Sheffield Utd 0 Crystal Palace 1: Blades left to pine for Warnock

Former Sheffield United manager pays a winning visit with Palace as home fans' discontent with Robson grows
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Neil Warnock returned to Bramall Lane to a hero's welcome and left again having done absolutely nothing for the immediate prospects of his successor. Blades fans who remember the good days and even the bad ones under their previous manager with affection were chanting for Bryan Robson to go long before the end of this frustrating match. The demonstration continued in the car park afterwards, as it always tends to do when United managers' days are numbered.

"It's been a funny day," said Warnock, seven years in charge of the club he has always supported until he narrowly failed to keep them in the Premier League last season. "I was quite emotional, but it was a fantastic welcome. I couldn't have asked for anything better."

When the sentimental reunions had been concluded, Warnock saw his present side take their unbeaten run to 12 games, thanks to a goal from Jamie Scowcroft seven minutes before half-time.

Ben Watson, a consistently creative young midfielder, put a free-kick into the Sheffield penalty area, the ball took a bounce off the Palace captain, Mark Hudson, at the far postand there was Scowcroft to hook it home for his sixth goal ofthe season.

"I couldn't talk to them after the game," said Warnock in an unusual admission for him. "They've done me proud today. We're not the finished article, but we've created a northern unit down south."

For United, this was a doubly frustrating afternoon because, badly as they played, they still had the chances to win the match. Palace's Argentinian goalkeeper, Julian Speroni, made two good saves from Rob Hulse and was hit in the chest by a shot from Phil Bardsley that he did not know a great deal about.

Hulse still had the outstanding opportunity to salvage a point, when the hard-working Jon Stead crossed low from the left, Billy Sharp on for the ineffectual Keith Gillespie missed it at the near post and it ran to him on the far. Hulse's first touch was poor, however, and his point-blank effort hit the side-netting.

"It's killing us missing the chances we're missing at the moment," said Robson as he made his customary plea for patience. "It's for the fans to stick behind the team, and they did that pretty well until the last few minutes, when they took their frustrations out on me. We've done everything right, apart from putting the ball in the net."

As Warnock could remind him, that is rather a big "apart from" the sort that makes the difference between heroes and villains. The other factor that makes Palace look a far better proposition for a return to the top flight than United is the quality and enthusiasm of the young players Warnock is nurturing.

The 17-year-old left-winger Sean Scannell is a case in point. He could have given his side the lead early in the first half and was a threat to United until he was replaced late in the second.

Others, such as Watson and Tom Soares, are not much older, and their willingness to work tirelessly gave Palace the look of a "Warnock team" that must have made Blades supporters feel distinctly nostalgic.