Kabba equalises as rivals relive glories

Leeds United 1 Sheffield United 1
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The Independent Online

The days when these sides would meet at the top level of domestic football may be fading fast into misty memory, but here was an occasion to revisit some of the ferocity of past encounters with something at stake.

Resurgent Leeds, fourth in the Championship, are almost ready to prove that they have a claim to upward mobility again, but Sheffield United are not leading the table without reason. Together they provided a contest that lived up to expectations and a scoreline that reflected it accurately enough as Steve Kabba's equaliser cancelled out the Frazer Richardson strike that had given Leeds a second-half lead.

The Blades had put six unanswered goals past Leeds last season, but were prepared to face a team in much better fettle last night.

While Neil Warnock's side were blasting their way to a 12th win of the campaign at Millwall on Tuesday, the side assembled virtually from scratch by his former assistant were turning a not-quite convincing display against Southampton into a gutsy win, a result that maintained their position just behind the frontrunners and confirmed the impression that Kevin Blackwell has built a team with Premiership possibilities in only 18 months.

Since Blackwell left Bramall Lane in 2003, he and Warnock no longer exchange Christmas cards. Blackwell's signing of Rob Hulse, a long-time Warnock target, did little to help repair their rift, and there was an extra eagerness in the Sheffield manager to see his strikers come out on top last night. Warnock relegated Vincent Pericard and Danny Webber to the bench, despite their sharing of three goals at Millwall, but his "keep 'em hungry" policy appeared to have the desired effect, especially on Kabba, who drew two saves in as many minutes from the Leeds goalkeeper Neil Sullivan.

Until half the stadium thought Hulse had scored with a 36th-minute diving header, a long-range effort from the full-back Dan Harding had been the only scare for the visitors. At the other end, in addition to Kabba's testing of Sullivan, Phil Jagielka had seen two long strikes miss the target narrowly and brought a third save from Sullivan.

A rare lapse in concentration eight minutes after half-time cost Sheffield a goal. They allowed Robbie Blake to drift across their penalty area from the left before supplying a pass to Richardson, who wrong-footed the left-back Alan Wright before hitting the roof of the net from 15 yards.

The goal prompted some touchline histrionics from Warnock, who not unusually seemed to perceive some injustice in the build-up to the goal. The Leeds fans baited him with renewed vigour at this but when they demanded he confirm the score he did so willingly, shaping his fingers in a one and a zero, but then tapped his watch to indicate how much time remained.

His faith in his players was not misplaced. After 69 minutes Leeds were breached, Webber slipping a pass wide to Kabba, who beat Sullivan with a precise low strike to level the scores.

Leeds United (4-4-2): Sullivan; Kelly, Butler, Kilgallon, Harding; Richardson (Einarsson, 77), Derry, Douglas (Moore, 83), Lewis; Blake (Healy, 74), Hulse. Substitutes not used: Gregan, Bennett (gk).

Sheffield United (4-4-2): Kenny; Geary, Bromby, Morgan, Wright; Ifill (Gillespie, 58), Montgomery, Jagielka, Quinn; Shipperley (Webber, 65), Kabba (Pericard, 86). Substitutes not used: Short, Tonge.

Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).

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