Sheffield United 1 QPR 1: Two points dropped, admits Ellis

NEIL WARNOCK was a virtual irrelevance on his latest return to Bramall Lane.

After all, why dwell on the past, when sorting out the present is far more important?

Sheffield United supporters neither jeered or saluted the man who famously led their club in and out of the Premiership.

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These days, the Warnock era is a fading memory and the newly-appointed manager of Queens Park Rangers could have been just another old guy in a shellsuit judging by the reaction he sparked on Saturday afternoon.

Kevin Blackwell, who stepped into Warnock's shoes after working as his assistant, opted to skip the post-match press conference. In any case, he had said all that needed to be said before the game.

The Apprentice learned many things from his Master down the years – but a move designed to turn home fans against Warnock failed to stir any emotion.

On a big screen inside the stadium and on monitors fitted around the ground, Blackwell highlighted comments made by Warnock in the wake of his recent departure from Crystal Palace.

His reference to Palace supporters being 'the best in the country' had clearly raised questions about the 'passion and commitment' of those at Bramall Lane, insisted Blackwell.

It was a trick that might have been written by Warnock at his best.

Yet the Blades supporters have moved on. This was Warnock's fourth return in three years since his departure and what matters right now is Blackwell.

After slipping out of the play-off zone and losing six of the last nine games, the Blades are asking what the future holds and whether Blackwell, as manager, is doing all that is possible in the circumstances?

Blackwell undoubtedly believes that he is, pointing to financial pressures and a crippling injury list as the main reasons for the current slide.

If the Blades had lost this game, especially against a side managed by Warnock, the reaction from the supporters would not have been sympathetic.

As it turned out, a draw was enough to close the gap on the top six to three points – and, whatever way you want to look at things, that can only be viewed as progress.

The Blades would have stolen victory, too, if substitute Darius Henderson had not made a hash of a golden opportunity near the end.

The opening stages of the game had not been encouraging as Rangers applied considerable pressure.

A low cross from Adel Taarabt evaded everyone in a crowded area and goalkeeper Mark Bunn needed to make a couple of good saves.

By the time Hogan Ephraim struck a post, 19 minutes into the game, Blades supporters were starting to get edgy.

Ironic cheers greeted an ambitious long range effort from Jordan Stewart and exposed the fragility of the mood.

Richard Cresswell's goal, just before the break, should have lifted the weight off United's shoulders.

Winger Mark Yeates picked out the striker with a cross and Cresswell, keeping his feet firmly planted on the floor, sent a header beyond the reach of goalkeeper Carl Ikeme.

But Rangers were gifted an equaliser at the start of the second half which immediately restored the sense of unease. Defender Marcel Seip, who had not played for nearly two months due to injury, allowed Taarabt to steal the ball off his toe and the impressive Moroccan burst clear before slotting the ball past Bunn.

Seip had been recalled due to the absence of loanee Kyle Bartley with food poisoning and Blackwell had been forced to make another three changes with Lee Williamson, Jamie Ward, and Ched Evans injured.

There was little in the way of entertainment during a second half in which both sides struggled to carve out chances. The Blades missed Ward, whose invention around the area certainly makes a big difference to their effectiveness.

When the final whistle blew, there were jeers from the home crowd. The two managers exchanged a brief handshake before Blackwell disappeared down the tunnel and Warnock strolled on to the pitch to share some of the limelight with his players.

"You don't come to Bramall Lane very often and go away disappointed with a point but that's how I feel," he said. "We tried to play, we were patient, and we had all the best chances."

Warnock's view, inevitably, conflicted sharply with that of Blades assistant Sam Ellis who stood in for Blackwell after the game. He felt the Blades dominated and that Henderson had blown the best opportunity to win the game.

"I wouldn't agree with Sam on that but I don't agree with Sam on many things," said Warnock, with a flick of his old acid tongue. "It was nice to come back and play in the right way and I felt we created all the chances really."

Asked whether he believed the season would end successfully for the Blades, Warnock sighed: "I am not concerned about any other club. I am only concerned about QPR at the moment. But Kevin will be aware of what the situation is and I am sure he will be able to handle it."

Blackwell, you can also be sure, will not give a toffee about Warnock's apparent vote of confidence.

Sheffield United: Bunn; Nosworthy, Morgan, Seip, Stewart; Yeates (Little 84), Montgomery, Harper (Henderson 68), Quinn; Cresswell, Camara. Unused substitutes: Bennett, Taylor, Fortune, Lowton.

Queens Park Rangers: Ikeme; Connolly, Stewart, Gorkss, Hill; Leigertwood, Faurlin, Ephraim (Cook 90), Priskin, Taarabt (Buzsaky 87); Simpson. Unused substitutes: Ramage, Vine, Balanta, Cerny, Borrowdale.

MATCH FOCUS

Hero: Adel Taarabt

The Morrocan international, on loan to Rangers from Tottenham Hotspur, was a constant thorn in the Blades side and grabbed the equaliser after a slip by Marcel Seip. Warnock says he is an 'enigma'.

Villain: Darius Henderson

On as a substitute after serving a three-game ban, the Blades striker was criticised by Stan Ellis for missing a late opportunity to win the game.

Key moment: 88th minute

With time running out, Blades striker Henderson misjudges a cross from Richard Cresswell and, under pressure, allows the ball to run through his legs.

Ref watch:

Tony Bates: A solid performance from the Staffordshire official with no controversial incidents to deal with.

Verdict

A dour game between two sides struggling to impact on the play-off race but the Blades should have stolen all three points near the end.

Next game

Blackpool, tomorrow 7.45pm, Bramall Lane, Championship.

Quote of the day

When the administrator says I have no bottle, you have to take things with a pinch of salt don't you!

– Neil Warnock refers to Crystal Palace while hitting back at the views of Sam Ellis.

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