Saturday 17th March.
Apparently, we have never beaten a team managed by Neil Warnock
since his departure 5 years or so ago. Following the dismissal of
Steve Bruce our first game was against Mr Warnock's ‘Blades’ and
they out muscled us that day to beat us 3-0. We badly needed to
get our own back today to keep in touch with the teams just above
the drop zone.
It was a grey chilly afternoon, and the football did little to
stir the corpuscles as the visitors tried to probe forward whilst
Town were intent on letting them know that they were in a game with
some strong and determined tackling. For some reason the players
in the red and white shirts were experiencing gravity problems as
they dropped like a sack of spuds every time they were subject to
the close attentions of a Town player. Sheffield United had the
edge in the early stages with a couple of early opportunities falling
to Peter Ndlovu, but I don’t think he really wanted to score against
the club he really wanted to play for.
After absorbing the early pressure Town began to look more self
assured with the realisation that Sheffield United weren’t actually
as good as their league position suggested and Simon Baldry headed
wide after around 10 minutes from a Martin Smith cross from the
left. The improvement in Town’s game was finally rewarded after
25 minutes with Martin Smith doing the damage against his former
Martin Smith burst through from midfield and fed the overlapping
Lee Morris who controlled the ball with a couple of touches before
firing a cross towards the edge of the 6-yard box. Smith, who had
continued his forward run, met the cross unconvincingly with the
top of his head and the ball looped towards Simon Tracey’s goal.
The keeper seemed deceived by the flight of the ball and the header
skimmed the crossbar and bounced down in front of the goal line.
The ball rolled agonisingly across the face of goal, but with Keith
Curle racing back to retrieve the situation Martin Smith was alert
and tucked the ball home from a foot or so from the line.
When you are struggling you need pieces of luck like this, and
this was just the tonic we needed as we went in search of a second
goal. Within seconds of the restart Simon Baldry made Tracey earn
his corn from a sweetly driven shot, but once again this season
we were unable to hold onto a lead as another defensive blunder
gifted the visitors a goal.
We held the lead for 10 minutes, when a ball over the top from
Sheffield United was weakly headed back to Nico Vaesen by Adie Moses.
With new signing Carl Asaba lurking there was only going to be one
outcome as the former Gillingham front man calmly tucked the ball
into the bottom corner past the helpless Vaesen. Moses held his
head in his hands and well he might, as we cannot afford stupid
errors of judgement like this. Too many home points have past us
by this season through slack defending, and we must cut these out
now if we are to have a chance of playing in the same division next
The visitors looked to be lifted by this gift as they began to
put the defence under more pressure as the half progressed and as
the Town defence tackled harder, the Sheffield players began to
hit the deck with frustrating regularity - none more so than Rob
Kozluk who on occasions seemed to fall over when he wasn’t even
tackled. Luckily for Town the referee who awarded free kicks for
the majority of these ‘fouls’ didn’t brandish the cards too frequently.
The half-time whistle arrived with a mixture of relief that we hadn’t
conceded further, but frustration that we were now in danger in
throwing away 2 more precious home points.
The second half began with the cold beginning to permeate my bones,
as once again my corpuscles remained largely dormant in a very stale
period of play. Neither side looked capable of threatening in front
of goal. Peter Ndlovu was well marshalled by Jon Dyson who once
again had a very effective game, whilst at the other end of the
pitch Lee Morris didn’t enjoy one of his more influential games
although in fairness the highly experienced Keith Curle kept him
quiet. Once Adie Moses had got an early blunder out of his system
just after the restart, the game settled into a struggle between
two poor sides with Craig Armstrong working very effectively in
midfield, adding some steel to that department and this was just
as well because Dean Gorré is clearly struggling for form.
Town began to exert more dominance as the half progressed and again
took the lead after 78 minutes. Craig Armstrong stepped up to take
a corner from the right, and his beautifully directed place kick
was met by the head of Delroy Facey who rose from a crowd of players
in the penalty area. His header was perfectly directed down bouncing
in front of the diving Tracey and into the back of the net. It was
time for the home fans to taunt the visitors from South Yorkshire,
but also time for the nerves to set in.
With our record of failing to hold a lead during much of the season
the goal felt to come about 12 minutes too soon as we knew that
Warnock would wind up his players for a concerted final push. Push
they did, but despite introducing Paul Peschisolido in the 65th
minute and Laurent D’Jaffo just after the second goal, the defence
held firm. The tackles became more frenetic, and the diving of the
visiting players became more excessive. A prime example was Rob
Kozluk who went down on the touchline as though he had been pole-axed,
but as soon as the referee told him to leave the pitch for treatment
he got up totally unscathed.
Thomas Heary was brought on for the suspect Adie Moses in the 80th
minute, and a couple of late introductions by Town saw the clock
tick away slowly towards the 90th minute. There were still chances
at both ends, with Lee Morris upended in the penalty area which
inexplicably saw the referee award a free kick to the visitors and
Tony Ford blasting high over the bar when it looked easier to find
the target. Three nervy minutes were added to the 90, but these
passed safely and 3 vital points were ours as the referee blew the
As well as our own result, many anxious eyes had been checking
the scoreboard that had shown Tranmere beating Barnsley 2-0 for
much of the game. Barnsley pulled a goal back and there was hope
that they might grab an equaliser and they duly obliged. Just as
we were making our way out of the ground the final scores were being
read out, Tranmere 2, Barnsley 3, what joy! They might have shafted
us last week, but thanks Barnsley at least you did us one favour.
TOWN 2 (Smith 25, Facey 78)
Sheffield United 1 (Asaba 35)
Position in table – 22nd
Town – Vaesen; Jenkins; Lucketti; Dyson;
Moses (Heary 80); Smith (Irons 90); Armstrong; Gorré; Facey;
Morris (Gallen 87); Baldry. Subs not used – Margetson; Gray.
Sheffield United – Tracey; Kozluk; Murphy;
Curle; Ullathorne; Ford; Montgomery (Peschisolido 65); Devlin;
Asaba (D’Jaffo 76); Ndlovu; Brown (Jagielka 87). Subs not
used – Suffo, Woodward.
Referee – Bill Jordan (Tring). Attendance