MICKY Adams last night recorded the 214th victory of his managerial career. Few, if indeed any, of the previous 213 can have tasted any sweeter.
Nearly three months after taking charge of United - and at the 14th time of asking - Adams broke his duck in the Bramall Lane dug-out. Although this result, against a Forest outfit pushing for promotion, does not drag them out of the relegation zone, another defeat would have dealt a devastating psychological and mathematical blow to United’s hopes of competing in the Championship next term.
Crystal Palace’s surprise triumph over Cardiff City ensured they remain six points adrift of safety but having fallen behind to Dele Adebola’s fortuitous strike, the dramatic nature of United’s comeback will have gone a long towards replenishing their self-belief. Daniel Bogdanovic, usually reliable from the spot, saw a second-half penalty saved by Lee Camp after drawing a challenge from Chris Gunter before Sam Vokes dragged United level.
Then, with 10 minutes remaining, Matthew Lowton’s bullet header delivered United’s first victory since December and possibly handed them a lifeline.
Nevertheless the past seven months have revealed some uncomfortable truths about United and their standing in English football. Adams used his programme notes to insist survival is possible but the 49-year-old has cut an increasingly forlorn figure in recent weeks as injuries and a flurry of loan signings exposed the paucity of options at his disposal. The return of Nick Montgomery and Shane Lowry provided some welcome respite against opponents who have spent lavishly in the transfer market.
Despite being forced to slash expenditure when their Premier League parachute payments evaporated two years ago, United’s board of directors have nevertheless released the funding required for Adams to strengthen his squad. News that one of those new arrivals, Bjorn Helge Riise, had been forced to withdraw with a minor complaint was a blow but Vokes, the Norwegian’s fellow loanee, stepped in when Ched Evans failed to recover from a training knock.
However, it was time served Stephen Quinn who came closest to breaking the deadlock during the opening exchanges when he was picked-out by Bogdanovic only for Luke Chambers to intervene before flashing Richard Cresswell’s cross wide.
Having seen their 36 match unbeaten run on home soil come to an end against Hull City at the weekend, Forest travelled north intent on reaffirming their top-flight credentials. Billy Davies was at his irascible best on the touchline; barking orders and gyrating his arms like Pete Townsend on acid.
Until Adebola’s intervention, Forest failed to demonstrate the same level of urgency with David McGoldrick guilty of wasting two good opportunities either side of those early efforts from Quinn. United, going about the business with commitment if not conviction, continued to press.
Bogdanovic, restored to the starting 11 following a three game absence, was intent on making the most of his chance and set in motion the best move of the evening so far with a deft flick which sent Lowton scampering forward. The youngster, who tested Lee Camp with a curling strike just before the interval, found Vokes but his shot on the turn was smothered. Having failed to make their possession pay, United were hit with a sucker punch on the stroke of half-time.
And, for the umpteenth time this season, a series of individual errors were to blame. Paul Anderson, afforded time and space when a United attack broke down, planted the ball at Adebola’s feet and the towering striker held-off Neill Collins before squirming it past Simonsen.
Cresswell, who later suffered the ignominy of being booed-off by the home crowd when Mark Yeates entered the fray, came agonisingly close to getting a touch on Bogdanovic’s centre as United looked to gather themselves immediately after the re-start. Montgomery screwed a volley into the ground when Forest failed to deal convincingly with a corner before Bogdanovic fluffed his lines after being felled by Gunter just past the hour.
United’s persistence finally paid-off in the 74th minute though when Vokes sprang Forest’s off-side trap and threaded a low drive beyond Camp from the tightest of angles.
Six minutes later, Lowton turned the contest on its head by powering Quinn’s corner into the roof of Forest’s net.
Kris Boyd came close to breaking United hearts but Simonsen dived at his feet.
BLADES: Simonsen 6, Nosworthy 6 (Mattock, 56, 6), Montgomery 6, Doyle 6, Bogdanovic 6 (Williamson 90), Cresswell 6 (Yeates 56, 6), Vokes 6, Lowry 6, Collins 6, Quinn 6 Lowton 6. Not used: Ertl, Kozluk, Long, Bent.
FOREST: Camp 6, Konchesky 5, Chambers 6, Morgan 6, Anderson 6, Adebola 6 (Boyd 72, 5), Cohen 6, Gunter 5, McGoldrick 5 (McCleary 74, 5), McKenna 6, Tuday 5 (Earnshaw 78). Not used: McGugan, Majewski, Bennett, Darlow.
Goals: Adebola (42), Vokes (74), Lowton (80).
Referee: A Bates (Staffordshire) 5
Bookings: Tudgay (43), Mattock (58)