Football: Winning Walker

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The Independent Online
Sheffield United 2

Bodin og 11, Walker 49

Reading 0

Attendance: 15,153

Howard Kendall's rebuilding programme at Sheffield United looks likely to be rewarded with a play-off place at least, but any off-duty Premiership players curious to see what was on offer at Bramall Lane yesterday will not have gone home unduly worried. This was a performance that fulfilled the requirement of securing three points but otherwise offered little ground for optimism.

It is curious that this should be so, given the money spent by the former Everton manager, who left pounds 2.5m worth of talent on the substitutes' bench. But an open cheque-book does not guarantee success, happily. United have the look and feel of a Premiership club, from the quality of the stadium to the experience of the players, but the present team do not yet play like a side with a future at a higher level.

Indeed, Reading, an enterprising team whose current League position seems baffling, can count themselves more than a little unlucky. Inspired from midfield by the wiles of Mick Gooding - 38 next month but another player for whom age seems to be meaningless - they were so much more creative and composed than United that the home crowd's restlessness was not calmed even by the gift of an early own goal.

Paul Bodin was the unwitting provider of this undeserved cushion, stretching out a leg to save David White the trouble when John Ebbrell aimed a low, left to right cross towards the far post.

Ebbrell, dogged by a foot injury since his pounds 1m signing from Everton a month ago, gave some encouragement to Kendall on his belated debut before another injury, this time to the ribs, prevented his appearance in the second half.

Thanks to Bodin, United led after 45 minutes without having executed a single shot. When they did at last manage to rediscover the art, Andy Walker had doubled their lead, much to Reading's dismay. Gareth Taylor headed down a long punt out of defence and Walker justified his inclusion at the expense of in-form Jan Aage Fjortoft by beating goalkeeper Steve Mautone with a well placed cross-shot.

By then, Reading's Trevor Morley had seen a free kick tipped over the bar by United's Simon Tracey and another goalbound attempt blocked by a defender. In the second half, Tracey saved splendidly from Lee Nogan and again from Morley as United held on unconvincingly.

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