Watford 0 Sheffield United 1: Webber's strike earns vital victory for United

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The Independent Football

Say what you like about Sheffield United's excitable manager Neil Warnock - and as far as many football followers are concerned, that may take some time - but he tells it like it is, or at least like it feels.

After an 88th-minute goal from his substitute Danny Webber - the former Watford favourite - had given United the victory which only left them in the relegation places on goal difference, Warnock spelled out the importance of a result which lifted them four points above their opponents.

"All this bull about 'only another game'," he said. "Was it hell only another game. I said in the dressing room beforehand 'If you want to stay in the Premiership you need to win tonight.'"

Until Webber's dramatic intervention - when he reacted first to a header from Chris Morgan which had bounced off the underside of the crossbar and nodded the ball in before being cannoned into the post by a shove in the back from Jordan Stewart - United looked as if they had wasted a valuable opportunity to depress their fellow Premiership strugglers.

After a succession of misses in the second half, including two shots which bounced away off a post from Christian Nade and Rob Hulse respectively, they looked ready to travel back up to Sheffield with a lingering sense of frustration. But then the man who has scored so many important goals at Vicarage Road in Watford colours offered another demonstration of the striker's instinct.

By contrast, the home team appeared unable to muster a decent threat on goal after Tommy Smith had twice given the visiting goalkeeper, Paddy Kenny, cause for anxiety in the opening 25 minutes, flashing one shot just over the bar and forcing the Irishman to make a smart save with a second effort.

Watford's manager Aidy Boothroyd described Webber's goal as "miles offside", but did not offer it as an excuse for the result. "We didn't perform," he said, his brow unusually furrowed with care. "We didn't play our way, we didn't get started, we didn't compete..."

Asked where this result left him, he responded: "Sitting in front of you, extremely pissed off, disappointed but not devastated. We have got to bounce back very quickly."

Watford's mission to retain their Premiership status has already become a tough one following the loss for the season of their topscorer, Marlon King. Last night's task became still more awkward as they were unable to field their goalkeeper Ben Foster, who has a knee injury, and the inspirational midfielder Ashley Young, who went down with flu.

It was a measure of their desperation that their means of seeking a breakthrough in the second half involved bringing on central defender Dan Shittu and sticking him up front.

Warnock fully sympathised with the club which accompanied his team up from the Championship last season. "It's very hard when you see the size of the squads for teams like us," he said. "That's why we've got to work hard in the January transfer window. I need four or five players, and I'm sure it's the same for Aidy"'

The home team finished with only 10 men after Chris Powell was sent off for a second bookable offence after downing Hulse in the 94th minute. More worryingly for Boothroyd, they also finished with their heads down.

As for Warnock, he was understandably exuberant - although he failed to see anything funny in what he maintained was the ball-boys' failure to supply his players with towels to wipe the ball before throw-ins, a service routinely offered to the home side. For all the importance of the result, the day when Warnock finds nothing to moan about has yet to arrive...

Goal: Webber (88) 0-1.

Watford (4-5-1): Lee; Chambers, Mackay, DeMerit, Powell; Spring (Doyley, h-t), Francis, Mahon, McNamee (Shittu, 72), Smith; Henderson. Substitutes not used: Chamberlain, Stewart, Priskin.

Sheffield United (4-4-2): Kenny; Kozluk, Morgan, Davis (Bromby, 30), Geary; Gillespie, Leigertwood, Jagielka, Alan Quinn (Kazim-Richards, 88); Hulse, Nade (Webber, 73). Substitutes not used: Montgomery, Law.

Referee: M Atkinson (West Yorkshire).

Booked: Watford Mahon, Henderson, Sheffield United Kazluk.

Sent off: Powell (90).

Man of the match: Smith.

Attendance: 18,887