Ugo Ehiogu's first goal as a Sheffield United player maintained a promotion pace for Kevin Blackwell's side after a week of frustration had threatened to derail their climb into the top six. There was little to suggest United will still be there next May but in a wide-open Championship likely to produce a few surprises points gained scrappily may have particular value.
A goal from Ehiogu is a surprise in itself. The veteran former Aston Villa and England defender, who will be 36 next week, has managed only 11 in the last eight years but yesterday's was timely after United's three-man attack had failed to break down a well organised Preston.
"We made hard work of it but at this stage it is about getting results, to give yourself a chance to kick on when it matters," Blackwell said. It was an admission that, until late in the game, Preston had been a difficult opponent but Alan Irvine's team have lost six of their last seven matches.
For all the energy and resourcefulness of Barry Nicholson, Ross Wallace and others they must do more than simply play well. "We deserved something from the game but if you don't have a cutting edge the odd mistake at the other end can mean you get punished," Irvine lamented.
United, beaten in last weekend's Steel City derby and held to a goalless draw by Southampton in midweek, struggled to counter Preston's workrate and fluent passing and, with giant centre forward Sam Parkin proving a handful the visitors probably fancied they could end their poor run.
United missed the know-how of the injured Gary Speed in midfield but the experience of Ehiogu proved equally valuable as he remembered what he needed to do in the opposition penalty area five minutes into the second half.
He forced the ball home at the second attempt after Danny Webber had sent it low across the face of goal following Andrew Lonergan's parrying of a Brian Howard free kick. It was Ehiogu's first goal in any colours since his only one for Rangers won an Old Firm derby 19 months ago.Reuse content