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Sep 30, 2006

What's in a name?

Sheffield United 2 - 1 Middlesbrough

Greater love hath no man for his football club than giving his offspring ridiculous names as a tribute to his heroes. When she is older, Jessica Morgan Jagielka Warnock Anderson will have some questions for her father.

Craig Anderson, the deserved winner of a competition to find Sheffield United's most devoted fan, contrived to name his daughter after one centre back (Chris Morgan) who cannot even get into the Blades team.

In his defence, he also christened her after the player and manager who delivered Sheffield United's first Premiership win since April 1994. Nick Montgomery, who presented him with the prize, may be wondering what he has to do to secure a place in the moniker of future additions to the Anderson family.

But in one sense, Anderson's timing was immaculate. So, too, was that of Phil Jagielka, striding forward to send a dipping 35-yard half-volley into the far corner in the 92nd minute. It gave Middlesbrough no time to respond, and Sheffield United the three points to draw level with their visitors on five points.

And, as Neil Warnock pointed out before the game, these are clubs with very different expectations; in the view of the Sheffield United manager, top eight and bottom eight respectively.

Meanwhile, Gareth Southgate is no closer to solving the enigma of Middlesbrough, a team capable of beating Chelsea, drawing with Arsenal and losing to practically everyone else. Including Notts County.

Afterwards, Southgate insisted: 'We played very well. We had chances to win the game, no question about that. I got the reaction I wanted after last week [when they lost to Blackburn]. I don't think we deserved what we got today. The players did everything bar win the game. If we play in that manner every week, we'll have a good season.'

Others may beg to disagree. Despite a palpable superiority on the ball, Middlesbrough failed to stamp their authority on the match. Despite two outstanding opportunities to break the deadlock, they contrived to concede the first goal. Despite the words of their manager, they did not deserve to win the game.

And a rather one-sided interpretation of events is a trait he shared with his predecessor. Indeed long-suffering Middlesbrough fans could be forgiven for going down with a dose of déjà vu.

An unpopular 4-5-1 formation? They've seen that before. Unfathomable selections? A regular cause of complaint on Teesside. Lacklustre home performances? Almost a given, especially against supposedly weaker sides. Inconsistency? It was almost taken for granted last season.

In short, Southgate's rather brief reign bears remarkable similarities to Steve McClaren's rather longer tenure.

At least, away from home, he reverted to a two-man strike force, though Mark Viduka was at his anonymous worse. The rightful restoration of Lee Cattermole to the midfield brought an injection of energy (to compensate for a rather anaemic showing from Fabio Rochemback). Nonetheless, the unpredictability that can blighten - and occasionally enliven - Middlesbrough persisted.

It was epitomised by their finishing. Yakubu's equaliser was clinical, a calm sidefoot past Paddy Kenny after Emanuel Pogatetz's volleyed clearance caught the Sheffield United defence dozing.

But the Nigerian was rather more culpable when he rounded Kenny in the first half, but could only shoot against the post. Not that Jonathan Woodgate, unlike Sheffield United skipper Jagielka, was leading by example; unmarked and six yards out, he volleyed wastefully wide.

It enabled Rob Hulse to give Sheffield United the lead after a rapid counter-attack. Colin Kazim-Richards slid him in and the club's record signing scored his, and the Blades' third, Premiership goal of the season.

Fine finish as it was, Jagielka's will live longer in the memory. 'What a goal to finish it,' said Warnock. 'I thought he was due one.'

He was able to grin while saying that, adding: 'Everybody's had a go at me for smiling too much and enjoying it too much. You can't put it into words how big it is. You can't say what it's like to get a monkey off your back.

'When you miss two penalties in one game you think 'will we ever win?'. It's just a massive, massive win.

'I thought it was great for Sheffield and Yorkshire.' There are those in the blue half of Sheffield, let alone Leeds, Barnsley, Bradford and Hull, who may disagree with that.

Ever contrary, Warnock went on to praise one of his struggling players. 'Mikele Leigertwood had a nightmare first half-hour, an absolute mare and to see him come through that was super.'

So can Sheffield United stay out of the relegation zone? 'I wouldn't have thought so, not in the next three or four games,' came Warnock's unpredictable response. Middlesbrough, above them on goals scored, will hope not, or they might find themselves there.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Phil Jagielka - If only for the dramatic finale he provided. There will be few louder grounds this season than Bramall Lane when Sheffield United score.

SHEFFIELD UNITED VERDICT: As Warnock said, they made heavy work of it. For all the spirit they displayed and the euphoria at the final whistle, that does not bode well.

MIDDLESBROUGH VERDICT: For all Southgate's enthusiasm after the final whistle, the negatives outweighed the positives. They displayed too little urgency when on top and were pegged back by a limited team for far too long.


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