Ninety minutes had elapsed here yesterday with Sheffield United's advantage over the Championship's chasing pack apparently about to dwindle further. In a match Stoke City had the better of, it appeared United's first home defeat of the season on Boxing Day would be followed by two more points dropped on New Year's Eve.
But that was before their captain and central defender, Chris Morgan, met Phil Jagielka's cross in the first minute of added time with a thumping far-post header to ensure United enter 2006 in fine spirits. With their 11-point advantage restored over third-placed Leeds, who won earlier in the day, they will surely never have a better chance of automatic promotion to the Premiership.
"It just summed us up to score so late," said Neil Warnock, the United manager. "We were running on empty but still managed to win it. Not only is it great for us but it's a real blow for the teams chasing us as well.
"I've never been so proud as a manager because I asked so much of the players today and they gave me it."
An adventurous Stoke side looked to have earned a well-deserved point that would have concluded a sequence of 25 league matches without a draw dating back to the opening day of the season. As it was, they were left to wonder how they could have failed to claim anything from a match they contributed so much towards. Despite falling behind, undeservedly, to Nick Montgomery's first goal of the season they attacked in numbers throughout and were well worth Mamady Sidibe's equaliser after the break.
From the beginning, it was apparent why they have won seven away League games this season. In the best of a cluster of early attacks, Luke Chadwick left Alan Quinn then David Unsworth in his trail before Sami Bangoura forced Paddy Kenny into a scrambling save. Stoke are less impressive when defending, though, and conceded a messy opening goal. It stemmed from an Unsworth free-kick that was only cleared as far as Montgomery, who shot low and deliberately into the corner from the edge of the area.
Stoke drew level just before the hour. Bangoura was the provider, benefiting from some sub-standard United defending to feed Sidibe, who rounded Kenny before tapping in his fourth goal of the season. It was no less than Stoke deserved and, as befitting a side who do not know how to draw a match, they set about creating a winner.
Twice they went close, but the best of the late chances fell to United, when Quinn drew a fine save from Simonsen. It looked to have earned a point - until Morgan's late intervention.
"I don't think we played well - we played great," said Johan Boskamp, whose side have now lost their last three games. "We came to one of the top sides in the division and we were the better team. But again we gave a Christmas present away."Reuse content