Sheffield United 2 Middlesbrough 1: Jagielka injects belief into Blades' survival struggle

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The Independent Online

For two teams on the same points total, even with identical goal difference, Sheffield United and Middlesbrough could hardly be taking more contrasting moods into the international break.

Phil Jagielka's astonishing stoppage-time winner has seen to it that Bramall Lane's early season apprehensions are over - replaced initially by the sort of celebrations that came with promotion in April and, once heads had cleared, with fresh hope that Premiership survival can be achieved. For now, the side who were bottom before the weekend have no more than a toehold, but their campaign feels alive. At last there is something more tangible than obvious team spirit as part of the foundations.

Their manager Neil Warnock's touchline antics make him any TV producer's dream, and he did not disappoint with the hug he shared with his captain and match winner at the end of this lively teatime viewing.

"There was a lot of emotion out there," Jagielka said. "It was like a cup tie. We pushed four strikers on at the end and went for it. Anyone who has been here for a few years had big smiles at the end.

"It was a huge goal for me, one in a million, but an even bigger one for the team. This win is massive and extra special for me after my own goal last week. When the ball came out, I didn't know whether to head it back in, but I took it on my chest and then thought, 'Oh-oh, I'm in for a tackle here.' But none came, so I thought, 'Why not have a shot?'"

Sheffield had been away from the top flight since 1994, so the fact that this was their first Premiership victory in exactly 12 years, five months was not too surprising. Of more significance to Warnock will be the knowledge that Rob Hulse is no longer the only player to have scored a League goal for him this season.

The striker clipped in his third of the 2006-07 season to underline what an exhilarating cocktail poor defending and lightning counter-attacking can produce, as Yakubu also proved just after half-time. Middlesbrough had by then created almost all of the clear openings, their extra finesse clearly apparent. But an awful miss by Jonathan Woodgate and a thump against the upright by Yakubu, both in the first half-hour, started to look more costly as Sheffield's substantial second-half pressure threatened a second breakthrough.

And it is typical of how things are currently going for Gareth Southgate that the decider, in the second minute of the additional three, should be so well struck, with pace, bounce and a hint of swerve, from all of 30 yards. Typical also, perhaps, that Steve McClaren was present.

Through the anguish of a third successive defeat, a manager whose only victory to date came against Chelsea, detected healthier signs. "That was the type of display I want from us," he said. "I am confident about our chances if we play in that positive manner. I want us to attack teams."

It has not taken long for Southgate to decide culture change is needed; nor for him to be reminded how painful the transition can be at first.

Goals: Hulse (35) 1-0; Yakubu (49) 1-1; Jagielka (90) 2-1.

Sheffield United (4-5-1): Kenny; Bromby, Jagielka, Davis, Armstrong; Gillespie (Nade, 89), Tonge, Leigertwood, Quinn (Kabba, 77), Kazim-Richards (Webber, 77); Hulse. Substitutes not used: Morgan, Kozluk.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Davies, Woodgate, Pogatetz, Taylor; Morrison (Mendieta, 71), Rochemback, Cattermole, Downing; Viduka, Yakubu. Substitutes not used: Parnaby, Turnbull (gk), Maccarone, Bates.

Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire).

Booked: Sheffield United Bromby; Middlesbrough: Cattermole, Rochemback, Woodgate.

Man of the match: Jagielka.

Attendance: 27,483.

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