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Playing to the whistle works for 10 man Sheffield United

[dropcap]M[/dropcap]anfully pushing aside the heavy bout of man flu that had downed me for several days I set off for Bramall Lane on Saturday with four layers of clothing and a week’s supply of Mentholyptus tablets. On arrival I donned crampons and oxygen for the climb up to the gantry where I assumed the acclimatisation position to counter the near zero temperature.

My reward was to witness a proper game of football between two sides committed 100% to getting a result, not as common these days as one might hope, and a comeback of Lazarus dimensions by Sheffield United. The home side were hindered after less than 20 minutes when Jose Baxter (yes, he of team-of-the-future fame) was red-carded for a two-footed aerial assault on Adam Barton that would not have looked out of place in ‘Fists of Fury’. Off went Baxter but an unfortunate section of the home support then indulged in a protracted spell of spite by booing Barton at every subsequent touch of the ball which only stopped when the Coventry player was substituted in the second half.

Baxter was guilty of an horrendous challenge and as each roar of disapproval emanated from Bramall Lane I wondered what Nigel Clough would make of it. That question was answered when, post-match, the Blades’ boss said Baxter deserved the red card, adding; “You can’t tackle like that these days”.

Back to the game and Coventry took the lead through Dominic Samuel and continued to batter the home defence. Manfully, there’s that word again, one player stood head and shoulders above the rest of Cloughie’s ten-man barrier, Jay McEveley. Still only 30 he gave an almost perfect masterclass of defending and his example inspired United to defy all the odds and secure a point. He put his body on the line as a last resort when danger threatened but most of the time his reading of the game and his experience saw danger early and he simply waltzed through anything Coventry had to offer.

In the second half Samuel scored again and Coventry’s relegation fight looked likely to be boosted by three surprise points. With 15 minutes remaining City still lead 2-0, but then former Sky Blue, and current Blades’ skipper, Michael Doyle shot home to reduce the arrears. Coventry got jittery, United grew in belief and Jamie Murphy scored late on to secure a point that a quarter of an hour earlier had looked impossible.

There have been so many occasions in recent weeks when teams in all four divisions have continued to drive forward until the final whistle and have been rewarded with a late goal or goals. Anyone who has ever played football knows that, very often, it is the individual or the collective playing to the very end that so often earns the kind of reward that sitting back does not.

Every so often in the course of a season one gets a game that satisfies on so many fronts. It was my privilege to get such a game at Bramall Lane on Saturday. And then there was the bonus, late in the game, when one of the stewards furnished me with a handful of Mentholyptus drops after mine ran out.

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