation.

And with that, the lads of both sides retreated to their respective changing rooms, one obviously more vibrant than the other as expected. But it would have been little surprise to anyone involved with the event that every player stayed and rejoiced in the bar area after, sharing stories of the event, with the whole process of SFD 15 beginning back in early December for a number of the committee. A great spectacle of a game and an even better group of lads, who together will hopefully raise a record amount of money for charity, proving that football rivalries can be put aside to bring the city together for the good of a worthy cause.