Football: Wilkinson's precision

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The Independent Online
Middlesbrough . . . .2

Sheffield United. . .0

IT WAS something of a culture shock to meet Sheffield United only four days after the visit of Ipswich. Yet Middlesbrough eventually adjusted to the brawnier demands of the Premier League, a few bruises notwithstanding. As Lennie Lawrence, the Middlesbrough manager, said after the game: 'Sometimes you have to play football and sometimes you have to battle.'

It was one of those awful first halves where defenders push up and squeeze the very life out of the game. Stoppages (32) and bookings (four) were plentiful, space and chances were scarce. Sheffield's attacking ambitions were confined to setting Brian Deane free, but it was his perseverance rather than the quality of the football which brought United's best efforts, two long shots which failed to trouble Brian Horne.

There was little to cheer until the 36th minute when Willie Falconer applied a neat finish to the first sortie of any real merit, side-footing Paul Wilkinson's precise cross past Simon Tracey.

Things improved in the second half if only marginally when Sheffield began to throw more men forward. The arrival of Ian Bryson for Alan Cork should have brought the equaliser but the Scot, with a truly horrible miss, ('the turning point,' according to the United manager, Dave Bassett) blazed over the bar from three yards.

Middlesbrough quickly regained the momentum and, with six minutes left, put the game out of United's reach. Andy Peake fed Wilkinson, off he galloped again, and this time Tommy Wright, although looking offside, buried the early cross and the visitors.

Middlesbrough: B Horne; C Morris, J Phillips, A Kernighan, D Whyte, A Peake, B Slaven, W Falconer, P Wilkinson, T Wright, R Mustoe. Subs not used: G Parkinson, J Pollock, A Collett (gk). Manager: L Lawrence.

Sheffield United: S Tracey; K Gage, D Barnes, J Gannon (C Hartfield, 82 min), B Gayle, P Beesley, C Bradshaw, P Rogers, A Cork (I Bryson, 52 min), B Deane, G Hodges. Sub not used: A Kelly (gk). Manager: D Bassett.

Referee: A Buksh (London).

Goals: Falconer (1-0, 36 min); Wright (2-0, 84 min).

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