Warnock's play-off hopes hang by a thread

Sheffield United 1 Ipswich Town 1
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The Independent Football

Neil Warnock has been reduced to praying for miracles in his bid to repeat the play-off journey to Cardiff of almost 12 months ago for the First Division play-offs, while Joe Royle retains a far more realistic chance of making it a double celebration in East Anglia after the stalemate at Bramall Lane last night.

Neil Warnock has been reduced to praying for miracles in his bid to repeat the play-off journey to Cardiff of almost 12 months ago for the First Division play-offs, while Joe Royle retains a far more realistic chance of making it a double celebration in East Anglia after the stalemate at Bramall Lane last night.

Ian Westlake's 71st-minute goal, which cancelled out Andy Gray's penalty, denied Warnock the victory he needed to force his way back into the play-off reckoning but it inched Ipswich closer to achieving their objective of joining Norwich in the Premiership next season.

Sheffield United have picked up only eight points from their last eight games, form that indicates another season in the First Division, as they are going to need a freak set of results to stand any chance of a play-off place.

In the first half, United were unable to find a way past one of the worst defences in the division and condemn Ipswich to the 71st goal they have conceded this season. The closest they came in a low-key first half was an Alan Wright free-kick from distance. Their frustration was evident when Jack Lester was booked for kicking the ball at Fabian Wilnis as he lay on the ground.

Ipswich had no such sense of urgency as long as long as the deadlock remained, but they wasted the best chance of the opening 45 minutes when Westlake hurried his shot over the cross bar, after Robert Kozluk's error on the edge of his own area.

United's sense of urgency was palpable after the interval and twice in the space of a minute Kelvin Davis prevented them from gaining the ascendency with saves to deny Phil Jagielka and Robert Page, but there was little he could do to keep out Gray's 63rd-minute penalty after Michael Tonge bemused Wilnis and was sent sprawling for his fleet of foot.

It was a lead that United merited, but one they were unable to hold. Their advantage lasted less than 10 minutes before Westlake equalised. The young midfielder had struck a post with an earlier header, after Kenny had diverted substitute Richard Naylor's shot.

There was no mistake when Matthew Richards slid a pass inside Kozluk, from where Westlake shot through Paddy Kenny's legs to the delight of Royle. The point is likely to prove far more valuable in East Anglia than Sheffield.

Sheffield United (4-4-2): Kenny; Kozluk, Morgan, Page, A Wright; Tonge, Jagielka, McCall (Ndlovu, 73) Gray; Allison, Lester (McLeod, h-t). Substitutes not used: Montgomery, Shaw, Francis.

Ipswich Town (4-4-2): Davis; Wilnis, Elliott, McGreal, Richards; Magilton, J Wright, Miller (Reuser, 65), Westlake; Bent, Bowditch (Naylor, h-t). Substitutes not used: Bart-Williams, Kuqi, Price.

Referee: E Ilderton (Tyne & Wear).

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