Football: Holland caps miserable day for the Blades

Sheffield United 0 Ipswich Town 1
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The Independent Online
NOT CONTENT with losing their manager, Sheffield United last night surrendered an unbeaten home record going back 11 months to complete a miserable 24 hours. The end of the evening began as it started, with an angry crowd hurling abuse.

Bramall Lane had been an unstormed fortress, but with Nigel Spackman barely out of the door after his resignation, Ipswich slipped in and got their 23rd point out of a possible 27 thanks to Matt Holland's first-half goal. They, like the Blades, are now in the play-off places and the momentum is with them. Their hosts, meanwhile, are racked with discontent.

The match was played with an air of hostility swirling around the ground. When the chairman, Mike McDonald, arrived, he was met by a large crowd protesting against Spackman's resignation. "Are you Reg Brealey in disguise," they chanted, referring to a previous and discredited chairman.

McDonald had earlier warned: "I am 55 and at my time of life I don't need this hassle. If there is a concerted movement against me or the board I may well leave it to someone else," and he could not have been left in any doubt that his parting would not be lamented.

"Cheerio, cheerio" the crowd sang as he tried to give a television interview just outside the main entrance, an incident made more surreal by the theme tune of television's Friends playing over the loudspeakers.

Ipswich are becoming seasoned guests at these moments of upheaval; they spoiled Joe Royle's opening day at Manchester City and last night they required only 18 minutes to intrude on United's private grief.

The home side had begun brightly, Ian Rush hitting the bar with a volley after 10 minutes and then forcing a sharp save from Richard Wright seven minutes later. The match was going like the season: fine on the pitch, discordant off it.

Ipswich are playing as well as anyone in the First Division at the moment, however, and they required only the slightest of openings to prise United apart. Mauricio Taricco's free-kick was hit hard and low and Holland arrived like a latter-day Ray Crawford to thump a header past Alan Kelly from 12 yards.

After 35 minutes Ipswich almost made it two. United had the bulk of the possession, but Ipswich were raiding on the break and it was from a counter- attack that Alex Rae found Bobby Petta 20 yards out. His shot flew through the misty air but hit the bar, the ball bouncing on the line before going clear.

David Johnson might have put United out of their misery with a header just before the interval and then a shot 10 minutes after it, but this was not a day for compassion and the home team fruitlessly and laboriously chased an equaliser.

Afterwards, around 1,000 of a 14,120 crowd - their lowest in the League this season - stayed behind in the pouring rain to register their disapproval. "We want the club back," they sang, a fitting end to an unhappy day.

Sheffield United (4-4-2): Kelly; Short, Holdsworth, Derry (Marcelo, 72), Quinn; Borbokis (Beard, 59), Marker, Ford, Stuart; Taylor, Rush. Substitute not used: Katchuro.

Ipswich Town (4-4-2): Wright; Taricco, Mowbray, Cundy, Clapham; Stockwell, Dyer, Holland, Petta (Sonner, 63); Johnson, Mathie (Scowcroft, 55). Substitute not used: Tanner.

Referee: A Wiley (Burntwood, Staffs).

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