Kendall's higher calling

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The Independent Online
Sheffield United 2 Reading 0

How difficult it is to keep supporters happy. Some of those wearing Sheffield colours booed on Saturday, dissatisfied not with the result but with what they perceived as a lack of quality. It seemed churlish on their part but maybe it is just the time of year.

When Howard Kendall succeeded Dave Bassett in December 1995 United faced relegation into the Second Division. Today they are poised for a return to the Premiership, via the play-off route if not the direct one.

Progress has not come cheaply. With the purchase from Aston Villa last week of the central defender Carl Tiler, who makes his debut at Huddersfield this afternoon, Kendall's spending topped pounds 7m, although his 14 buys, including the likes of Jan Fjortoft, David White, Andy Walker and John Ebbrell, have been shrewdly made. None has cost more than the pounds 1.2m paid to West Ham for Don Hutchison.

A letter to the Green 'Un, Sheffield's Saturday night sports paper, complained that these were other teams' reserves but the author may find himself thankful for their experience if United do go up.

He would not have been impressed by their performance against Reading, who were measurably the more imaginative side and could count themselves unlucky not to be rewarded with at least one goal for their creative skills, most of which revolved around their durable joint player-manager, Mick Gooding. But for the shot-stopping of Simon Tracey, who defied the best efforts of Trevor Morley and Lee Nogan, they would not have gone home empty-handed.

United, meanwhile, seem blessed with that coveted ability to play poorly and win. They reached half-time on Saturday without one worthwhile goal attempt to their name yet still led after Paul Bodin helpfully turned John Ebbrell's cross into his own net. Their first proper shot brought Walker his 12th goal of the season.

Ebbrell, making a belated debut, dropped out at half-time with damaged ribs, which may mean Hutchison starts against Huddersfield. Walker's goal could keep Fjortoft on the bench, despite the latter's run of eight goals in 10 matches since his move from Middlesbrough.

Goals: Bodin o.g (11) 1-0; Walker (49) 2-0.

Sheffield United (4-4-2): Tracey; Short, Holdsworth, Sandford, Ward; White, Ebbrell (Hutchison, 45), Henry, Whitehouse; Taylor (Fjortoft, 88), Walker (Katchouro, 76).

Reading (5-3-2): Mautone; Bernal, Hopkins, McPherson, Holsgrove, Bodin; Williams (Lovell, 70), Parkinson, Gooding; Morley, Nogan. Substitutes not used: Quinn, Caskey.

Referee: G Frankland (Middlesbrough).

Bookings: Sheffield United: Ebbrell; Reading: Parkinson, Morley.

Man of the match: Gooding.

Attendance: 15,153.

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