It remains to be seen what difference - if any - this point will make come the end of a long season but Sheffield United demonstrated yesterday that whatever they may lack in quality their spirit is beyond question. Rob Hulse and Colin Kazim-Richards, with his first goal for the club, scored within two second-half minutes to rescue a point after the outstanding El Hadji Diouf and Kevin Davies had put Bolton Wanderers firmly in control.
Foreign strikers are not supposed to relish unglamorous days like these but Diouf was in his element at a wet and windswept Bramall Lane in what was the first-ever Premiership meeting between the clubs. Yet despite his excellence, and Bolton's overwhelming superiority for long periods, sheer bloody-mindedness rescued a point for United when lesser sides would already have accepted defeat.
"When their second goal went in you thought that was it with them being such a professional outfit," said Neil Warnock, the United manager, whose side have climbed out of the bottom three. "But our substitutes brought a bit of life back into it.
"We've got a great dressing room. Yes, we are limited and we were without some of our better players - but we've got great spirit."
The attacking trident of Diouf, Davies and Nicolas Anelka presented a real handful to a United defence deprived of both first-choice full-backs and centre-half Claude Davis - a last-minute withdrawal due to a groin strain - as Bolton dominated the opening half. Kevin Nolan, Idan Tal and Kevin Davies had all failed to hit the target with passable opportunities before Diouf put his side deservedly ahead 10 minutes before half-time.
Phil Jagielka was wrong-footed by the influence of the wind and that allowed Diouf to get goal-side of his marker inside the penalty area. The Senegalese striker then finished past Paddy Kenny with aplomb. They would have been even further ahead had Kenny failed to beat away Tal's thunderous shot and Anelka not fired over from 10 yards in successive attacks.
That was all before half-time and as hard as United tried they had no answer to their opponents' equally admirable work ethic allied to greater individual quality.
That was evident in Bolton's second goal on the hour. Anelka might have shot himself but instead waited for support from Tal, who in turn laid the ball back to Davies on the edge of the area. He had time to take a touch before shooting low beyond an unsighted Kenny.
Then came the United comeback. First Hulse struck with a fine, thumping header and then Jaaskelainen made a horrible mess of claiming a routine long ball. It spilled to the feet of Christian Nade and he found fellow substitute Kazim-Richards. With Jaaskelainen yet to recover position and still retreating, he curled a delightful shot into the near corner from 25 yards.
After that neither side could find a winner, with a crucial last-minute save by Kenny from Abdoulaye Faye guaranteeing United their unlikely point.
"We paid for defending poorly for two and a half minutes," said Sam Allardyce, the Bolton manager. "My central defenders are 6ft 3in and 6ft 4in and they're paid to head balls away.
"We should have been home and dry. It was such a comfortable game for us until that point."Reuse content