Sheffield United 1 Norwich City 2: Best Blades have played, claims Adams
REFEREE Andy Haines will probably watch this game back on DVD, hold his hands up, and say he got it wrong – but that won't mean anything to Sheffield United whose best performance under Micky Adams was hijacked by bad decisions.
Haines allowed Norwich City two goals that should never have been allowed but, as they often say in football, nothing goes your way when you're down in the dumps.
Defender Zak Whitbread was the guilty party – flattening goalkeeper Steve Simonsen in the build-up to Norwich's opener, and laying out defender Shane Lowry for the second.
Amazingly, Whitbread got away with both challenges and his methods lifted Norwich to third in the table and pushed the Blades closer to the drop.
However, Blades striker Ched Evans, who was also knocked over in this game of 'human skittles' played by the Canaries at corners, refused to blame referee Haines and believes the Blades have to take control of their own destiny.
"Anybody who watched the game will know that we battered them," said Evans. "There was a blatant foul on me for the second goal at the back post and I don't know why he has not given a freekick but we can't keep losing and blaming the referee, there must be something wrong with it.
"When you are down at the bottom of the league, you don't get any luck," he added. "That's the story of our season at the moment but we just have to keep on fighting and battling."
Evans, who played on loan for Norwich two seasons ago, had scored a 69th-minute equaliser but Andrew Crofts scored twice for Norwich to deny the Blades a point.
Although Adams is starting to get his message across to his players, the Blades have still won only one of their last 10 games and sit just a point above the Championship relegation zone.
Striker Marcus Bent was thrown straight into the action following his arrival on loan from Birmingham City and joined Evans in the Blades attack.
Adams also recalled Richard Cresswell to the starting line-up and dropped midfielders Lee Williamson and Johnny Ertl to the bench.
Bent, who was jeered by the Norwich supporters because of his previous association with East Anglian rivals Ipswich Town, formed a promising partnership with Evans who, for all his enthusiasm, too often lacks a certain cutting edge.
The Welsh international was on his third shooting opportunity by the time he forced a save out of Norwich goalkeeper John Ruddy midway through the first half and also curled a 25 yard free-kick narrowly wide.
Tempers had boiled over when these sides met just a month earlier, bringing punishments from the Football Association.
And there were signs of simmering tensions again as the interval loomed with midfielder Stephen Quinn reacting angrily to a push from Norwich captain Grant Holt. Lowry was booked for a trip on Chris Martin and the Norwich forward turned the subsequent free- kick against the Blades bar.
Norwich may be in the play-off zone but the Blades were more than their match.
The Canaries took the lead from a corner on the hour mark but referee Haines missed a trip on Kyle Bartley before Lowry deflected Simeon Jackson's shot. Simonsen was then blocked by Whitbread allowing Crofts to slam in the loose ball.
Substitute Mark Yeates replaced Bent as the Blades striker ran out of steam due his lack of match fitness.
The Blades drew level, however, when Cresswell flicked on a long ball out of defence by Bartley and Evans held off a challenge from Leon Barnett before tucking the ball home with an angled shot from eight yards.
However, Croft bagged the winner for Norwich when another corner led to pushing and shoving in the area and he crashed another loose ball home.
Despite the result, there were no jeers from the Blades supporters who appeared to appreciate the improved spirit shown by their side. Four managers in one season, coupled with a vastly reduced number of players, have given the Blades a problem that Adams has been hired to fix.
So far, he has yet to win, but that can only be a matter of time.
Cresswell, who was relegated from the Championship with Leeds United four years ago, insists that 'belief' is the key to survival.
"Losing becomes a habit and we have got into that habit. We need to turn that corner," he said. "I have seen it before and it is difficult to get out of.
"We need to believe in ourselves more. I was injured for 18 months and I had to watch as Leeds went down.
"Once people start doubting their own ability, that's when you are in trouble.
"But that is not a bottom-four team I see playing out there," he stressed. "We are trying so hard on the training ground and on the pitch and the fans saw the effort today. They can't turn around and say the passion is not there because it was.
"The gaffer knows what he wants and the determination is there. We have not got the results yet but I am sure that will change."
Hero: Ched Evans
Although the Blades striker missed first-half opportunities, this was one of his better performances for the club, capped by another goal. There were also signs that he could form a solid partnership in attack with new arrival
Villain: Zak Whitbread
The burly Norwich City defender was used as a battering ram at corners and should have been punished for fouls in the build-up to both his side's goals.
61st minute: Andrew Crofts shoots Norwich ahead after Blades goalkeeper Steve Simonsen is blocked at a corner. Crofts added a second goal and was described as one of the best midfielders in the division by manager Paul Lambert.
Andy Haines. Booed off by home supporters at the final whistle after missing fouls on Blades players at crucial moments of the game.
Another setback for the Blades but signs that the team may be turning a corner under the guidance of new manager Micky Adams. More passion, a higher tempo, just lacking good fortune.
Quote of the day
I trust referees to go out there and make the correct decisions – and he got it wrong.
– Blades manager Micky Adams gives his verdict on referee Haines.
Leicester City, home, Championship, Tuesday February 1.
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