There is nothing a manager likes more than a player who gives his all for the cause, one who is willing, in football parlance, to run through a brick wall for him. In Neil Warnock's case, the expression can be amended to "drag himself from his hospital bed". The Sheffield United manager had two examples of such commitment in the side that won the Steel City derby on Saturday.
Aware that injuries were likely to deprive Warnock of two key defenders at Hillsborough in Craig Short and Leigh Bromby, his captain, Chris Morgan, declared himself ready to play barely 48 hours after undergoing hip manipulation under general anaesthetic.
His fellow centre-back Neill Collins, signed on loan from Sunderland on Friday evening, took in the full 90 minutes despite having spent two days in hospital receiving intravenous antibiotics for an infected ankle.
Indeed, Collins made a lightning recovery only after Warnock had contacted him in hospital with an offer to play for United in the derby game, which, after spending much of this season on loan at Hartlepool and making only two appearances for Sunderland, was too good to pass up.
"My ankle started to swell up after a reserve game on Wednesday," Collins said. "They took me into hospital to clean up the infection and the doctors had signed me off for a week.
"But when I was told in hospital that Sheffield United wanted me I couldn't believe my luck. I was desperate to go, so when I came out of hospital and woke up on Friday morning feeling OK I rang Neil and said I'd be fine."
The move gives Collins the opportunity to savour the joys of promotion to the Premiership two years running after winning a Championship medal with Sunderland last season.
"After the way things have gone at Sunderland this season it is great to come and be part of what's happening here," he said. "Last season, everyone was buzzing and looking forward to the next game and it is like being there all over again."
Collins met his new team-mates only on Saturday morning yet quickly developed an understanding, earning high praise from Warnock, along with Morgan, who was expected to face a lengthy absence after picking up his injury in the midweek game with Championship leaders Reading.
"I was told Chris would not play for three or four weeks and to play like he did so soon after being under general anaesthetic is incredible," Warnock said. "And for young Neill to come into a game like this and play the way he did is a tremendous achievement."
They might have been stretched a little more but it was only after Wednesday had been handed a lifeline when Steve MacLean converted a penalty 10 minutes from time that United came under real pressure.
By then, United were looking comfortable with a two-goal lead thanks to Michael Tonge and Ade Akinbiyi and would have been beyond catching had Akinbiyi and Bruce Dyer not squandered a series of inviting chances. Tonge's angled free-kick to put them ahead was the pick.
"We have a young team who did not appreciate what they had to do in a derby," the Wednesday manager, Paul Sturrock, said. "We didn't show the necessary commitment until it was too late."
The result enabled United to stretch the gap between themselves and the play-off places to 10 points, while the five-point cushion between Wednesday and the bottom three remains intact because Brighton lost at home to Watford.
Goals: Tonge (38) 0-1; Akinbiyi (45) 0-2; MacLean pen (80) 1-2.
Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Adamson; Simek, Bullen, Coughlan, Gilbert; Brunt, Folly (Partridge, 63), Whelan, O'Brien; Best (Tudgay, 59), MacLean. Substitutes not used: Kirby (gk), Collins, McAllister.
Sheffield United (4-4-2): Kenny; Kozluk, Morgan, Collins, Armstrong; Ifill (Geary, 85), Montgomery, Jagielka, Tonge; Akinbiyi (Flitcroft, 89), Dyer (Horsfield, 82). Substitutes not used: Barnes (gk), Kabba.
Referee: N Miller (Co. Durham).
Booked: Sheffield Wednesday Tudgay, Simek; Sheffield United Armstrong.
Man of the match: Tonge.
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