Football: Tense final climax in store for Blades

Crewe Alexandra 2 Sheffield United 1
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The Independent Online
THE agony is so prolonged for Sheffield United that it has reached the point of cruelty. Two late goals, two more injuries and one match with victory still needed is taking things a bit far. Even their amiable manager, Steve Thompson, is finding it difficult to maintain his blend of bluff and bravado with a penalty miss thrown in to add insult to their casualty list.

Thompson knows his tired team may need a win at Stockport on Sunday, their fourth game in eight days, to see off the threat of Birmingham City to their play-off aspirations.

A point would have done some good but was dashed by set-piece plays that exposed a defence weakened by injury to Roger Nilsen on top of absentee captain David Holdsworth and reliable Nicky Marker.

Colin Little bundled in Crewe's first from a corner with eight minutes remaining and Steve Anthrobus powered home a second from a well-flighted Kevin Street free-kick.

If that made defeat likely then Graham Stuart's tame penalty, after a foul on substitute Petr Kachuro by Lee Unsworth, guaranteed their fate would hinge on one more match.

To describe Ian Hamilton's close-range effort as a consolation would hardly be apt in the circumstances. Thompson even revealed that Stuart could miss the next match with a suspected broken hand.

The Blades are clearly being dulled by their demanding fixture list and Thompson said: "The boys are absolutely exhausted. I have got to keep their heads up and keep smiling. It's difficult when you are going for the big prizes.''

The last thing a tired team needs is to face Crewe, bright and lively, but for all their sharp passing they lacked thrust until the late stages. Their fans were not complaining, cheering a lap of honour and singing their own tune of glory: ``Are you watching, Stoke City?''

Crewe Alexandra (4-4-2): Bankole; Bignot, Unsworth, Walton, S Smith; Garvey, Charnock, Johnson, Street; Anthrobus, Little (Lunt, 86). Substitutes not used: Foran, P Smith.

Sheffield United (4-4-2): Tracey; Borbokis, Nilsen (O'Connor, h-t), Sandford, Quinn; Devlin, Wilder, Hamilton, Stuart (Morris, 84); Saunders, Marcelo (Kachuro, 68). Substitute not used: O'Connor.

Referee: P Rejer (Tipton).