Bramall Lane's biggest crowd of the season - 25,596 - was also, for long periods, probably the quietest. The match had started 16 minutes late to accommodate latecomers and many of those not on time - attracted on a murky, drizzly night by slashed ticket prices - must have wished they had not bothered.
United, with their target so close, looked distinctly edgy as the game wore on. Premiership standard they are patently not on this unimpressive evidence. What Paul Gascogine, with whom the club are still linked, would have made of such dross was anyone's unkind guess. The fixture had been brought forward a day to enable internationals such as Petr Kachuro to play but the Belarussian missed an excellent chance when he failed to wrap his foot around the ball when standing almost on the goal-line after Lee Sandford had flicked on a corner.
Stoke, with nothing to play for (assuming they were resigned to being unable to make up the 26 goals that could still have put them in the play- offs at Crystal Palace's expense), looked far more relaxed with Richard Forsyth orchestrating their midfield.
It was when Forsyth tried to put Mike Sheron away that Alan Kelly came racing recklessly out of his goal to attempt a headed clearance. The Irish goalkeeper succeeded only in felling Sheron, earning himself a booking and feeling presumably the utmost relief when Stoke made nothing of the free-kick.
United's goal, when it eventually came in the 66th minute, was a messy one entirely in keeping with the game. From a free-kick taken by Don Hutchison, after Justin Whittle had been booked for tugging down Jan Age Fjortoft, the ball found its way to Tiler, who scrambled it in at the far post.
Most relieved at Tiler's goal was his manager, Howard Kendall, who had backed the big defender to score at 33-1. "I'm not telling you how much I had on him, but half of it will go to charity, " Kendall said. "The players were extremely anxious to get a play-off place and it showed in their play." Kendall spent much of the game gesticulating madly at his players with signs to his head, indicating that all was far from well.
Sheffield United (4-4-2): Kelly; Ward, Holdsworth, Tiler, Sandford; White, Henry, Hutchison, Whitehouse; Fjortoft, Kachuro (Scott, 88). Substitutes not used: Tracey (gk), Short,
Stoke City (3-5-2): Muggleton; Sigurdsson, McNally (MacKenzie, 83), Whittle; Pickering, Beeston (Kavanagh, 59), Wallace, Forsyth, Griffin; McMahon, Sheron. Substitutes not used: Devlin.
Referee: I Cruikshanks (Hartlepool).Reuse content