it is fair to assume that Andy Haines would not poll any votes in Sheffield for most popular referee of the season after the official’s performance in his last two games.
Last week, Haines was in charge at QPR when he denied Wednesday a blatant penalty, and the Tyne and Wear official refused to even book last man Clint Hill despite a foul on Modou Sougou.
Then on Saturday, he left United manager Nigel Adkins – and 19,000 Blades fans – aggrieved over his performance in the middle as Millwall walked away with all three points.
Adkins – a manager who rarely talks about officials – was fuming, claiming Haines missed fouls in the build-up to both of Millwall’s goals, netted by Aiden O’Brien.
Poor defending contributed too, but after Jose Baxter made it 1-1 midway through the second half, the Blades looked the likelier winners.
United striker Billy Sharp, who worked tirelessly without reward, refused to blame Haines for their defeat, but did claim he had not received one free-kick in his favour all afternoon.
“He’s had a bad game,” said Sharp. “It’s not the reason why we lost, but he was off the pace all the way through.
“Throughout my career, I’ve never gone through an entire game without having a foul awarded to me.
“I was getting wrestled to the floor out there and he never gave me one. I thought ‘surely he’s going to blow at some point?’ but he didn’t. So, yes, it was tough.
“It’s frustrating and disappointing.
“We’ve gone 1-0 down to a goal we thought we should have had a foul from, it’s gone in off the back of his head and right into the top corner.
“We changed our formation and it seemed to work because we got back into the game. I thought, from that moment on, we’d go on to win it.
“But we got done on the counter-attack again and it’s happened too many times now.”
The Blades started well, and Che Adams was unlucky to see his low drive strike the foot of a post and glance wide.
Jamal Campbell-Ryce was a constant danger down the right flank, and several crosses were deserving of better finishing.
Too often, though, good possession from the hosts came to nothing, United guilty of wanting an extra touch before shooting, or choosing the wrong final ball.
Millwall took the lead when O’Brien out jumped the home defence and sent a looping header, seemingly with the back of his head, into Mark Howard’s goal.
Second-half substitute Jose Baxter volleyed home United’s equaliser with 20 minutes remaining, but the Blades were hit with a sucker punch.
Shane Ferguson’s low ball found O’Brien at the back post, and as the ball was knocked back across goal it hit Howard and was diverted into the back of the net.
Defeat leaves United in sixth spot with 24 points, seven points off leaders Gillingham after 15 games played.
It also ended a four-match unbeaten run, but former Leeds United and Doncaster Rovers forward Sharp is not too concerned at the gap.
“If we could have got the win then we’d have been on target for the two points per game average that gets promotions,” he said.
“We’re nearly there, as the league standings show, but still not quite good enough.
“But we’ve got a strong squad, we’ll pick ourselves up and we’ll go again.
“The fans want to see us at the top of the table now and, ideally, we’d like to be there as well.
“But there’s still lots of football to be played.
“If you are in the top two on, say, Christmas Day then brilliant. Of course we’d take that.
“But the only time it matters, being on top, is after the whistle has been blown on the final day of the season.”
After the game, Adkins tried to be diplomatic, but was seething at the referee’s performance.
“I am never one to have a go at referees, but I was very disappointed,” he said.
“For example, the challenge on Dean Hammond. He ran in so bravely, all season those have been cautions by the officials.
“I thought in the lead up to Millwall’s first goal there were two clear fouls; one’s a foul on Matty Done and another a clear shirt pull on Neill Collins. The referee has not given them.
“Jose Baxter scores a great goal and for me there’s only one winner.
“We were in the ascendancy.
“Then, lo and behold, it should have been two free-kicks for us, eventually the referee gives them a free-kick, and we are disappointed with the ball which we have gone and conceded from.
“The ball goes in the the back of the net, and you are thinking ‘wow, we should have been putting a free-kick in their box’.
“We were on the front foot. But what can you do when decisions like that go against you?
“I don’t talk about a referee’s integrity, because that’s so important, and everyone is allowed to make mistakes.
“I am talking about consistency. And it’s resulted in us conceding two goals.”
Sheffield United: Howard, Freeman (Flynn 86), Basham, Sharp, Done (Baxter 46), Collins, Campbell-Ryce (Sammon 67), Adams, K Wallace, McGahey, Hammond. Unused substitutes: Coutts, Woolford, Long, Kennedy.
Millwall: Archer, Cummings, J Martin, Craig, Gregory (Ferguson 73), Onyedinma (Webster 90), Beevers, Morison, Saville, O’Brien (L Martin 87), Thompson. Unused substitutes: Forde, Powell, Romeo, Pavey.
Referee: A Haines (Tyne and Wear).