Stoke City 1 Sheffield Utd 1: Shrewd Webber spares Blades' blushes

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The Independent Online

On the day that Reading were confirmed as the Championship title-winners, Sheffield United moved a step closer to the Premiership themselves by establishing a seven-point cushion over the chasing pack with only five games remaining.

Like Reading, they will surely be playing Premiership football next season, but, unlike Reading, with only two wins from their last 10 games they are rather stumbling over the finishing line.

It took a late equaliser to deny a spirited Stoke City. Danny Webber struck with eight minutes remaining as Stoke appealed for a free-kick. Playing to the whistle, Webber advanced into the penalty area before shooting underneath Steve Simonsen for his 10th of the season.

Earlier, the Australian midfielder Josip Skoko had put his team ahead. Stoke, whose long-term future at both boardroom and managerial level remains unclear, produced a strong-running performance that probably deserved all three points.

"We were a yard off the pace in the first half," said Neil Warnock. "We were much better in the second half and we're delighted with a point - I don't think there are many tougher places to come than here."

United had already known by the time they kicked off that both their nearest challengers, Watford and Leeds, had lost their latest games. Perhaps that was why they began with uncharacteristic laxness, while their mid-table opponents looked like the team with more to play for.

The opening goal stemmed from a soft foul conceded by Paul Ifill. Clint Hill pumped the free-kick into the penalty area and Paddy Kenny could only punch weakly away. Skoko was on hand to head back over the goalkeeper and into the net from 20 yards.

Kenny then redeemed himself by pushing Skoko's next shot on to the post. "That might have been the turning point in our whole season," said Warnock.

It certainly proved vital on the day as Hans Sigurdsson dwelt too long on the ball with Stoke flooding forward. Craig Short dispossessed him and sent Webber away for the goal that salvaged a precious point.

"The performance was very good but we gave the game away," said Johan Boskamp, the Stoke manager, who will fly to Iceland a week tomorrow to discuss his future. "It was their only chance of the afternoon."

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