King halts losing run but Blades still have room for improvement

Blades boss David Weir
Blades boss David Weir
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Sheffield United stopped the rot last night, but the questions about the future of David Weir’s tenure remain.

A smart finish from veteran striker Marlon King earned United a first point in seven games and took them, temporarily at least, off the bottom of League One.

But this was another night of frustration for the Blades faithful who are still to be won over by their new manager’s patient, passing style.

It is an admirable stance by the former Scotland international on his first assignment in management. But whether it can stand up to the rigours of a physical League One is a major bone of contention for a fanbase with dwindling faith.

They greeted this draw with a mixture of applause and boos, the former for the spirit of the second half, the latter for the abject nature of their side’s efforts in the first 60 minutes.

They wanted a win last night, a first since the opening day of the season nine weeks ago, no matter how that victory was achieved.

United met them halfway with a performance bereft of its usual neatness, but beset by nerves.

The patience of the United fans is being tested; whether the same is so of the club’s new owners, remains to be seen.

In yesterday’s Yorkshire Post, Jim Phipps, adviser to United’s new co-owner Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, said Weir still has something to prove and that last night’s game was “time for the lads to show what they can do”.

A point is at least a step in the right direction, no matter that United were so flimsy for the first hour that it looked as if a stiff breeze would blow them over.

Once King had shown all his experience to equalise, United looked re-energised. But still they did not have enough belief in their own ability to go for the winner.

Crawley are often in town for pivotal evenings in the lifetime of a Blades boss.

Six months ago they visited Bramall Lane when United’s promotion charge was running out of steam and belief in Danny Wilson’s ability to get them over the line was drying up.

Crawley won 2-0 and within a day Wilson had lost his job. United at the time were fifth.

Sixteen League games – including two play-off games – later, with United having won only three of those, the West Sussex club returned intent on creating more misery for the man in the hotseat.

Weir began by throwing Simon Lappin in at left-back, just hours after he had arrived on loan from Cardiff City.

But despite Ryan Hall going close with a free-kick, familiar failings returned.

Crawley began with more urgency and were rewarded on 10 minutes with their goal, which was greeted with an air of resignation among the Blades faithful.

Adam Drury and former Blades loanee Billy Clarke combined at a short corner and from Drury’s cross Proctor had the simplest of tasks at the far post to nod the visitors in front.

It was the softest of goals to concede and hardly what Weir would have been expecting of his players in such a vital game.

There was a brief response and it was Tony McMahon involved, after Febian Brandy had won the ball and brought Florent Cuvelier into play.

He fed McMahon, but the attacking right-back’s shot deflected into the safety of Jones’s hands.

Another slow response to a short corner had United in trouble again but Kyle McFadzean could not get a strong enough header on Drury’s cross.

United were struggling to contain Clarke who was playing behind Proctor and roaming freely. His clever reverse pass inside Hall released Mat Sadler but he blazed a golden opportunity wide.

From Jose Baxter’s corner, Neill Collins then raced in and flicked a header wide, but in open play, loan striker King was often an isolated figure.

Shortly before the break, Proctor and Nicky Adams both had chances they fired wide.

The frustration the Blades’ fans were feeling was given voice when the referee waved away a penalty claim after the ball bounced up onto Sadler’s hand, and moments before the break when Brandy’s tame shot on target was greeted with ironic cheers.

Once again the players needed to lift the crowd and they did so on 53 minutes with a terrific drive by McMahon from all of 30 yards that crashed against an upright and, agonisingly for United, a foot the wrong side of the line.

On the hour mark, Weir replaced Hall with Lyle Taylor who immediately went straight up front to provide King with the support he had craved all evening.

And within three minutes the extra thrust bore fruit when Baxter and Brandy combined to release King who darted onto Brandy’s weighted pass and steered the ball beyond Jones.

The relief among the 15,401 was palpable and it gave United the requisite lift.

The creaking legs of King found an extra yard, Brandy’s running had more purpose.

Still they toiled to create chances, and though Crawley suddenly looked content to earn a point, they should have a had a goal 12 minutes from time when Gary Alexander failed to connect with Adams’s teasing cross.

United substitute Conor Coady drew a fine save from Jones with a fizzing shot from King’s lay-off, but a point was as good as it got.

Sheffield United: Long; McMahon, Maguire, Collins, Lappin; Doyle, Hall (Taylor 60), Cuvelier, Brandy (Murphy 87) (Coady 38), Baxter; King. Unused substitutes: Howard, Westlake, Hill, McGinn.

Crawley Town: Jones; Simpson, McFadzean, Walsh, Sadler; Bulman, Adams, Jones, Drury (Hurst 79), Clarke; Proctor (Alexander 67). Unused substitutes: Maddison, Connolly, Torres, Rooney, Sinclair.

Referee: P Tierney (Lancashire).