Venus ventures in vain for Wolves

Sheffield United 3 Whitehouse pen 16, Foran 73, Flo 90 Wolverhampt on W 3 Goodman 58, Bull 65, Kelly 83 Attendance: 16,714
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The Independent Online
SEVEN minutes left at Bramall Lane yesterday, Wolverhampton Wanderers were ahead and the First Division title was still within reach. A little less than seven minutes after the end of normal time and Sheffield United's Jostein Flo headed in a much contested equaliser and Wolves were again in no man's land.

This extraordinarily combative game ended with the Wolves and former England manager, Graham Taylor, being escorted off the pitch, having been spat at by a spectator whom Taylor grabbed and handed over to the police. It was an ill-tempered ending to an absorbing game on a pitch that had absorbed the day's rain, but on which Sheffield United's performance bore no resemblance to those of recent weeks.

After what their manager had said last weekend it was surprising that anyone from Sheffield turned up at all. The draw with Swindon had more or less cost Dave Bassett's side a play-off place and he reckoned it was so bad a performance that he joined in the booing at half-time. Sheffield had then gone to the leaders, Middlesbrough, on Monday, and earned another draw which was almost the apology Bassett was looking for. Yesterday they grovelled spectacularly.

Wolves showed why they score more goals and concede more than any of the other promotion challengers. Concerned about the goalscoring potential of their Steve Bull and David Kelly, Bassett rearranged his defence to have Dave Tuttle at right-back and Mark Foran and Roger Nilsen as central defenders. Tuttle immediately set the tone as he threw himself into a wild tackle on Robby Dennison, bringing him the yellow card.

A 15-minute delay to the kickoff because of motorway problems had already created tension and it was increased when an inviting pass forward from Sheffield United's Paul Rogers was chased by Carl Veart, who knocked the ball out of his own reach before Venus touched his ankles from behind. Veart fell, the referee was taken in and Dane Whitehouse succeeded with the 16th-minute penalty.

Recent visits to Bramall Lane had not brought much satisfaction to Wolves and, though they increased their possession and began playing Bull into ever more dangerous situations, there was no such thing as an easily won attack.

Venus worked unstintingly and more than anyone deserved to see Wolves equalise after 58 minutes. Dean Richards had collected a quickly taken free-kick by David Kelly. Richards controlled the slippery ball well, turning inside the penalty area in one movement before sliding it across to Don Goodman, who had the easier task in finding plenty of target space on either side of Kelly and comfortably beating him.

Tackles continued to come in hard and fast. One, by Goodman on Whitehouse, removed the Sheffield player from the game but it was the spirit of Wolves rather than any tactical rearrangements forced upon Sheffield United that was crucial. Just after Bull had thrashed a shot yards wide he made amends clinically. A slithering long pass from Venus parallel with the touchline allowed Mark Rankine to sprint past a couple of challenges and centre for Bull to side-foot in.

Whatever complaints Bassett may have had about his team before yesterday, their effort in this match could not be faulted. In the 73rd minute, a corner from Glyn Hodges dropped into the goal area. Foran got above the defenders and headed down. Mike Stowell dived and got a hand to the ball but it slipped in for the equaliser.

With only seven minutes remaining, Venus again made an attack on the left side and his centre was fiercely headed in by Kelly. However in injury time Kingsley Black's centre was headed in by Flo. Wolves appealed for offside, but it was all fruitless frustration.