It wasn’t a goal-fest or brilliant game of football, but it was a 90 minutes to remember as fans returned to St James’ Park for the first time in 15 months.
Willock made history, Saint-Maximin rang rings around the Blades and we came away with a rare clean sheet in a win that puts us in with a chance of bettering last season’s points tally.
See our marks out of 10 and comments on all 14 players involved:
Martin Dubravka – 6 – Barely had a save of note to make, with McGoldrick’s two big chances either flying just wide or cracking the crossbar. Played through the pain late on after holding his hamstring – a surprise move that hopefully won’t harm his EURO 2020 hopes! Nice to see him get a clean sheet, but hard to mark him higher than a six when he had nothing of note to do.
Jacob Murphy – 7.5 – He’s been a revelation at right wing-back and showed the fans what he’s capable of with a perfectly weighted cross for Willock’s winner – and could’ve bagged another assist had Joelinton not headed over just before the break. Got away with one defensive lapse in the first half, but was generally a good outlet offensively and switched on at the other end. Our most improved player this season – time to give him a new deal!
Emil Krafth – 6 – A steady display from the Swede. He’s obviously not the answer at centre-back and got away with one sliced ‘clearance’ from a dangerous Sheffield United delivery, but aside from that he did OK.
Federico Fernandez – 7 – Responded to a few ropy first half moments with a dominant second half display. A calming influence and won several vital headers as Sheffield United threw crosses into the danger zone late on. Made more clearances than any other player on the pitch and was our best centre-back on the night for me. Good to see him back at it after a few off days for the usually reliable Argentine.
Paul Dummett – 6 – His limitations on the ball left us struggling to play out from the back at times and he did get away with it early on after giving McGoldrick too much space to shoot, but he stuck to his task defensively on his 200th appearance to help us to a rare clean sheet.
Matt Ritchie – 7 – He didn’t wear the captains armband, but anyone watching us for the first time would’ve thought he was our captain. Barked out orders all game, was alert at both ends and very nearly notched a brilliant assist after Shelvey failed to convert his inch-perfect cross. Caught a bit high up the pitch early on for McGoldrick’s early chance and wasted the odd set piece, however it was another solid display from a man who’s been one of the unsung heroes in our surge towards safety.
Jonjo Shelvey – 7 – Pinged a lovely daisy-cutter out wide in the opening minute which immediately had me wondering if he was going to be ‘in the mood’ for this one. He wasn’t ‘at it’ all game and went missing in patches, but he didn’t shirk his defensive duties, made a few strong tackles and took the odd whack for his troubles. Should’ve scored in the first half, but we’ll let him off when he won 4 aerial duels, played 2 key passes and ended the game with a 90% pass accuracy.
Joe Willock – 8.5* – I’m running out of superlatives for this man. A Premier League record breaker after becoming the youngest PL player to score in SIX consecutive games, but he has so much more to his game than goals. Cut through their midfield on several occasions with some powerful funs, completed 100% of his passes (!) and ran himself into the ground. My man of the match and bumped up half a mark for making another headed goal look easy! SIGN HIM UP.
Miguel Almiron – 7 – His final ball and decision making sometimes let him down, however his energy, pace and movement was electric at times. Linked up well with ASM in the first half, offered an outlet on the counter in the 2nd and completed 95% of his passes. Made one darting run forward with the ball to almost lay one on a plate for Longstaff late on, but may be wishing he shot in the end.
Allan Saint-Maximin – 8 – Unplayable at times and the one man who got fans off their seat almost every time he got the ball. Complete an incredible 15 dribbles, played a genius reverse pass into Murphy in the build up to Willock’s winner and won a host of free kicks in dangerous areas. He would’ve got a 9 and been my MOTM had he just added added a goal/assist to his name, with him failing to get his head up late on for what should’ve been an easy ball across the box for Dwight Gayle.
Joelinton – 5 – Believe it or not, he’d scored in each of his last three home games before this one, however it wasn’t to be for him here. Had one half chance blocked after good work from ASM, headed a big chance well over before the break and the odd loose touch. In between some of that was some valuable hold up play, but he didn’t take his chance to impress the St James’ Park crowd on this occasion.
Dwight Gayle – 4 – Came on at the break for the injured Joelinton. It was a big chance for him to remind Bruce what he was capable of, but he was sloppy one the rare occasion he got on the ball and clearly off the pace. A part of me wonders if this new ‘three-year deal’ is only to help us get a half-decent fee for him this summer, as he didn’t look like a player set to fight for his place…
Sean Longstaff – 5 – Replaced Saint-Maximin for the final 20 minutes. 100% pass accuracy but the vast majority of those were sideways balls. Almost got himself a late goal but was unable to connect with Almiron’s cut-back.
Andy Carroll – N/A – Brought on in the 84th minute and managed just 7 touches of the ball. 40% pass accuracy and no sniff of goal, making for a flat end to his second stint at St James’ Park.