Sheffield United 1 Norwich 2
MICKY Adams knows only points, not performances, will save Sheffield United from relegation this season.
But despite seeing two strikes from Andrew Crofts deny him his first win since taking charge at Bramall Lane, Adams cut a defiant figure after another ill-tempered contest between these two Championship rivals.
"It's a cruel game," United's manager lamented. "We dominated for long periods and that's the best we've played since I've been here.
"We've come away with nothing though and that's obviously disappointing. We've played a team that's going for promotion and made them look average at times.
"If we carry on in the same vein I'm sure we'll eventually get our reward. The key is going to be making sure we keep believing in ourselves and all stick together."
Both of Norwich City's efforts, which came either side of a clinical finish from the excellent Ched Evans, were shrouded in controversy.
Referee Andy Haines inexplicably failed to spot Simeon Jackson's trip on Kyle Bartley before Crofts thundered home from the resulting corner while Steve Simonsen, who protested that Zak Whitbread had prevented him from gathering the ball, also insisted he had been impeded moments before the 26-year-old thundered home his second following another David Fox centre.
On that occasion, the United goalkeeper's claim appeared debatable. But Evans was certainly fouled by substitute Aaron Wilbraham as he attempted to clear during the resulting melee.
Even Paul Lambert, whose side climb to third, acknowledged Adams had cause for complaint.
"I can understand why Micky would have a grievance," he admitted. "I would be exactly the same.
"He'll turn it around, though, no question, because the crowd are right behind him."
Improving United's record in the opposition penalty box holds the key to restoring their fortunes and so Adams will have been encouraged by the sight of Evans and new loan signing Marcus Bent, making his first appearance for the South Yorkshire club in over a decade, combining to good effect.
Bent, frozen out at Birmingham City, inevitably tired as the match wore on but not before creating his partner's opening opportunity with a deft header.
Evans, who continually asked questions of the visitors' defence, lashed that chance over the bar before forcing a smart save from John Ruddy and curling a long-range free-kick just past the foot of the post.
"They showed they could be capable of forging a good partnership," Adams said. "I thought they did well and they'll only improve over time. They gave us an extra dimension and we got further up the pitch.
"It's not just about them, though. We've got other good options too."
One of those, Richard Cresswell, also went close, but Norwich, who had earlier seen Chris Martin hit the woodwork with a set-piece, survived the onslaught and took the lead when Crofts opened his account.
United responded when Evans capped a fine individual display by rolling Leon Barnett and threading a low drive between Ruddy's outstretched palm and the woodwork.
But Norwich, whose triumph at Carrow Road less than a month ago had proved the catalyst for Adams's appointment, stretched their unbeaten run in league competition to six when Crofts, later described by Lambert as "perhaps the best midfielder in the division", pounced for the second time to ensure United remain 21st in the table.
"Too many managers moan about referees and blame them when things go wrong," said Adams. "That's not something I want to do. I trust them to go out there and get the decisions right.
"On this occasion he got them wrong. I'm upset but I'm also encouraged because it was a good performance. I hope the supporters will go home encouraged too.
"Hopefully that luck will change and things will start to go our way.
More important, though, is that we continue to show the right attitude.
We did that out there today."
Too many managers moan about referees. I trust them to get decisions right. Today he got two wrong. That's often the case when you are down the bottom of the table but, hopefully, some of them will start to go our way before the season ends. Hopefully they'll start to even themselves out.
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