Jagielka leaves Pardew dangling on jagged edge

West Ham United 1 - Sheffield United 1
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The Independent Online

West Ham could claim that this unsatisfactory performance was not as humiliating as their 2-0 defeat by the same club in the Championship earlier this month but it was not far off. Sheffield United were only too pleased to take the tie to a home replay in which they should not be challenged.

West Ham could claim that this unsatisfactory performance was not as humiliating as their 2-0 defeat by the same club in the Championship earlier this month but it was not far off. Sheffield United were only too pleased to take the tie to a home replay in which they should not be challenged.

There was never any possibility that West Ham's manager, Alan Pardew, whose job is under threat, would be able to sit back yesterday and treat a Cup match as respite from his problems in the League. A good run in football's oldest knock-out competition is important to a club with a sense of history and the need for its rewards. Not only that, confidence rebuilding was at stake. In the Championship, West Ham had fallen to ninth, their lowest position since being relegated in 2003.

After overseeing three successive League defeats, Pardew had given the gloomy impression of being ready to accept his fate. The fans had made it pretty clear what they wanted, and it was not him. All he could hope for was that Sheffield United's diminishing hope of an automatic promotion place was a sign of weakness.

There was nothing weak about the uncompromising way the Blades immediately set about attempting to nullify the possible threat of West Ham's front two of Marlon Harewood and Teddy Sheringham. That made it all the more surprising that, in a tight first half-hour, the only shot of discernible threat came from Harewood, whose low drive was so hard that Paddy Kenny was grateful to fend it off with clenched fists. What other opportunities fell West Ham's way in that early period came from a couple of free-kicks that found only a wall of Sheffield United bodies.

As for United, they contrived a skidding shot from Michael Tonge that the unconcerned Stephen Bywater watched past the far post, and not much else apart from keeping a careful eye on West Ham's 17-year-old Mark Noble, who later was fortunate not to be sent off for a dreadful tackle on Nick Montgomery that Sheffield United's manager, Neil Warnock, said should have been "a straight red".

In the 39th minute, a ball played forward by Sheringham towards Harewood seemed too high for the West Ham striker to reach with a stretched leg as he began to fall backwards. But reach it he did, and volleyed past Kenny with a flourish.

Sheffield United's response was not particularly persuasive, and they spent the early part of the second half ruggedly attempting to keep Sheringham and Harewood out of harm's way. Their equaliser, after 57 minutes, came unexpectedly, especially for Bywater in the West Ham goal. A centre from Andy Liddell found Phil Jagielka unmarked and his header dipped on to the goal-line. Bywater reached it but, according to the referee, too late to stop it crossing the line.

Now more than ever West Ham needed the experience of Sheringham, but Sheffield United were well aware of that and gave him an uncomfortable time. In addition, West Ham were their usual wasteful selves, often passing haphazardly in the opposition's half and losing possession too often in midfield, where Jagielka was commanding. Indeed he, more than anyone, gave his side the opportunity to spend the final 10 minutes largely in the West Ham half.

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