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ESCAPOLOGY has become Dave Bassett's speciality at Bramall Lane but even 'Harry' may find it hard to pick the locks this spring. United have flirted with relegation every year since Bassett took them up in 1990, but have always found their legs in time. Never have they left their run as late as this.
Six wins in the final dozen matches carried them to safety a year ago but they have only eight left in which to repeat the trick and a record of two wins in the Premiership since August does not augur well.
Yesterday, in a miserable match that produced hardly a moment of quality football, United achieved their fifth consecutive draw. Drawing when they ought to have been winning has been their undoing. In 9 of their 15 draws they have failed to score, which illustrates where their weakness lies.
Southampton, with a five- man defence, allowed United to run the game yesterday but only in the last 20 minutes did they look likely to find a way past Dave Beasant, despite the constant efforts of Franz Carr. The little winger stood out yesterday mainly because he was prepared to take defenders on, an idea which apparently occurred to few of his team-mates. Jostein Flo again made one appreciate how short of decent forwards Norway must be. Nathan Blake, the man who put Manchester City out of the FA Cup for Cardiff, was hampered by a shoulder injury, which caused his eventual withdrawal.
An hour had passed before Beasant - or Alan Kelly for that matter - had a shot to save. Roger Nilsen, the Norwegian full-back, provided it. Indeed it was his crosses that created United's best opportunities, first for Dane Whitehouse, whose header was too feeble, then for Carl Bradshaw, the substitute, who twisted himself to apply the sole of his boot to the ball practically on the goal-line only for Beasant, somehow, to block.
Matthew Le Tissier, mostly a peripheral figure, set up what might have been a steal for Neil Maddison, with a delicate chip over the United back four but Kelly stood his ground to save.
'Now we have to win one of the matches no one expects us to win, against Liverpool or Arsenal,' Bassett said. His bid for salvation continues at home to West Ham tomorrow.Reuse content