"A two-minute spell has cost us the game - it shows you that it doesn't take long to change a game of football. It was only two and a half minutes out of 95." That was how Sam Allardyce, the Bolton Wanderers manager, sought to explain how his team had managed to squander two points in a game they had otherwise dominated at Bramall Lane on Saturday.
As Neil Warnock, his Sheffield United counterpart, said: "When their second goal went in you thought that was it with them being such a professional outfit."
There are several compelling reasons why United's comeback should never have happened. One is that Bolton had not, prior to Rob Hulse's thumping header in the 70th minute, even looked like conceding. A second is that their attacking triumvirate of El Hadji Diouf, Kevin Davies and Nicolas Anelka looked dangerous almost every time they went forward. And a third is that, bar Chelsea, Bolton are just about the last Premiership side you would want to find yourselves two goals behind to.
Fine goals from Diouf, the game's outstanding player and a model of tenacity allied to excellent technique, and Davies had established that lead. But after Hulse had struck there was suddenly confusion in what had previously appeared a strong defensive unit. "When a little bit of panic sets in it affects everybody," said Allardyce.
From the very next Sheffield United attack, the two Abdoulayes, Faye and Meite, made a mess of dealing with a routine punt forward - not that it would have mattered had Jussi Jaaskelainen claimed the loose ball. But he failed to do so and the result was Colin Kazim-Richards coolly scoring his first Premiership goal with the goalkeeper still out of position. It was some finish from the young forward Warnock signed during the summer from Brighton for £150,000.
"He's an unorthodox player who is becoming more of a team player," said Warnock. "He's strong, he's big and he's got that little bit of arrogance, but in a nice way."
Despite Kazim-Richards' intervention, Bolton should still have gone on to win, which revealed much about the type of game this really was. Even with the raucous crowd behind the home side late on, the sight of Paddy Kenny taking an age over a goal-kick and Hulse hacking the ball aimlessly forward betrayed the fact that United were the ones much more content with a point.
"This should have ended our bad run," said Allardyce, whose side had lost their previous two Premiership games. "But now we've got Everton away and that's a very difficult game and even if we were to get a draw there it would still be four games without a win."
As for United, their next game is at home to Manchester United and, for the moment at least, they have climbed out of the bottom three. "Yes, we are limited and we are without some of our better players at the moment- but we've got a great dressing room," concluded an upbeat Warnock.
Goals: Diouf (34) 0-1; Davies (59) 0-2; Hulse (70) 1-2; Kazim-Richards (73) 2-2.
Sheffield United (4-4-2): Kenny; Geary, Jagielka, Morgan, Kozluk; Gillespie (Kazim-Richards, h-t), Leigertwood, Montgomery (Law, 60), A Quinn (Nade, 64); Hulse, Webber. Substitutes not used: Sommeil (gk), Short.
Bolton Wanderers (4-5-1): Jaaskelainen; Ben Haim, Faye, Meite, Pedersen; Davies, Nolan, Speed, Tal (Campo, 76), Diouf; Anelka. Substitutes not used: Walker (gk), Hunt, Stelios, Vaz Te.
Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).
Booked: Sheffield United Morgan; Bolton Meite.
Man of the match: Diouf.
Attendance: 28,294.Reuse content