A single point from two games over the Christmas period is hardly promotion form, but Wigan Athletic at least avoided the humiliation of successive defeats to White Rose opposition yesterday.
Following their 2-1 Boxing Day defeat to Rotherham United, Paul Jewell, the Lancashire club's manager, feared the worst as his team headed to Bramall Lane to take on Sheffield United.
But his unfancied side thoroughly merited the draw that halted their recent decline and had Nathan Ellington, their top scorer, managed to direct his shot inside the post after engineering a clear opportunity late on, they might even have won it.
"Sheffield are the best side we've played at home so far this season, so I would've taken a point before the game," admitted Jewell.
"But we created some decent chances and for the majority of the match I thought we were the better team," he added. "Given the way we played I'm disappointed not to win the game."
By contrast, it was yet another frustrating afternoon for Neil Warnock, who believes the weight of expectation has hung heavily on the red and white half of Sheffield this season.
Although they are well placed going into 2004, points have been accumulated in a steady rather than spectacular fashion.
Now a relatively small squad is about to be reduced further - and significantly - by Michael Brown's imminent departure to Tottenham. Currently halfway through a four-match suspension, Brown appeared on the pitch before the match to bid farewell to the crowd.
Better news came in the form of the returning Paddy Kenny, who has been injured for much of the season.
The talismanic goalkeeper returned to the starting line-up for the Boxing Day victory over Coventry and was properly tested several times in the opening stages yesterday, notably twice by the Wigan captain, Jason De Vos, as the away team started much the better.
Since Warnock does not believe in naming a goalkeeper among his substitutes, it was just as well he suffered no bad reaction to his injury.
Nick Montgomery, deputising for the Premiership-bound Brown, should have opened the scoring as Sheffield belatedly came to life, but his free header was directed just the wrong side of the post.
No matter. On their very next attack, Ashley Ward's shot was only blocked by De Vos, allowing Jack Lester, the former Charlton forward, to run on to the loose ball and calmly dribble round John Filan before rolling the ball into the unguarded net.
Wigan did not deserve to be behind and, accordingly, equalised within a minute. Ellington supplied the cleanest of finishes, shooting low into the far corner for his ninth goal of the season.
Aided by a strong following wind, Jewell's side enjoyed plenty of possession during the first half.
Gary Teale, the 25-year-old Scottish winger, frequently attacked - and embarrassed - Alan Wright, who had presumably moved down a division to avoid precisely this calibre of opponent.
As the Blades ran out of ideas, the home fans finally came to life. Typical of the day, it was only to express their disgust at the referee, Mark Warren, for penalising Lester after he had dispossessed Filan as the goalkeeper tried to clear.
"I have to be pleased with a point," Warnock said. "Wigan played some good football and created some good chances.
"That's four points for us over Christmas and with a bit of luck in the transfer window next month, I'll be bringing some new faces in for the remainder of the season."
Goals: Lester (23) 1-0; Ellington (24) 1-1.
Sheffield United (4-4-2): Kenny; Kozluk, Page, Jagielka, Wright; Ndlovu (Kabba, 62), Montgomery, McCall, Tonge; Ward (Allison, 80), Lester (Peschisolido, 80). Substitutes not used: Whitlow, Boussatta.
Wigan Athletic (4-4-2): Filan; Eaden, Breckin, De Vos, Baines; Teale, Bullard, Jarrett, McCulloch; Ellington, Roberts. Substitutes not used: Walsh (gk), Mitchell, Jackson, Kennedy, Flynn.
Referee: M Warren (West Midlands).
Bookings: Sheffield United: Ward, Lester.
Man of the match: Teale.
Attendance: 26,056.Reuse content