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04/05: Reports:

Football League Cup Third Round, 26/10/04, 7.45pm
Sheffield United
Tax doesn't need to be taxing
By Matt Rowson

Last Thursday, I came home to a letter from the Inland Revenue.

I had not, I was informed, submitted a tax return. Further, said submission was more than six months overdue. This circumstance, it transpires, results in my being fined £200.

Now I've seen the ads on the telly. "Tax doesn't need to be taxing", and so forth. And frankly I've always been a little bit contemptuous. After all, I do a reasonably mathematical job, a bit of adding up and multiplying should be well within my capabilities as it should of anyone. Quite why this tone of advertisement should be necessary has always been quite beyond me.

Perhaps it was unreasonable of me to assume that the requirement to submit a tax return would necessarily be preceded by receiving an instruction to that effect. And a form to fill in, or something. At any rate, it didn't take long for an irrational panic to take hold, only mildly assuaged by the helpful woman on the other end of the advice line.

My tax return had, it transpired, been sent to a (very) old address. This was my fault for not advising the Revenue of the last (two) changes; on repeatedly having reminders returned to them, they took the step of chasing up my employers for a current address, just in time to advise me of my fine.

Why did I suddenly have to fill in a return? "I don't know, sometimes they just pick on people," said the woman reassuringly. "But don't worry about the £200, I'll send you a new form, fill it in and return it and the fine will be cancelled."

However, things failed to improve on receipt of the tax return form. Tsega has always mocked my rather anal filing system for Important Bits Of Paper, but now was the time it should prove its worth. Except it didn't. P60s all present and correct from 1995 until the present day. Except 2003. Bugger. Things go downhill further when the carefully filed bank statements feature a three page gap at around the same period, denying me any guidance regarding interest earned (a pittance, but how much of a pittance is still a mystery) and tax paid in the financial year in question.

Within half an hour of taking on the task on Sunday evening, I was a sorry sight. Drawers had been unscrewed from their sliders and removed rather more forcibly than necessary only to reveal that the necessary pieces of paper were no more trapped behind them than they were laying inside. A process that had initially been careful and methodical had become frantic and furious. Tsega returned home to find me surrounded by mortgage documents, instruction manuals, insurance certificates and discarded match programmes, a calculator in one hand and a wad of useless payslips in another. She remedied the situation at least temporarily by laughing at me quite a lot.

One can only hope that Colin Wanker has A Man to do his tax form, or else one fears that the anguish might lead him to spontaneously combust. His touchline agitation and, perhaps, lack of perspective is legendary and recently provoked no less than Joe Kinnear to dismiss him as "a complete prat" (undeniable, albeit a complete prat in charge of a club in the top six rather than the relegation zone. But that's Saturday's concern).

Colin's recent management strategy has again involved chucking his cards into the pile and demanding a brand new hand - only four of Saturday's starting eleven were at Bramall Lane as recently as last Christmas and one of those had been signed in the summer. A transfer policy that seems to be based on quantity rather than quality hasn't been sufficient to completely guard against an horrifically long injury list, although admittedly it does boast Ashley Ward, "the most tanned and tinted player we've ever had", which has to be a plus. However, it looks as if the approach may have been enough to maintain United's position as play-off possibles (if not probables) in the face of no money worth speaking of.

Paddy Kenny is still first choice keeper despite (or because of) looking like the sort of character you might see spilling out of any City Centre bar lagered and lairy at 11.15 on a Friday evening. A decent keeper, he's looked a little hesitant on crosses and less confident ordering his defence about since returning from injury. His deputy is Phil Barnes, recruited from Blackpool in the summer, although Colin isn't in the habit of naming a substitute keeper.

With Simon Francis and Rob Kozluk out with knee and foot injuries respectively, Leigh Bromby is likely to play at right back. Signed in the summer from the other side of Sheffield, he's done well enough to be extremely highly spoken of, despite his CV. On the left, Alan Wright and Chris Armstrong are both injured and Derek Geary, another ex-Wednesdayite, is cup-tied having played against United for Stockport prior to his recent move. All of this should leave Jon Harley, who scored against us for Chelsea during the Premiership season, unchallenged at left back.

In the centre, Robert Page's summer departure sees new captain Chris Morgan and Phil Jagielka as the undisputed first choice pairing, although the latter is reported to be carrying a few pounds. Bromby is probably first choice deputy.

United's midfield is weakened significantly by the absence due to suspension of a third former Wednesday man, the left sided Alan Quinn. Twenty-one year-old Michael Tonge, looking strong again this season after disappointing during the last campaign, is likely to be played on the left hand side after being moved out there with some success during the second half of Saturday's win over Plymouth. Andy Liddell, a summer signing from Wigan, should play on the right where his early crosses are a reliable supply line.

Paul Thirlwell, a summer signing from Sunderland, keeps things ticking in the centre but it's not entirely clear who partners him: candidates include workhorse Nick Montgomery, not popular but someone who'd strengthen a midfield that is lightweight without Quinn; veteran Stuart McCall, now assistant manager and easing himself out of playing; versatile youngster Kevan Hurst; and Andy Gray.

Gray's biggest asset appears to be his instinct in the six yard box, however his broader contribution is being questioned. With Danny Cadamarteri also cup tied, Ashley Ward and Steve Kabba injured, however, Gray seems certain to feature either up front or in a deeper role. Paul Shaw, a traditional scorer against the Hornets, is likely to start up front whilst Jack Lester could also feature on his way back to fitness. Eighteen year old Jonathan Forte, an Academy graduate, provides pace on the wings from the bench.

United's good recent results have seen them climb the table but they rarely sustain a performance across the ninety and have a tendency to lump long balls when they run low on ideas. League form, the cliché goes, goes out of the window in the Cup anyhow. Which makes Tuesday's game as much a mystery as my tax return...