Prodigal son back to spoil the party for Blades

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RITCHIE HUMPHREYS was planning to sling his boots over his shoulder and walk down to Bramall Lane only for a downpour to scupper the move.

He still turned back the clock and fulfilled a career ambition by scoring at the ground of his beloved Blades, dampening 150th anniversary celebrations of the first game played here.

Humphreys left the club 22 years ago after a short-lived spell with the academy and knew, at 35, this would probably be his last chance to hit the net in first-team action.

Heeley Green-born Humphreys returned to live nearby a few years ago and was watched by his parents, wife and sister as he met Evan Horwood’s low cross and drilled the ball home inside George Long’s right-hand post in the 54th minute to restore the lead for bottom-of-the-table Hartlepool. It helped knock the Blades off their top perch, veteran striker Steve Howard supplying a brace of headed goals.

Humphreys, who played with distinction for the Owls from 1996-2001, said: “You have to keep those down because they are easy to put over the bar. I may have scuffed it, but it went over the line and that was enough for me.

“It was a good enough connection for it to sneak in the bottom corner and any goal, no matter how they come, is very welcome for us and it gave us a tremendous lift putting us back in front.

“The goal was special for me personally because at 35 I have fulfilled a boyhood ambition, scoring a goal at the Bramall Lane end – it wasn’t quite the Kop end but being a Shefffield United supporter and having been sat in the Kop as a kid, it meant a lot.

“I was a mascot here once, walking out with Keith Edwards, and I played in a couple of Steel City derbies but didn’t score. I scored in the Kop end in the reserves once, but this was my first competitive goal here.”

Humphreys, who has made a Hartlepool club record 460-plus appearances since leaving Hillsborough, does not believe inflicting a first home defeat of the season on Danny Wilson’s side will derail their promotion push.

He added: “I got released from Bramall Lane but I was only 13 or something like that and they have always been my club, but I can’t make any apologies for celebrating in front of the Hartlepool fans because of where we are in the league.

“That goal meant a lot to us. We have to try and get out of the situation we are in. Sheffield United is a fantastic football club as is the club across the city and I am sure they will both be in the Championship next season.

“Everybody around the country would probably have put their money on Sheffield United (on Saturday), but there is always an upset and when you are in the position we are in then we are the ones who have got to cause upsets.

“Nine points at Christmas is not good enough and with people writing you off, you have to use it as a tool to get together. There is a chance that we can stay up in this division. We have to believe we can do it and to come to the league leaders and win is a good platform.”

Blades chief Wilson would not take the boggy conditions as an excuse for defeat which allowed Tranmere to regain top place, but he has plenty of problems to contend with.

The most immediate is finding a new central defensive partnership for tomorrow’s derby at fellow challengers Doncaster Rovers after Harry Maguire collected his fifth booking of the season having been accused of taking a dive in the 87th minute and then getting involved in a dispute with Andy Monkhouse.

Even though Maguire made it 3-2 in the fifth minute of stoppage time, forcing the ball home after a goalmouth scramble, it could not soften the blow with regular partner Neill Collins already having been forced out for the next eight weeks with a fractured cheekbone.

Tony McMahon returns tomorrow after suspension and is likely to be paired with Matt Hill, allowing Darryl Westlake to continue at right-back and Marcus Williams on the left.

Up front, teenager John Cofie will be hoping he can extend his loan stay from Manchester United as he will be needed to fill the boots of Shaun Miller, who has been ruled out for the rest of the season with cruciate knee ligament damage.

Youngsters Jordan Chappell and Joe Ironside were given cameo roles from the bench, but Wilson’s squad has a threadbare look about it.

They looked set to overcome their adversity when captain Michael Doyle let fly from 20 yards in the 31st minute and the ball squirmed over the shoulder of goalkeeper Scott Flinders and into the net.

It cancelled out Howard’s fifth-minute header, but the powerful striker made them pay again 18 minutes from time with a carbon-copy second.

Sheffield United: Long, Westlake, Maguire, Hill, Wiliams; Blackman, McDonald, Doyle (Cresswell 82), Flynn; Cofie (Chapell 67), Kitson (Ironside 82). Unused substitutes: McAllister, Philliskirk, Kennedy, Coyne.

Hartlepool United: Flinders, Richards, Collins, Hartley, Horwood; Franks (Monkhouse 80), Sweeney, Walton (Austin 68), Humphreys; Wyke (Poole 60), Howard. Unused substitutes: Baldwin, Holden, McHugh, James.

Referee: D Deadman (Cambs).