Football: Blades' self-inflicted wound

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The Independent Online
Sheffield United 2 Norwich City 3

You needed only to look at the Sheffield United team at the end of this match to see that things had gone seriously awry. No goalkeeper was the first clue, the clincher was the five strikers. It almost goes without saying they had been beaten by an own goal.

The upshot of this chaos was a severe blunting of the Blades' promotion hopes after one point from their last four matches. Norwich are now breathing down their necks in fifth place.

The unfortunate figure around whom the result turned was David Holdsworth who headed expertly into the corner of the goal after 82 minutes. Regrettably it was into his own net, the second match in succession the centre-back has made such a faux pas and you would suggest he moved further forward except United were already too congested in that area.

"David's rapidly becoming our leading scorer," Howard Kendall, the United manager who had made Holdsworth captain for the day, said. "He's on a roll at the moment. Unfortunately. He's desperately disappointed."

The first half would have been equally disappointing but for two saves from United's Alan Kelly from Ulf Ottosson. No one could complain about the entertainment after the interval, however, or at least no one who was not a United fan.

Which was a surprise because the half began brightly for them. The crowd were still finding their seats when Gareth Taylor flicked on a free-kick and Jan Age Fjortoft attempted a difficult acrobatic volley. The effort was wide but had the virtue of being slow enough to become a pass and Petr Kachuro swooped at the far post.

Kelly at that point had every reason to believe the afternoon was working out fine, when the match turned sour after 54 minutes. He seemed to have gathered Neil Adams' cross but dropped the ball as he hit the floor and, after a scrum that would have done justice to Twickenham, Andy Johnson appeared at the goal-side of the pack and had an empty net to aim at.

Kelly's day got worse 15 minutes later when he had to leave the pitch with a groin strain. United have included a goalkeeper on the bench in all but two of their matches until yesterday but Sod's Law dictated he would not be there when he was needed and Roger Nilsen filled the void.

The Norwegian defender did not cut a confident figure although Kelly would probably not have saved either goal that shot past him. Nor Gordon Banks. The first was a volley into the roof of the net from point blank range from Ottosson while the second, Holdsworth's header, was way out of his reach.

Injuries, meanwhile, had played havoc with the home team and by the finish they had Taylor and Walker to supplement a strike force that had begun as Fjortoft and Kachuro. Given that David White has also played up front there were no shortage of targets when Chris Short crossed in the 79th minute. Walker got the touch at the far post to briefly give United hope until Holdsworth struck.

Goals: Kachuro (45) 1-0; Johnson (54) 1-1 Ottosson (73) 1-2; Walker (78) 2-2; Holdsworth og (82) 2-3.

Sheffield United (4-4-2): Kelly; Short, Holdsworth, Taylor (Hodgson, h-t), Nilsen; White, Hutchison (Beard 64), Spackman, Ward; Fjortoft, Kachuro. Substitute not used: Walker.

Norwich City (3-5-2): Gunn; Mills, Crook, Scott; Adams, Johnson, Milligan, Rocastle, Sutch; Fleck, Ottosson (Bradshaw, 90). Substitutes not used: Hilton, Forbes.

Bookings: United: White, Hutchison. Norwich: Sutch.

Referee: K Leach (Wolverhampton).

Man of the match: Johnson. Attendance: 15,301.