Queen's Park Rangers. . . . . . . . . . .1
THE ability of Sheffield United to salvage a draw - this was their fourth in the last five matches - is not giving them the buoyancy that customarily floats them clear of relegation danger at this time of year.
An equaliser from Nathan Blake early in the second half at Bramall Lane last night prevented them, however, from sinking any deeper into despair.
Blake, a pounds 300,000 signing from Cardiff who will cost an extra pounds 200,000 if United stay up, latched on to a hopeful long ball from his captain, Brian Gayle, and showed composure and strength to hold off the defence and score.
It was Blake's first full match, and second goal and he displayed enough to suggest that he has much to offer in United's annual argument.
Also aided by the ingenuity of Franz Carr, Blake's new side made enough chances to bring them three points, including a last-minute shot from Paul Rogers which thudded into Jan Stejskal's midriff.
But if Sheffield produced quantity then Rangers, with Ray Wilkins imperiously declining to be bogged down in mediocrity, had more moments of true quality.
The referee's decision to ignore a linesman's flag for offside helped them to apply the pressure that brought their 11th-minute goal, Wilkins's corner being swept on to a post by Trevor Sinclair, leaving Simon Barker with a simple tap-in.
Rangers' incisive attacks saw Alan Kelly, in the United goal, emerge as an even more obvious hero than Blake. He made an excellent early save from Gary Penrice and then foiled Les Ferdinand, as useful a substitute as any, on three occasions.
Even Kelly could do nothing about Ferdinand's closest approach to a winner - a shot seven minutes from time that hit the inside of one post and ran along the line into the other. By then, Kelly and United deserved a little luck.
Sheffield United (4-4-2): Kelly; Gage, Tuttle, Gayle, Nilsen (Beesley, 36); Bradshaw, Rogers, Gannon, Carr (Cork, 79); Blake, Flo. Substitute not used: Tracey (GK).
Queen's Park Rangers: (4-4-2): Stejskal; Bardsley, Peacock, Yates, Wilson; Sinclair, Barker, Wilkins, Meaker; Penrice (Ferdinand, 35), White. Substitute not used: Robert, (GK), Ready.
Referee: R Gifford (Mid-Glamorgan).