Nogan brings down Blades

Sheffield United 1 Blake 53 Reading 1 Nogan 66 Attendance: 19 ,241
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IF KNOWLEDGE of the territory counts for anything, Sheffield United must be worth at least a modest bet to return to the Premiership at the first attempt. After all, there are few managers with more experience of winning promotion battles than Dave Bassett.

In 12 seasons, from Wimbledon to Bramall Lane, Bassett has taken his charges up a division six times. And after a run of 11 matches in which they have lost only once, his United side are right in the thick of another dogfight.

Easily recognisable as a Bassett team, United rely heavily on pace and power, their directness contrasting sharply with the more measured subtlety of yesterday's opponents, whose chances of securing a play-off place remain, on paper at least, one point better than United's after this result.

In practice, once the campaign intensifies, strength may be a more telling factor, although United will need to develop a keener taste for the jugular. Having secured the lead their dominance of the first half merited, they allowed Reading to play their way back into the game, conceded an equaliser and could not push their noses back in front.

Nathan Blake put them ahead eight minutes into the second half, taking advantage of an error by Polish defender Dariusz Wdowczyk before sliding the ball past Reading's otherwise impeccable goalkeeper, Shaka Hislop. But the visitors, moving the ball around smoothly and confidently, deservedly drew level when Lee Nogan beat Alan Kelly with a dipping shot from the edge of the penalty area.

"When you go 1-0 up you need to show some moral fibre," Bassett said. "We took our foot off the accelerator when we should have been killing them off. We played panic football when what was needed was a bit more composure, a bit more purpose." Certainly, United had run up enough missed chances to feel they ought to have come out on top. Hislop, in splendid form, saved from Phil Starbuck and Kingsley Black in a frenetic opening, and crucially denied Blake a second goal from a powerful header five minutes from the end as United at last regained their momentum.

But Reading, lacking both of their joint player-managers, Jimmy Quinn and Mick Gooding, as well as their centre-back, Adrian Williams, played with enough craft in the second period to pose some anxious moments for the Sheffield side and would have felt hard done by had they gone home unrewarded.

"In the circumstances, we are pleased with a point," Gooding said. "At half-time, we even felt we could have won the game."