Elliott turns provider to leave Warnock lamenting lost opportunity

Sunderland 1 - Sheffield United 0
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The Independent Football

According to Neil Warnock, Sheffield United would have clinched promotion last season if he had been given the funds to buy Darren Huckerby in the January transfer window 12 months ago. The Blades might also have been cutting the Norfolk mustard in this term's race for the Premiership had their manager not spurned the chance to buy Stephen Elliott at the end of last season.

According to Neil Warnock, Sheffield United would have clinched promotion last season if he had been given the funds to buy Darren Huckerby in the January transfer window 12 months ago. The Blades might also have been cutting the Norfolk mustard in this term's race for the Premiership had their manager not spurned the chance to buy Stephen Elliott at the end of last season.

The former Manchester City reserve-teamer was deemed too small by Warnock to play a striking role in his side, but Elliott's metaphorical stature is growing by the week on Wearside. Bought by Mick McCarthy for £125,000, he has proven his goalscoring worth with a running total of 12. And yesterday he showed his worth as a goal-maker, supplying the adroit cross from which Marcus Stewart volleyed the winner that left Warnock's side with a dent in their proud away record and, more damagingly, with a puncture in their hopes of automatic promotion.

It was a fine finish by Stewart, who showed his enduring pedigree as a striker of distinction. On Friday Warnock praised the 30-year-old for "making as many comebacks as Frank Sinatra", but his own team are unlikely to come back from Stewart's 44th-minute strike to feature in the fight for automatic promotion. They might have had Sunderland on the ropes in the second-half, but they are now eight points behind the Wearsiders, who are within a single point of the top two.

It might have been different for Warnock had he not left Andy Gray to plough a lone attacking furrow before the break. It encouraged Sunderland on to the front foot, and they attacked with increasing menace once they managed to get through the blinding profusion of fluorescent orange shirts ranged against them in midfield.

The slick dovetailing between Elliott and Stewart created a succession of chances - the best of them in the 16th minute. Stewart's brilliant flick on the half-way line sent his partner clear and, from the edge of the penalty area, Elliott beat the advancing Paddy Kenny with a chipped shot - only to watch in frustration as his effort smacked off the crossbar.

Kenny's goal lived on borrowed time as half-time approached - Julio Arca firing into a massed defensive wall when an indirect free-kick was touched on to him four yards out, and Stewart pulling a shot across the the goalmouth. It took 44 minutes, but the breakthrough was worth waiting for, Elliott clipping a neat cross to the touchline on the left for Stewart to hook in a left-footed volley from seven yards.

At the other end, Thomas Myhre saw the first half from the perspective of spectator number 27,338 but the Norwegian was too busy after the break to admire the view. The half-time introduction of Danny Cadamarteri had an immediate galvanising effect on the visitors, the attacking support provided by the old Evertonian transforming the hitherto isolated Gray.

Within three minutes of the resumption, Gray drove a shot on the turn narrowly wide, and the Scotland international had a succession of efforts blocked and parried. Ultimately, though, it was a brilliant save by Myhre - thwarting Jonathan Forte - that was responsible for the Black Cats clinging on to the three points by the very tips of their claws.

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