Football is made up of two halves and ultimately lasts for ninety minutes. It may sound simplistic but after last night's game it's one that should be reminded to the players I think. There is no point playing reasonably well and getting a deserved lead in the first half only to sit back in the second and invite pressure.
The Reds won the toss and elected to switch ends and allow the Blades to kick off. Sheffield started on the offensive but the Reds were soon in to their stride and dominated the possession. This reduced the Blades to only a couple of half chances all half. The Reds had their first opportunity as early as the third minute when Diouf shot low but straight at the keeper.
United had their first chance on ten minutes but Asaba couldn't keep his shot down from the edge of the box and it flew way over the bar. A minute later and Smicer threaded a ball through to Diouf who moved towards the bye line before squaring it towards Mellor but he couldn't quite get enough of his boot around the ball and it went wide.
On nineteen minutes the Reds were lucky to be equal when Wayne Quinn whipped in a low cross shot from a free kick that evaded everyone and went out just past the far post. Salif Diao picked up another booking on twenty four minutes. He had been warned by the referee only a minute earlier about a tackle but in a lunge for the ball just caught his man and received a harsh booking.
The Reds really should have taken the lead after twenty five minutes when Sami Hyypia rose well to win a header from a corner but he couldn't quite direct the ball down on to the goal though and it sailed over the bar. The Reds were controlling most of the ball but nearly conceded a goal just two minutes later when a cross from the left was headed down into the six yard box by Allison. The ball was cleared by Hyypia though before Asaba could get a vital touch on the ball.
The Reds did get the ball in the net on thirty two minutes after Diouf was put through in the area by Smicer but he was adjudged offside. Just two minutes later the Reds did take the lead though thanks to Neil Mellor. Danny Murphy floated a free kick near post eight yards out where Sami Hyypia escaped his man and headed on towards goal where Mellor had anticipated and from three yards out headed past the keeper for a deserved lead.
The Reds continued to control the first half although did see Djimi Traore booked. The booking means he misses the cup tie at Palace. Sheffield though were short on ideas and short on having much of the ball at this point and the Reds seemed to be on the verge of controlling the destiny of the whole tie after the first leg alone. Two extra minutes were added to the play before the half drew to a close.
The second half started with an expected improvement from the home side. McCall shot from twenty five yards out but his shot went wide of the mark. The Blades were pushing on and the Reds as a result sank backwards and invited more pressure. Diouf picked up his fifth booking of the season for a late challenge on fifty four minutes and misses the cup tie at Palace as well.
With the Reds sinking backwards and the forwards becoming isolated a change was made. Heskey came in for Smicer who had disappeared completely from the game to enable the Reds to try and play the kick and rush stuff on the break. Heskey though was told to play left side which as usual wastes any talent he has. On the hour mark Stephane Henchoz nearly got a nose bleed as he pushed on for a ball deep in the Sheffield half. He won the tackle and fed Gerrard before carrying on his run in to the opposition box but the cross in instead went towards Murphy but it was cut out before it reached him.
Henchoz was booked after sixty three minutes after a swipe at the ball. He missed the ball and just clipped his man and saw yellow. The Reds did manage to get the ball in the back of the net a minute later though. Heskey combined well with Mellor before crossing for Diouf. The offside flag had already gone up though before Diouf flicked the ball round the keeper. Two minutes later and Diouf forced a good save from the keeper after he met a Murphy corner well. The chances though were a flash in the pan for the Reds though in the half really.
Brown was booked on sixty seven minutes when he was lucky not to see Red in fairness. A ball bouncing into the area was easily gathered by Kirkland but as he collected it Brown came lunging through studs first. Kirkland was lucky only to get a slight hit from the player. Had Kirkland collected the ball standing still the tackle would surely have broken his leg. The referee though deemed the challenge only worthy of a yellow card which made a joke of his other cards throughout the match to both sides.
Michael Owen was introduced on seventy minutes for Mellor. The move didn't massively alter the play though which meant Heskey, Owen and Diouf were being left isolated. United were looking more and more likely to get an equaliser and on seventy two minutes it nearly arrived but Kirkland was out well to meet the player and save the shot with his legs. The ball came back in just after this and Kirkland was out quick to put Allison off although the striker did get to the ball first. It went just over the bar though.
On seventy six minutes the Reds finally conceded an equaliser which was looking ominous anyway. A bobbling ball near the edge of the area was attacked by both Carragher and Henchoz. The ball was cleared a little but with Carragher having run wildly out of position the ball was played behind him and Tonge finished superbly well.
The equaliser was deserved and even worse was to come as the Reds went two one down after eighty one minutes. A corner for United was only half cleared by Henchoz five yards out. Tonge picked the ball up on the edge of the area and went to shoot. The idea forced Carragher to throw his body in the way. Tonge then cut the ball inside before firing past Kirkland to send the home fans mad.
The goal was the only thing that seemed to wake the Reds back up again and the last ten minutes became end to end stuff. The two best chances for the Reds though fell to Danny Murphy. On eighty five minutes he created some space for himself before having a shot on goal which was parried forwards by the keeper. Owen moved in on the rebound but pretty much fell over the ball whilst Diouf then failed to finish although the assistant referee had flagged for offside. A minute before the end Murphy picked up one of his cleared corners before curling in a shot on goal but it sailed high over the bar.
Overall the Reds will look back on the game and see that they didn't perform at all in the second half and sank deeper and deeper into their own half. The tie as a whole should have been beyond United but instead it is the Reds on the back foot now although a one nil win would be enough for the Reds on away goals. The performance though really wasn't good enough and the Reds got what they invited in the end.
MotM : Sami Hyypia - more commanding now that the defensive line has been left alone. Salif Diao also had a good game although allowed too much to run past in the second half.