The thousand yard stare confirmed, not only had he failed to see it coming, but Chris Wilder was in no mood to take anything positive from the game.
But when his temper had subsided following Tuesday’s defeat by QPR, the Sheffield United manager could take some comfort from the knowledge that, despite surrendering pole position in the race for Premier League football and losing more key players to injury, the visitors’ boast an embarrassing wealth of goalkeeping talent.
Wilder was reminded of the quality at their disposal when, moments after summoned from the bench to replace the stricken Jamal Blackman, Simon Moore produced an acrobatic save to prevent Idrissa Sylla scoring his and Rangers’ second of the evening. Although United failed to grasp the lifeline, creating and missing numerous opportunities during an uncharacteristically leaden display, the 27-year-old’s agility and positional sense has clearly not been affected by a near four month absence from senior football.
“Obviously I wanted to get back in but not in these circumstances,” Moore, reflecting upon events at Loftus Road, says. “Not in this way. I’d much rather it had happened in a completely different manner. You never want to see anybody hurt themselves and Jamal is a terrific lad which, in a way, makes it even worse.”
With Blackman damaging his back during an awkward first-half fall, Moore looks set for a run in the starting eleven after recovering from an injury of his own. However, it speaks volumes about the quality of his team mate’s performances that, despite emerging as one of the most influential members of last season’s League One title-winning squad, he enters tomorrow’s game against Hull City with big boots to fill. United, third in the table and 14 places above Leonid Slutsky’s side, have kept four clean sheets and conceded only three times at home since Blackman’s arrival on loan from Chelsea. Although he is excited by the prospect of helping United chase back to back promotions, Moore knows from personal experience the youngster will be distraught that fitness issues rather than poor form have forced the change.
“I was really looking forward to playing Championship football again and then I got injured in the pre-season friendly (at Rotherham),” he continues. “To miss out like that was really frustrating because it feels like it’s out of your hands. “Nobody likes playing badly but, in a sense, if you drop out like that it can be a bit easier to take. You can look at yourself and then work hard to put things right. So, yes, although it’s been pretty tough for me, I also really feel for Jamal.”
Moore’s words provide an insight into the camaraderie which exists between goalkeepers despite the unique demands of their trade. Unlike outfield players, who vie with three or four others for place in the manager’s plans, Moore, Blackman, Steelphalt Academy graduate Jake Eastwood and their counterparts across the country train, travel and room together knowing they are in direct competition. It is a scenario which, at first glance, is hardly conducive to building lasting friendships. But, as Moore explains, actually helps bring the best out of those involved.
“We’ve got a really strong goalkeeper’s union here,” he says. “We all get along well together and, seriously, we all help each other out. Yes, we’re all after the jersey but there’s no sniping or bitterness. If there was, then you wouldn’t be able to have the spirit we’ve got here. It just wouldn’t be possible. Jake is part of it and so is George (Long).”
“In any case, we’re not that different to everybody else,” he adds. “Even though that’s what people like to say.
There’s competition all across the pitch. You can see that when someone like Jake (Wright), who is a top class defender, wasn’t even on the bench at Loftus Road. It’s not just us as ‘keepers. The defenders are in that battle and so are the midfielders and the attackers. Here, everyone knows that they’ve got to work their nuts-off and be bang on it all the time because, if you’re not, someone else will come in and take your place.”
With Long scheduled to spend the rest of the season with AFC Wimbledon, an arrangement which could be revisited if Moore finds himself ruled-out again for a sustained period, Blackman’s plight means Eastwood is set to be named on the bench for the meeting with City. Coach Darren Ward, who was recently praised by Wilder for his work with United’s goalkeepers, will spend the next 24 hours briefing him in the threats City’s attack might pose.
“Wardy’s so good because of his attention to detail,” Moore explains. “I won’t give away too much because otherwise everyone else will start doing it. But he studies the opposition and then tailors our training towards how they play. He’s really level-headed too. He keeps you on an even keel which is vitally important in this position.”
Although Moore is equipped to fill the void created by Blackman’s absence - and, on the evidence of last season, fill it permanently too - his return changes the dynamic of United’s defence. While Blackman likes to play on the edge, a trait which might have contributed to his misfortune in midweek, Moore’s game is based on communication and positioning. With wing-back George Baldock (hamstring) also failing to finish the fixture, Moore admits: “Jamal’s been brilliant and, if it wasn’t for him, Jake and the other lads pushing me, then I wouldn’t have been so ready to step in. But I’m also looking forward to getting back out there and helping us get the result we want.”