Stoke's spirit forces Blades to dig deep

Stoke City 2 Sheffield United 2
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The Independent Football

Neil Warnock got a taste of his own medicine in the tightly bottled form of the Stoke manager, Tony Pulis, who can match the Sheffield United manager for a dose of aggression any time.

Like his counterpart, Pulis is of the "get into their ribs" approach to football, and for the first 25 minutes it worked for his team. Stoke were rewarded with two goals, and Warnock admitted afterwards: "We were physically intimidated in the first 20 minutes or so, and that's not like my teams!''

Off the pitch, Warnock may show signs of mellowing as he talks of driving his tractor around the Cornish plot he has earmarked for his retirement. But give the dogged fighter a challenge and he is still in there battling.

It certainly hurt Warnock as he watched Stoke's Gifton Noel-Williams put home an early corner sent in by the talented youngster Kris Commons, who went on to produce another telling cross which Ade Akinbiyi despatched perfectly with his head. The Blades' manager said: "I mentioned last week's Wolves v Leicester game to the lads, where they came back from three goals down. If I'm honest, I thought we could score two goals, which we did."

Warnock's men were helped massively by the 46th-minute dismissal of the Potters' key defender Wayne Thomas for his second bookable offence. He brought down Ashley Ward as the striker raced goalwards, and having been warned in the first minute for a challenge on Ward, then booked for another foul, Thomas can have had few complaints.

Rob Kozluk pulled one back after 53 minutes when Stoke failed to cut out an Alan Wright free-kick, the defender beating Ed de Goey with a firm drive.

But it needed a late goal by Jack Lester to give United a share of the spoils. Deep into injury time, Chris Greenacre brought down Lester with a typical striker's challenge, and Lester converted from the spot.

It was not the way for Pulis to celebrate the completion of a first year in charge in which he hauled Stoke, then bottom, back from seeming oblivion. He may have to do it all again since Stoke have only one win in their last eight games.

Goals: Noel-Williams (4) 1-0; Akinbiyi (18) 2-0; Kozluk (53) 2-1; Lester (90) 2-2.

Stoke City (4-4-2): De Goey; Thomas, Hill (Williams, 33), Akinbiyi, Noel-Williams; Hall, Russell, Andrews, Halls (Greenacre, 52); Henry, Commons (Hoekstra, 67). Substitutes not used: Cutler (gk), Asaba.

Sheffield United (4-4-2): Gerrard; Kozluk, Wright (Allison, 88), McCall, Jagielka; Montgomery (Armstrong, 64), Morgan, Tonge, Ward; Ndlovu (Parkinson, 71), Lester. Substitutes not used: Rankine, Whitlow.

Referee: B Knight (Kent).

Booked: Stoke: Hill, Thomas, Henry, Noel-Williams. Sheffield Utd: Kozluk, Jagielka. Sent off: Stoke: Thomas.

Attendance: 14,217.