Sheffield United 1 Preston NE 0: Speed underlines ambition as Frenchman breaks resistance

GARY SPEED set high standards on his way to becoming the first player to make 500 Premiership appearances and he has no intention of letting them drop now he is in management.

Nothing less than a play-off place will satisfy the 85 times capped Welshman in his rookie season in charge of the Blades.

That is some ambition considering the Blades began Saturday bottom of the Championship.

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And his first home game in charge was well on the way to petering out into a goalless draw until his first signing popped up with the stunning match-winning goal.

Frenchman Jean Calve could have been playing in the top flight but Ian Holloway missed his trial for Blackpool and the Tangerines manager did not persue his interest in the 26-year-old, who has made over 100 top-flight appearances in France.

Speed swooped and was rewarded by the sight of Calve smashing in a 30-yarder for his first senior goal before collapsing with cramp after being mobbed by his team-mates and being helped off as the rigours of English football caught up with him.

Speed explained: "Calve came in pre-season – so I can't take the credit for that. But as soon as I got the job I knew the areas I needed to strengthen and that was one of them. So, having seen him play, I knew it wasn't a risk and that he'd fit into our play. He's got good feet and good going forward and he topped it off with a great goal.

"I'm not sure what went on at Blackpool but as soon as I knew he was available he was one that I targeted."

Signed on a season-long loan, Calve said: "This is a new challenge and one that I am really excited about. There is more passion about the game here than in France and I would like to make it into a permanent move."

Calve will not only have to adapt on the pitch but to the off-field banter, Nyron Nosworthy commenting: "That's the way to go, go out with a bang and come off with cramp. It's the best goal I have seen this season but I gave him stick after doing a fantastic job in putting us ahead with a world-class strike and then putting us in the lurch by coming off with cramp!"

Nosworthy had formed an effective central-defensive partnership with Kyle Bartley after captain Chris Morgan suffered a slight tear to a calf in training on Thursday and withdrew. With Stephen Jordan proving sound at left-back on debut, the Blades have a solid base to build on.

That was helped, too, by Speed playing Leon Britton in front of the back four – Nick Montgomery and Johnny Ertl completing a midfield trio – and the former Swansea man found plenty of time and space to prompt the Blades' best attacking moves.

It was up front, however, where the Blades were blunt until the introduction of Mark Yeates out wide and Speed is aiming to bring in a striker with pace before tomorrow's transfer deadline.

Speed admitted: "It's a start but it's only one game and we have to try and build on this and try and improve. Our performance was good in parts and bad in parts."

Stepping up from No 2 following the departure of Kevin Blackwell after the 3-0 home defeat by QPR, Speed said: "I'm enjoying it, it's different. I've been the coach on the sidelines for two years but when you're the manager it's totally different, the emotions are a lot different. I didn't think they would be but they are. I've really enjoyed the last two weeks, there are a roller-coaster of emotions as a manager.

"I'm under no illusions about what is expected. That's what being part of Sheffield United is all about. I'd expect us to be part of the play-offs – that's part of being at a big club.

"I'd rather have those expectations than other ones. You have to feel fortunate to be at a club where the expectations are high. That's great and if that's pressure then bring it on."

Speed was particularly pleased with the reaction of the crowd, which, however, was worryingly under 20,000.

"The fans showed their patience today. They saw us trying to knock it about and there could have been a time where they could have turned with passes going astray but they didn't and kept patient.

"That helped the players and gave them the confidence and belief to keep doing what we told them to do and that's pass the ball and go forward."

On the signings front, he said: "I am looking at attacking options really, players with a bit of pace going forward. I thought Yeates coming off the bench was great. He gave us an extra dimension and if we can keep that togetherness with people coming off the bench like that then we've got a chance."

Speed had begun with Ched Evans as the spearhead with Jamie Ward and Richard Cresswell out wide but, although, they often switched position, it took until the 63rd minute for Preston goalkeeper Andy Lonergan to be forced into a meaningful save by Yeates's curling 25-yarder.

Preston's closest attempt had come early on when former Blades loan winger Keith Treacy cracked a 28-yard free-kick against the angle of post and bar, though Steve Simonsen did well to make a late block on impressive young Manchester United loan striker Joshua King after he had for once shrugged off the attentions of Nosworthy.