Sheffield Utd 1 Derby County 1: Blackwell praises Blades' courage

KEVIN BLACKWELL has urged Sheffield United supporters to lay off his side and to get a grip on reality.

Although a late goal by Lee Williamson salvaged a point against Derby County, Blades manager Blackwell was far from happy with the levels of abuse dished out to his players from the stands.

Pressure has mounted at Bramall Lane after a week in which chief executive Trevor Birch has laid bare the state of the club's finances and the team has dropped out of the play-off zone.

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Whichever way it is dressed up, the Blades are paying a price for borrowing nearly 50m and failing to survive in the Premier League three years ago.

For so long, it was neighbours Sheffield Wednesday who took all the stick for running up debts – now the Blades are going to have to tackle similar issues.

They are entering a phase that the Owls endured seven or eight years ago; there is certainly a deep sense of unease at Bramall Lane where expectations have been generated that now look difficult to meet.

It is also unfortunate for Blackwell that, due to injuries and other setbacks, his side is far from full strength yet that won little sympathy from those who vented their frustrations as soon as it became clear this game was becoming a struggle.

Blackwell, who learned all about the perils of living beyond one's means during spells at Leeds United and Luton Town, thinks the Blades deserve credit, not criticism, for acting to stop the rot.

"For the first time, things are out in the open now and people can draw their own conclusions," he said. "It is proving to be very, very hard this season but we are trying to guard against freefall and handle the transition from Premier League to the Championship.

"If people stopped and looked at the situation and where we are, maybe a bit more credit should be given to the players and the staff.

"I am pig sick when I lose my best players but, right now, I am having to match and mend to get us to a point of stability financially during a terrible credit crunch.

"I want to see massive investment but I can't ask anyone to put another 40m or 50m into the club," he added. "That's not the real world. What would the fans say if we went down, riddled with debt, and were never able to move forward? Maybe we should be pragmatic and say 'now we have got to take a bit of pain'."

With four wins from their last five games, Derby had arrived in confident mood. The absence of Chris Morgan at centre-back and Nick Montgomery (who was standing in as a full-back) in midfield were major setbacks for the Blades who were lucky to get to the interval without conceding more than one goal.

Derby's Robbie Savage, still ruffling feathers at 36, found the net with a terrific 25-yard volley that sailed beyond the reach of goalkeeper Mark Bunn.

The Blades struggled to find any rhythm and committed a string of individual errors which led to jeers from the stands. Defender Jordan Stewart, midfielder Stephen Quinn and striker Darius Henderson were singled out.

"I just want some people to realise that if we went to work and barracked them, they would find it hard to perform," said Blackwell. "I know players are lucky to be playing football for a living but I still don't think they should be barracked because people have paid 5, 15, or a tenner to get in. If they were in the street and called people what they get called here, they would be arrested."

Derby looked the stronger team until the last 20 minutes when the Blades mounted a fightback.

The introduction of Jamie Ward was greeted by ironic cheers from those fans who feel the former Chesterfield striker should be starting games not sitting on the bench. It was just another sign of the simmering discontentment as were the cheers of approval for the removal of Henderson.

The switch undoubtedly helped the Blades get a grip on the game.

When a close-range header from Richard Cresswell flashed inches wide of a post, it looked as if the Blades' late rally would go unrewarded. That was before Williamson stepped up with his late strike.

"I don't think there will ever be patience because fans are also going through hard times at home and at work," reflected Blackwell.

"They come here and want to be entertained but my problem is giving them the entertainment they want while keeping this club viable and stable."

Sheffield United: Bunn (Bennett 68); Montgomery, Nosworthy, Kallio, Stewart; Yeates, Williamson, Quinn, Cresswell; Evans (Camara 69), Henderson (Ward 63). Unused substitutes: France, Little, Geary, Fortune.

Derby County: Bywater; Hunt, Barker, Buxton, McEveley; Tonge, Savage, Green, Pearson (Teale 72); Commons (Porter 83), Hulse (Anderson 90). Unused substitutes: Deeney, Pringle, Moxey, Vidal.

Referee: G Salisbury (Lancashire).

MATCH FOCUS

Hero: Mark Yeates

Finally made his first start for the Blades, four games after arriving from Middlesbrough. The winger was a shining light and showed the ability and willingness to take the ball around defenders which should be a great asset for his new club.

Villain: Jordan Stewart

Bore the brunt of the home crowd's frustrations but the winger, in at full-back, was up against talented Kris Commons.

Key moment: 90th minute

Williamson rams home the equaliser after a spell of intense pressure.

Ref watch: Graham Salisbury

Nigel Clough was furious Salisbury failed to acknowledge his desire to bring on a substitute shortly before the equaliser.

Verdict

If the Blades had played the first 70 minutes like the final 20 they would probably have won this game.

Next game

Preston North End, away; tomorrow, Championship.

Quote of the day

Courage manifests itself in many ways. It might be going in for a header or simply just wanting to get yourself on the ball. My boys showed courage and determination out there – Kevin Blackwell.

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