Sheffield United 2 Tottenham Hotspur 1: Blades find belief to cut into Spurs' soft centre

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The Independent Online

Whatever happened to the snarling, nail-biting fight for Premiership survival that Sheffield United were widely expected to endure? Where now is the gulf in quality that was supposed to trip them up a few months on from finishing as Championship runners-up? Much more of this and Neil Warnock's reputation as the leader of a rugged bunch of upstarts with the potential only to bloody the noses of a few Premiership glamour boys will be up in smoke.

As well as being pelted with snowballs at training, the Sheffield United manager has already had to apologise for saying a few of his players should not be in the top flight. He is even praising their on-field discipline and lauding them as a team who make the officials' lives easy. Now, before we know it, he could have his side in mid-table, with April and May set aside for consolidation and forward planning.

Tottenham Hotspur, the fourth London club humbled at the ground this season, found to their discomfort that a trip to South Yorkshire is no longer just about attrition and appetite.

True, the set-piece threat still looms large and the pitch is poor enough to ensure that any player determined to cover every blade of grass does not necessarily have to run that far.

Furthermore, the declaration from the scorer of Saturday's winner, Phil Jagielka, that, "I'm not sure whether there is another team with bigger heart", is a reminder of familiar virtues.

However, there is much to admire in this United line-up. From Jagielka at the back through the excellent Nick Montgomery in the centre of midfield to the game's star performer, Rob Hulse, in attack, they performed an expert job in turning the tide following 15 minutes of ominous Spurs supremacy.

The home side certainly did not kick their way to victory and, having also hit the woodwork twice, were good value for a result that leaves them a reassuring 10 points above West Ham United in 18th place.

"I don't think the lads worry at all now about being in the Premier League," Warnock said. Yet he was still cautious enough to add: "When, mathematically, it's impossible for us to get relegated, that will be the proudest moment of my football life."

Though they are still finding goals hard to come by, United found a foothold in an absorbing game with Hulse's bouncing header and won it through Jagielka's ferocious penalty just past the hour.

Tottenham, playing their 40th game of a campaign that for them increasingly hangs on progress in Europe and the FA Cup, could find no response, even when Jermain Defoe and Mido were sent on to accompany Robbie Keane and Dimitar Berbatov up front.

They did not manage a worthwhile attempt on goal in the second half, having taken only one - through Jermaine Jenas - of several clear openings before the interval.

A record of one Premiership away win all season suggests a soft centre - a point conceded by their goalscorer. "We have the talent to come here and win but talent doesn't always win you games," Jenas admitted. "We have to start developing the other side of our game. Our ability will beat a lot of sides but we need to start being stronger and a lot more physical."

Goals: Jenas (2) 0-1; Hulse (27) 1-1; Jagielka pen (62) 2-1.

Sheffield United (4-4-2): Kenny; Geary, Lucketti, Jagielka, Armstrong; Kazim-Richards (Fathi, 72), Montgomery, Tonge, Quinn; Hulse (Bromby, 89), Stead. Substitutes not used: Gerrard (gk), Webber, Nade.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Robinson; Chimbonda, Dawson, Rocha, Assou-Ekotto; Tainio (Defoe, 63), Jenas, Zokora, Malbranque (Mido, 73); Berbatov, Keane. Substitutes not used: Cerny (gk), Stalteri, O'Hara.

Referee: M Atkinson (West Yorkshire).

Booked: Sheffield United Bromby, Montgomery, Tonge; Tottenham Chimbonda, Jenas, Keane, Rocha, Defoe.

Man of the match: Hulse.

Attendance: 32,144.