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01/02: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 30/10/01
Sheffield United
By Matt Rowson

The wind whips icily against your cheeks. The stinging sleet sullenly continues to find its way down the back of your neck. Around you, all is grey. The streets are bare, soulless and untidy. Every building is either an abandoned warehouse with broken glass where windows perhaps used to be, or what looks like it once might have been a shop with boards over the windows and fly-posters for a six-month-old concert covering the grilled doors.

And the people. Oh my, the people. Every man and woman trudges with their face down, hands deep in pockets, dull, lifeless eyes fixed on the pavement unless you make the mistake of entering their consciousness in which case the emotionless vacuum mutates into a scowl.

This is a sour, diseased, joyless place. We've all been to places like this many times before, although not always in this location. Memories of trips to Oldham, Plymouth, Huddersfield, Bury....

Welcome to the World of Warnock. Let's not pretend you'll want to stay long.

The signs are that despite Warnock's favourable status as a Sheffield United fan, and despite the crippling effects of an injury crisis that has wiped out United's entire forward line, the locals are close to revolt. The employment of the phrase "creativity bypass" in connection to a Warnock side might not come as any surprise, but the echo of the sentiment across United forums in condemnation of the current side is significant.

That said, Saturday's gutsy win over Crewe, albeit by virtue of United's first goal in four games, will have bought Warnock time. Whether United can sustain a good run with a hotchpotch side with a number of youngsters forced through and no money for restrengthening seems doubtful.

In goal will be Simon Tracey, source of no small distraction during the grim fixture at Bramall Lane last season. His deputy is Dutchman Wilko de Vogt.

Right-back Rob Kozluk is a notable absentee, a recent injury putting him out for twelve months. Youngster Ben Doane has made his first appearances in the starting eleven as a result.

The experienced Terry Phelan is at left-back, although former Stockport man Shane Nicholson is another option here and former Blade Rob Ullathorne has also been resigned on a short term deal as cover. At the back, big Australian Shaun Murphy is one of several players playing on with injury, tendonitis of the knee requiring injections to survive games. In the absence of any medical expertise, the general practice of delaying operations and playing crocked players smacks of short-termism...

Alongside Murphy has been a player who needs no introduction, Robert Page having gained particular credit from his manager for his performance against Crewe. Whatever Page's limitations - you don't develop an expertise at saving tackles without putting yourself in the postion to practise them - Page captained Watford to two promotions including a win at Wembley and will always be a Watford hero. There's no reason to suspect he'll be greeted as anything else on Tuesday.

In the absence of the injured Keith Curle and with Lee Sandford away on loan, chief cover is provided by another youngster Colin Cryan, who was apparently close to stepping in for Murphy on Saturday.

In midfield, Michael Brown provides much of the energy. Michael Tonge has started the last few games, and the eighteen-year-old scored his first first-team goal with the winner on Saturday. Zimbabwean Peter Ndlovu suffers from three times the gravitational force of most players, whilst Paul Devlin has reappeared in the starting eleven despite interest from Birmingham. Bobby Ford has been around forever, Nick Montgomery is another energetic option, and Mark Ward is another youngster who debuted on Saturday. Georges Santos, whose versatility can lend his elbows to the cause in any area of the pitch, will be suspended.

Up front is where United have been hit hardest by injuries with Carl Asaba (knee), Patrick Suffo (hamstring), Laurent D'Jaffo (achilles), and Paul Peschisolido (groin) all missing through injury. The charmless Peschisolido was the latest to play with an injury at the weekend. In the light of these injuries, Warnock stalwart Adrian Littlejohn has been signed on a short-term deal having been released by Bury. The final straw in many Blades' eyes...

Saturday's chaotic game at Bradford was the first of four games for the Hornets against sides with insecure or recently vacated management positions. As such, they present a real opportunity to put another run together. We can't afford to give our season another flat tyre on Tuesday evening.