It always takes me a while to absorb the pattern of a game of football, to work out a formation and a game plan and to see who's on top and what's going on. Yesterday at Southend, after 20 minutes or so I thought to myself we're the better team here, our players are clearly a notch above and I like what I see. Of the new faces Peter Whittingham has a forward gear and an instinct to go forward in a way that Jason Lowe never did, and I like the look of Richie Smallwood. Bradley Dack never got in the game until too late.
So what went wrong?
I had my say on TalkSport2 half an hour after the game as we rattled through the Essex countryside. I said there seemed to be too much of what we had last season. Reliance on our best player to pull some magic out of the hat, a defence that crumbled under pressure and failed to do the basics, and a forward that for all his undoubted poaching ability doesn't score enough goals.
There's something else though. Ever since we lost Mark Hughes as manager each of our teams has lacked steel. They've been a soft touch and been unable to impose their style of play and physical presence on a game. We just seem to adapt to the game plan of the opposition. When it counted we were bullied by Southend yesterday. Anton Ferdinand might as well have got a new pocket sewn into his shorts for Danny Graham to slip into for the second half. I don't honestly think Southend were better players, neither did they "want it more" but the last 15 minutes Rovers were totally unable to create momentum to get an equaliser. The introduction of Harry Chapman descended into farce when he fell over his own feet right in front of us. Despite that, I believe Sheffield United fans who tell me we've got a good one there.
There were loads of us in the sold out away end yesterday, an impressive turnout from a loyal support. It added to the occasion and the home fans relished beating the team everyone is going to want to beat. But as we discussed on the way home yesterday, we're going to have some more tough days like that. We should win this league. We can win this league, but it's going to be a lot harder than a lot of fans, and maybe some players, realise.