Gray strike decides bruising encounter
Sheffield United 2 Millwall 1
Wednesday 03 March 2004
A game between two sides managed by Neil Warnock and Dennis Wise might have been expected to boast the following statistics: two brawls, one involving everybody on the pitch, 10 minutes of stoppage time, and seven bookings. Wise described the two incidents, one in each half, as "handbags, just a lot of pushing". Perhaps it was nothing much, but it cast a shadow.
The three goals this match also contained were hugely significant for Sheffield United. While Millwall had been energised by their run to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, United appeared to have been drained by it and staggered into this fixture after five defeats in six games which had seen them slide out of the play-off zone.
If Wise did not condemn the fisticuffs, he did regret the fact that only after Millwall had fallen two goals behind did they begin to show the same kind of aggression with a football. Before, they had come to Yorkshire to harry and frustrate and yet might well have forced an equaliser once Paul Ifill had met Danny Dichio's knock-on with a wonderfully-driven half-volley.
Until that moment, Sheffield United had looked obviously the better side, while lacking the confidence and coordination to make much of their possession. Andy Marshall did not have to make a save until the 50th minute when turning aside Ashley Ward's header. Within 10 minutes, he had been beaten twice.
United's first goal was surprisingly delicate. In the opening 58 minutes, Michael Tonge had been just about the only player on either side to show invention and now he engaged in a slick exchange of passes with Phil Jagielka. Ward bundled home the low cross.
Four minutes later came the decisive moment. A tackle by Millwall's Darren Ward on his namesake, Ashley, sparked a brawl which involved all 22 players. The United keeper, Paddy Kenny, ran three-quarters of the length of the pitch to have his say and received a booking for his trouble. "He will have to run a long way to the bank to pay for it because he will be fined," said Warnock. "It was two passionate teams with two passionate managers; it was like going back to Yorkshire League games."
From Jagielka's free-kick came retribution as Marshall failed to hold the shot, allowing Andy Gray to drive in the rebound. Warnock said he would wait before passing judgement on the striker and perhaps the same could be said of his team.
Sheffield United (4-3-3): Kenny, Jagielka, Page, Whitlow, Kozluk, Robinson (Rankine, 74), Montgomery, Tonge, Parkinson (Straw, 71), Gray, Ward. Substitutes not used: Lester, Peschisolido, Boussatta.
Millwall (4-5-1): Marshall, Muscat, Lawrence, Ward, Ryan, Ifill, Cahill, Elliott (McCammon, 64), Livermore, Sweeney (Harris, 64), Dichio. Substitutes not used: Gueret (gk), Roberts, Braniff.
Referee: F Stretton (Nottinghamshire).
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