MEETINGS between Neil Warnock and Sheffield United have been few and far between in recent years.
Before this season, the 69-year-old had to go back to Easter, 2011 and the season when the Blades slipped out of the Championship under Micky Adams for the last time he had tackled the club where it all began as a boyhood fan.
After Cardiff City rescued a point at the death last night in front of the Sky cameras, Warnock – who remains firmly on course for that record-breaking eighth promotion – may yet be in line for a further couple of reunions next season.
Leon Clarke’s first-half strike looked like earning the hosts a deserved victory only for Anthony Pilkington to strike with a stoppage-time equaliser.
But Chris Wilder’s men, who sit just a point adrift of Middlesbrough in the final play-off place, looked the real deal.
More assured finishing would have sealed the three points long before Marko Grugic’s flick was latched on to by Pilkington.
And while the crest-fallen looks on the faces of Wilder and his players at the final whistle told their own story, United’s display suggested a place in the top six remains very much an attainable goal.
With play-off rivals Middlesbrough, Millwall and Preston North End still to visit Bramall Lane, the Blades’ destiny remains firmly in their own hands.
If – and this being the Championship remains a big ‘if’ – United can extend their season beyond May 6 then the chances are they will be battling to join Cardiff in the Premier League.
Warnock, even leaving his boyhood loyalties aside, must be hoping last night’s two combatants do, indeed, meet again next season.
With play-off rivals Middlesbrough, Millwall and Preston North End still to visit Bramall Lane, the Blades’ destiny remains firmly in their own hands.Richard Sutcliffe
In nine meetings with his former club since leaving the Lane following relegation in 2007, Warnock has been on the losing side just once.
Pilkington’s late, late leveller means the Bluebirds are eight points clear of the chasing pack ahead of third-placed Fulham hosting Leeds United tonight.
As for Wilder’s Blades, a performance such as this can be just the lift a side needs going into a run-in that starts with a visit to a Barnsley side who last week set an unwanted record for winless games on home soil.
The home side had threatened as early as the second minute when Cardiff midfielder Grujic got ahead of John Lundstram following a searching cross from Enda Stevens, allowing goalkeeper Neil Etheridge to collect.
United’s Lee Evans then fired over from distance, while the visitors’ first effort on goal came from Kenneth Zohore, who shot straight at Simon Moore.
Grujic then saw his shot deflected wide of Moore’s goal before the hosts took the lead.
The opener arrived when Lundstram slipped the ball to Clarke, whose low shot from inside the area took a deflection off Bruno Ecuele Manga and beat Etheridge.
Former Leeds United defender Sol Bamba then made a vital interception, beating Clarke to a low cross and, from the resulting corner, taken by John Fleck, Richard Stearman’s header was cleared off the line by Joe Bennett.
Lundstram went close just before the interval, firing wide following Clarke’s lay-off as the Blades pushed for a second goal.
Cardiff boss Neil Warnock made a change at the break, sending on Gary Madine in place of Nathaniel Mendez-Laing.
Etheridge came to his side’s rescue early after in the second half, making a brave block with his legs to deny Evans.
The visitors then had a couple of opportunities in quick succession, with Aron Gunnarsson firing wide and Zohore’s well-struck shot being saved by Moore.
United responded with a flowing move involving Fleck, David Brooks and George Baldock, with Lundstram firing over. Bamba tried a low shot from distance which rolled harmlessly wide and the action continued to switch from end to end with Fleck having a shot saved by Etheridge.
Clayton Donaldson replaced Brooks and was soon in the thick of the action, firing against Etheridge’s right-hand post after a quickly taken free-kick.
Warnock then made a double substitution with Yanic Wildschut and Pilkington replacing Junior Hoilett and Zohore.
Etheridge pulled off a good save from Clarke late on and Fleck fired over from 25 yards. And the home team were made to pay for not finding that second goal when Cardiff pounced, Madine heading on a looping ball to Pilkington, who volleyed past Moore.
Sheffield United: Moore, Basham, Stearman (Wright 69), O’Connell, Baldock, Lundstram, Lee Evans (Leonard 88), Fleck, Stevens, Brooks (Donaldson 72), Clarke. Unused substitutes: Sharp,Lafferty,Holmes,Eastwood.
Cardiff City: Etheridge, Ecuele Manga, Morrison, Bamba, Bennett, Paterson, Grujic, Gunnarsson, Mendez-Laing (Madine 46), Zohore (Pilkington 78), Hoilett (Wildschut 78). Unused substitutes: Peltier, Bryson, Murphy, Jamie Ward.
Referee: Michael Oliver (Northumberland).