Notts County 1, Sheffield United 2 Match Analysis: A Matt finish to a game of two halves

Matt Done celebrates his winner at Notts County
Matt Done celebrates his winner at Notts County

Meetings between these two iconic names come with an almost cast-iron guarantee of goals.

The last time Notts County versus Sheffield United ended in stalemate was 17 games and 30 years ago.

Notts County v Sheffield United   17.2.15'Pic : Martyn Harrison'Jamie Murphy  -  Sheffield United 1st goal cele'� copyright : Blades Sports Photography

Notts County v Sheffield United 17.2.15'Pic : Martyn Harrison'Jamie Murphy - Sheffield United 1st goal cele'� copyright : Blades Sports Photography

Last night, on a near pristine playing surface at Meadow Lane, they produced another three after both delivering imperfect performances during this game of two halves.

The visitors prevailed, despite finding themselves under sustained pressure for long spells after the break, because, in Matt Done, they possess a striker who provides exactly the same assurance.

County, who had earlier seen Liam Noble cancel out Jamie Murphy’s spectacular opener, were in the ascendancy when the former Rochdale attacker pounced for the fourth time in United colours and 18th in all competitions this season.

With the margins for error in League One still uncomfortably slim - Nigel Clough’s fifth-placed side are now 11 points behind MK Dons, who occupy the second automatic promotion berth but with two games in hand - the money it cost to prise Done away from Spotland could yet prove the difference between playing Championship football and remaining in the third tier next term.

Notts County v Sheffield United   17.2.15'Pic : Martyn Harrison'Jamie Murphy  -  Sheffield United 1st goal '� copyright : Blades Sports Photography

Notts County v Sheffield United 17.2.15'Pic : Martyn Harrison'Jamie Murphy - Sheffield United 1st goal '� copyright : Blades Sports Photography

“I’m not interested in personal accolades,” Done said. “It’s all about the group.

“If I can get the goals that help us then brilliant. But it wouldn’t be possible without the rest of the lads.”

“It’s gone better than I could have hoped for,” Done added.

“But I’ve still got a lot to learn. I’ll just keep working hard and trying keep on improving. The belief in the camp is really strong.”

United made two changes to the starting eleven which had beaten leaders Bristol City three days earlier as Clough looked to negotiate safe passage through a fixture schedule complicated by their progress in knockout competition this term.

Jason Holt, signed on loan from Heart of Midlothian, made his full debut while Louis Reed also featured in midfield.

But Murphy, Holt’s compatriot, was responsible for edging United ahead before County claimed a fortuitious equaliser.

The 25-year-old, whose decision to agree fresh terms during the recent transfer window was hailed as a major coup by Clough, hit the target for the fifth time in his previous six outings after combining with Bob Harris.

Positioned on the corner of the penalty area, Murphy punished County’s rearguard for failing to recognise the threat he posed by threading a looping drive between Carroll’s outstretched palm and the far post.

Derry, however, has turned County into a far more durable proposition than the talented but brittle group he inherited from Chris Kiwomya 15 months ago. Having ended a run of three consecutive defeats with a narrow victory at Leyton Orient a week earlier, what the hosts lack in raw ability they more than make up for with enthusiasm.

Noble owed his strike to a huge slice of good fortune - John Brayford’s clearance falling into his path after hitting an unwitting Reed - but Derry, who made 83 appearances for the United as a player, will argue it was just reward for the dogged determination which had prevented his former club from building an unassailable lead.

United’s failure to do exactly that nearly proved costly when Garry Thompson drew an excellent save from Iain Turner, again an impressive deputy for the injured Mark Howard, during the early skirmishes of the second-half. But Done powered them to a third successive victory following last weekend’s triumph at Ashton Gate when Clough’s charges finally rediscovered their rhythm during the closing stages.

Derry looked crestfallen but, after watching his team ask questions of United’s character and resolve, could console himself with the knowledge they boast more than enough to avoid being sucked into a relegation battle. United, meanwhile, have much more glamorous targets to try and achieve.

Despite their recent troubles, County demonstrated a positive intent as early as the first minute when Garry Thompson powered forward before dragging an angled shot high and wide. But, for all County’s enthusiasm, the quality at Clough’s disposal meant it was United who carved the first genuine opening of the game when Brayford escaped Blair Adams’ clutches and whipped a dangerous centre across Carroll’s six yard box which Jamie Murphy tried, but failed, to convert.

Done, who himself had been inches away from connecting with Brayford’s delivery, ensured County’s defence did not get a moment’s peace as he hunted down every single loose ball. Indeed, it was his industry which harrassed Mike Edwards into making the mistake which nearly sent Paul Coutts bearing down on goal before the deadlock was broken in memorable style.

Murphy has been in superb form since signing an extension to his contract last month. And the 16th minute shot, which left Carroll grasping at thin air as it made its way into the far corner of the net following Harris’ quick throw, underlined exactly why United had been so keen to retain the Scot’s services.

County had their moments - Garry Thompson and Will Hayhurst testing Turner’s handling - but United spent the remainder of the first period firmly on the front foot.

But, 10 minutes before the interval, County drew level in the most fortuitious of circumstances when Brayford’s clearance rebounded off Reed and fell into Noble’s path.

Turner, who later thwarted Garry Thompson when Carroll’s punt bounced in between Terry Kennedy and Chris Basham, was powerless to stop him back-heeling the ball home.

That set-back appeared to knock United out of their stride.

Balint Bajner, County’s Hungarian centre-forward, showcased the ability which once saw him grace the same pitch as Mario Gotze, Marco Reus and Neven Subotic during a solitary substitute appearance for Borussia Dortmund, by starting and nearly finishing a flowing move which also involved the impressive Garry Thompson.

But, with 16 minutes remaining, Done struck the decisive blow after meeting Harris’ low centre at the near post and turning the ball across the line at the second attempt.

“I don’t care how they go in,” Done said. “If they find the back of the net that’s all that matters.”

NOTTS COUNTY: Carroll 7, Dumbuya 6, B Adams 7, Mullins 6, Hayhurst 6 (Newton 77), G Thompson 7, Jones 6 (Woolery 77), C Thompson 6, Noble 7 Bajner 7, Edwards 6. Not used: Pilkington, Hollis, White, Daniels, Harrad.

SHEFFIELD UNITED: Turner 8, Harris 7, Brayford 7, Basham 6, Doyle 6, Murphy 7, Done 7 (Freeman 89), Coutts 7, Reed 6 (McNulty 61), Kennedy 6, Holt 7 (Alcock 86). Not used: Willis, Davies, Campbell-Ryce, C Adams.

GOALS: Murphy (16), Noble (35), Done (76)

CAUTIONS: Holt (57), Kennedy (69), C Thompson (80), Noble (90)