Sheffield United 2-1 Bournemouth
- Goals: Billy Sharp (£5.6m), John Lundstram (£5.0m)| Callum Wilson (£7.4m)
- Assists: John Egan (£4.6m), Lys Mousset (£4.6m)| Harry Wilson (£5.8m)
- Bonus: Sharp x3, C. Wilson x2, Egan x1
Having suffered more transfers out ahead of Gameweek 26 than at any other stage of the season, John Lundstram (£5.0m) almost inevitably popped up with a goal in Sunday’s clash between Sheffield United and Bournemouth.
The decision to sell Lundstram looked – and may still turn out to be – a sage move when the teamsheets were released on Sunday lunchtime, with the budget Fantasy Premier League defender benched for the third league match in a row.
Lundstram duly emerged as a second-half substitute to grab his side’s late winner, finishing neatly after being teed up by fellow replacement Lys Mousset (£4.6m).
His goal will leave many of his remaining owners pretty much where they were ahead of this weekend, in a sell-or-keep dilemma.
On the one hand, Lundstram’s chances of starting in Gameweek 27 and beyond look as uncertain as ever. Does one match-winning goal suddenly catapult him back into Chris Wilder’s plans and ahead of club-record signing Sander Berge (£5.0m) in the central midfield pecking order?
Lundstram had looked almost too eager to impress before his goal, taking a succession of heavy touches and producing an air-kick from close range not long after his introduction.
Then again, Berge, perhaps still getting to grips with the tempo of the Premier League, didn’t particularly excel in his stead and played an errant pass in the lead-up to Bournemouth’s opener.
Team value might be one understandable reservation owners have about selling given Lundstram’s million-pound rise since August but sentimentality is possibly another, given the remarkable narrative of his debut FPL campaign.
The romanticists might be tempted to give him “just one more game” against Brighton in a fortnight’s time (how many of us said the same ahead of Gameweek 26?) but the pragmatists who haven’t already sold him might be tempted to part ways, as the week-to-week uncertainty isn’t ideal.
Wilder wasn’t giving any clues away in his post-match interview, saying:
We took John [Lundstram] out, he needed a breather. He’s had a fabulous first part of the season but we recruited well in January. They’ve all got to go again and try and get back in the team.
John can’t do anything more than what he has done over the last two games. He has a decision to make: does he feel sorry for himself or does he got out and contribute for the team? And he did that for us.
The Sheffield United boss added in his press conference:
He’s played a huge part in us gaining us six valuable points [in Gameweeks 25 and 26]. It’s not always that you start, it’s a group. I’ve got some other players that are really knocking on the door and desperate to get involved but that’s the difficult job that I have.
We try to pick the right team and pick the right bench. You always want a really good positive attitude from those boys that maybe aren’t playing and certainly, Mousset and John have shown that, as have all the other boys.
Those who ditched Lundstram for another Sheffield United defender were largely left empty-handed, with the Blades losing their clean sheet as early as the 12th minute.
John Egan (£4.6m) did grab a rebound assist for the hosts’ equaliser, though, with Billy Sharp (£5.6m) following up the centre-half’s blocked header on the stroke of half-time.
Enda Stevens (£5.1m) underscored his own creativity without getting any reward, firstly crossing for Sharp to fire into the side-netting in the 15th minute and then “assisting the assister” for the Blades’ first goal.
Overlapping centre-half Chris Basham (£4.5m) was also involved at the business end of the pitch, creating Lundstram’s first chance that the match-winner fluffed.
It was, quite simply, just one of those days where what was probably the right move conspired to work against Lundstram’s sellers.
The positive thing about Sheffield United’s three centre-halves and two wing-backs is that they are pretty much safe bets for now, with Wilder saying after full-time:
It’s going to have to be a good player to get Basham out of the team, George Baldock, Enda Stevens. Those boys have looked and seen players have been brought in and gone, “here we go, I need to go to the next level”. They’ve gone to the next level in terms of stepping into the Premier League and now they need to go to the next level to keep producing performances to stay in the team.
Security of starts is not something that any of Sheffield United’s forwards can really offer us, with five players competing for two striking spots.
Sharp was handed his third start in a row, though, and rewarded his manager’s faith with a second goal of the campaign.
Oli McBurnie (£5.7m) has started in the last five Gameweeks, meanwhile, but David McGoldrick (£5.4m) was back on the bench after a month-long absence and new signing Richairo Zivkovic (£5.0m) is another name to throw into the mix along with Mousset.
While the Sheffield United love-in continues, the hipster’s choice of yesteryear, Bournemouth, have long since lost their Fantasy appeal.
There have been positive signs in the last three Gameweeks, at least, with the Cherries having recorded back-to-back league wins before Sunday’s match.
The visitors were good value for their lead, too, with Harry Wilson (£5.8m) and Callum Wilson (£7.4m) wasting two early chances before combining for the deadlock-breaking goal: the on-loan Liverpool winger seeing his shot blocked, with his teammate scoring on the rebound.
Ryan Fraser (£6.9m) merits a mention, despite leaving South Yorkshire with nothing but appearance points to his name.
The Scotland international, who was critical of his own early-season form when interviewed last month, looked more like his own self at Bramall Lane and was heavily involved in much of what Bournemouth did.
Fraser had teed Harry Wilson up for his early headed chance and then “assisted the assister” for his side’s goal, later seeing Philip Billing (£5.0m) fluff two of his teasing crosses from the left flank.
The diminutive winger’s radar wasn’t always perfectly aligned and he himself wasted a couple of promising positions but there was almost a second goal of the season for him in the 70th minute, with Dean Henderson (£5.1m) parrying away Fraser’s well-hit effort from 12 yards.
Fantasy managers will need much more convincing before they are to be sure that Bournemouth assets are worthy of consideration again, however, and the Season Ticker makes for pretty grim reading, with all of the top nine bar Sheffield United to come between now and Gameweek 38.
Reflecting on the game, Howe said:
Generally, I thought the performance overall was very good. The two goals we conceded were out of keeping really with the overall performance. The first time they had real genuine pressure in the game, we conceded.
The way we started the game, you wouldn’t know we were in the position we are in. We passed the ball really well, showed good composure coming to a very tough place to play. We scored a really good goal, could have scored more. The early signs of the game were very good.
Genuinely I thought our defensive performance was pretty good. But if you look at the two goals, we’ve made a lot of mistakes to the build-up to those goals. The second goal I thought was a really poor one.
Sheffield United XI (3-5-2): Henderson; Basham, Egan, O’Connell; Baldock, Berge (Lundstram 61′), Norwood, Fleck, Stevens; McBurnie, Sharp (Mousset 74′).
Bournemouth XI (4-3-3): Ramsdale; Smith, Francis, Ake, Rico; Gosling, Billing, Surman (Solanke 88′); H Wilson (King 72′), C Wilson, Fraser (Stanislas 84′).
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