Cooper's task set to be long and arduous

Sheffield United 1 Peterborough 0: The former Kettering manager is giving a harsh lesson in South Yorkshire as to how hard life is in the Championship basement, writes Phil Shaw

Monday 23 November 2009 01:00

Mark Cooper was not the only one with a Kettering connection for whom events at Bramall Lane carried added significance. Mark Bunn, who cut his goalkeeping teeth in a long-term loan at the new Peterborough manager's previous club, ensured Sheffield United's first win in two months with a display that also arrested a dip in his own fortunes.

Bunn, who is on a season-long loan from Blackburn, was playing only because of Ian Bennett's injured thumb and Paddy Kenny's drugs ban, yet capped a commanding performance by saving George Boyd's 66th-minute penalty.

Kevin Blackwell, who would have qualified for the adjective "beleaguered" had his team's run without a win been stretched to nine games by the Championship's bottom club, hailed the Londoner's contribution. "Bunny's had it tough," the Sheffield manager said. "He's realising how hard it is to play at a big club and has struggled lately. But he's a smashing lad and I'm delighted for him."

Bunn was not the only player in a makeshift home line-up with a point to prove. Henri Camara, who failed to impress at Wigan or in loan spells with West Ham and Stoke, settled an even contest before half-time with his first league goal in 51 weeks, rifling in the rebound when Joe Lewis parried Ched Evans's shot after a fine pass by the outstanding Kyle Walker set up Jamie Ward to cut the ball back.

Cooper had passed up the opportunity to lead Kettering in the FA Cup against his father Terry's old club, Leeds, in order to succeed another son of a famous football figure, Darren Ferguson. He showed he is his own man by preferring Ryan Bennett, on loan from Grimsby, to Ferguson's first-choice centre-back Craig Morgan, and introducing another loanee, Dagenham & Redbridge's Scott Griffiths. There had been disquiet among the fans about owner Darragh MacAnthony's choice of Cooper, let alone the parting with Ferguson. Many questioned how, if Fergie Jnr had found the second tier so arduous after winning two successive promotions, someone who has never managed above Blue Square Premier level would cope.

Cooper said he understood their scepticism but stressed that there are still 87 points to play for. He had made the obligatory noises about beating the drop when he arrived at London Road; after seeing the spirit and enterprise they showed in the South Yorkshire rain, he was even more confident.

The most eye-catching individuals were Griffiths, an attacking left-back in the mould of Cooper's dad; Toumani Diagouraga, a midfield powerhouse from Paris via Hereford; and the tall, lank-haired Boyd. Having been named as the club's fifth captain this season, the latter stepped up to the spot after Andrew Davies fouled Craig Mackail-Smith, only for Bunn to parry his shot.

A former Stevenage player in a squad containing others signed from Fisher Athletic and Billericay, Boyd swallowed his disappointment to endorse Cooper and echo his optimism. "He's been good all week, bright and bubbly and very professional," he said. "We're all from non-League anyway."

Sheffield United (4-4-2): Bunn; Walker, Morgan, Davies, Kilgallon; Ward (Reid, 85), Williamson (France, 81), Harper, Quinn; Camara (Treacy, 68), Evans. Substitutes not used: Taylor, Little, Geary, Fortune.

Peterborough United (4-4-2): Lewis; Lee, Bennett, Zakuani, Griffiths; Whelpdale (Batt, 64), Diagouraga (Simpson, 87), Frecklington, Boyd; Mclean, Mackail-Smith. Substitutes not used: McKeown (gk), Martin, Coutts, Rowe, Green.

Referee: G Hegley (Hertfordshire).

Man of the match: Walker.

Attendance: 25,144.

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