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Sheff Utd 2-0 Fulham: Cottagers wilt

last updated Tuesday 30th January 2007, 11:49 PM

Jon Stead and Michael Tonge ended personal goal droughts to lift Sheffield United seven points clear of the Premiership relegation zone after a 2-0 defeat of Fulham.

The much-needed victory brought the curtain down on a four-match winless streak for the Blades, and was only their second in eight games for manager Neil Warnock's side.

Stead ended a 10-game barren run with his first goal for United in the 23rd minute following his recent move from Sunderland, while Tonge followed up five minutes later for his first for nine months.

The three points were fully merited against a Fulham side suffering their first defeat for 11 matches - a run stretching back to early December.

Perhaps something can be said for the Blades' humiliating FA Cup defeat to League One Swansea earlier this month as they appeared refreshed from their weekend lay-off.

Warnock may have fumed at the time at the exit, but if this was the pay-off then it was worth the embarrassment and anger as his side comfortably produced their best 45 minutes of the season in the opening half.

Fulham, who defeated Stoke 3-0 in a fourth-round tie on Saturday and can perhaps offer up the excuse of tiredness, were never at the races during that period.

The Blades dominated, and by the half-hour mark had deservedly carved out their first two-goal cushion of the season.

Cottagers goalkeeper Antti Niemi endured a torrid return after a 29-day lay-off following a neck injury, initially as he was back in the wars inside the first minute.

In closing down Rob Hulse, who flicked a half-chance wide, the Finn was caught in the mouth by the striker on the follow-through.

Niemi required lengthy treatment as blood poured from the wound before saving his side soon after as Stephen Quinn looked to mark his first call-up into the Republic of Ireland squad today with a goal.

After intercepting a loose ball and feeding Stead, the striker replied in kind with a threaded through ball for the winger.

Quinn, playing despite the death of his sister's boyfriend - who was shot dead in north Dublin last week - produced a deft flick which an advancing Niemi touched fractionally wide.

Niemi denied the 21-year-old again in the 22nd minute from a left-foot volley at the far post in meeting a Nick Montgomery cross.

Match Stats Sheff Utd Fulham
Goals 2 0
Possession 52% 48%
Goal attempts 17 7
On Target 8 0
Corners 5 4
Off-sides 4 2
Fouls 14 10
Yellows 1 1
Reds 0 0
source: Soccernet

But Fulham and Niemi's relief was shortlived as United duly opened the scoring 60 seconds later, sparked by Montgomery robbing Vincenzo Montella of the ball midway inside the visitors' half.

That led to Montgomery and Stead combining superbly around the Fulham penalty area, allowing the latter to lash a left-foot shot into the roof of the net from seven yards.

Five minutes later United doubled their advantage, with Tonge on the scoresheet for the first time since the end of April.

A lofted cross from Colin Kazim-Richards was initially headed away by Ian Pearce, but only as far as Tonge - whose knock to the far post was picked up by the livewire Quinn.

The young Irishman quickly turned the ball back into the six-yard box, and after slight deflections off Liam Rosenior and Pearce, Tonge was on hand to tuck home from six yards.

This was clearly not Montella's kind of game as United remained in the faces of the Fulham players, and he was replaced just after half an hour by Heidar Helguson.

United, though, continued to dominate and went close again before the break when Hulse nodded a hanging cross from Kazim-Richards a yard wide.

The second half was in complete contrast to the first, as it was effectively job done for United, with Fulham unable to offer any threat.

Not once was goalkeeper Paddy Kenny tested throughout the 90 minutes, which is credit to his defence, but also testament to the ineffectiveness of Fulham's attack.

United had a couple of chances via Stead and Hulse, the latter in particular hitting the crossbar in injury-time with an acrobatic effort.

But this was one of those games when it really was all over bar the shouting by the interval.

Sheffield United manager Neil Warnock was full of praise for Jon Stead after the striker grabbed his first goal for the club in a 2-0 victory over Fulham at Bramall Lane.

Stead, a £750,000 signing from Sunderland three weeks ago, had failed to score in his previous 10 matches and had found the net just once in 33 Premiership games prior to tonight.

But the 22-year-old finished an incisive 22nd-minute move involving Nick Montgomery with aplomb, lashing home a left-footed shot into the roof of the net.

United wrapped up an easy three points just five minutes later when midfielder Michael Tonge tapped home from six yards for his first goal for nine months.

But it was Stead that drew the plaudits as Warnock said: 'He has fitted in well.

'He is a lovely lad, and he has been like that since the day he arrived.

'As I have said to him, the top strikers work hard if they are to get the rewards, and I always look back at Ian Rush and his days at Liverpool.

'He defended from the front, although Liverpool were a fantastic team then, their two strikers worked their socks off.

'That is what we have done tonight - we defended from the front - and it paid off.'

Despite Stead's woeful goalscoring record prior to joining the Blades, Warnock had no hesitation in bringing the former England Under-21 forward to the club.

'He was just so cheap,' added Warnock.

'For £750,00, I couldn't go wrong for a lad who is only 22 and who kept Blackburn up on his own when he was there.

'His goals were magnificent then, and he is showing that kind of form again in training.

'Yes, it went sour for him in the end, and it did go bad for him at Sunderland.

'There were reasons for that and we have talked about it, but when somebody works as hard as he does then you cannot ask for any more, and his finish tonight was excellent.'

Warnock described the victory as 'the most convincing' since United were promoted to the Premiership, notable for the fact that not once did Fulham test goalkeeper Paddy Kenny.

Although Warnock's side are now seven points clear of the relegation zone, he knows there is still some way to go before the club finally hit the famed 40-point barrier.

'You are always looking for that,' insisted Warnock.

'Look at Reading because they are on the verge of a place in Europe, yet Steve Coppell is still talking about safety, and that's how it is.

'Although this is a great step forward with these three points, there is still a long, long way to go.'

Sheff Utd: Kenny, Geary, Jagielka, Lucketti, Armstrong, Kazim-Richards, Tonge, Montgomery, Stephen Quinn, Hulse, Stead.
Subs Not Used: Bromby, Webber, Alan Quinn, Fathi, Nade.

Booked: Lucketti.

Goals: Stead 23, Tonge 28.

Fulham: Niemi, Rosenior, Knight, Pearce, Queudrue, Davies, Volz (Dempsey 82), Brown, Radzinski (Routledge 74), Montella (Helguson 33), McBride.
Subs Not Used: Lastuvka, Omozusi.

Booked: Pearce (79,f).

Att: 27,540

Ref: L Mason (Lancashire).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source soccernet
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