Hot-shot back on goal Beat: MATCH REPORT AND SLIDESHOW

SHEFFIELD UNITED 2 v WATFORD 1: THERE were no ghost goals or contentious refereeing decisions.

Instead it was the penalty-box prowess of James Beattie, Sheffield United's most potent striker, which settled Saturday's encouter at Bramall Lane in the home side's favour and ensured his team ended one of the most turblent weeks in their history on a positive note.

Beattie, still feeling his way back to fitness after injury, finished emphatically at the far post to score for the first time since undergoing knee surgery during the close season.

With John-Joe O'Toole wiping out Gary Speed's opener, the match was delicately poised until the former England marksman powered home Billy Sharp's cross.

If his dramatic intervention, as United's assistant manager Sam Ellis suspects, marks the end of the healing process then both player and club should spend the rest of the campaign in rude health.

"That will do James the world of good," Ellis said. "He's back to his old cocky self in the dressing room.

"He's been unlucky because we got a couple of injuries and so we had to bring him back a little bit earlier than we'd have liked and, as a result, his touch hasn't always been quite there.

"But the goal will lift a lot off his mind and hopefully it's clear enough for him to get back to where we expect."

A potent Beattie, who has now netted on 23 occasions since last year's transfer from Everton, poses a deadly serious threat to the rest of the Championship as United attempt to lift themselves back into promotion contention.

But equally encouraging for Kevin Blackwell's side, as they ended a run of five games without a win, was Kyle Naughton's contribution.

Aged just 19, the talented right-back marked his full league debut with a performance of such composure and maturity that, even at this embryonic stage, it is obvious that United have unearthed a footballing gem sparkling with promise and potential.

"We don't want to go too overboard," Ellis said. "But he's very accomplished. You can see that.

"Without wishing to throw too many bouquets his way though, he was superb.

"Normally you'd want to bring a kid in when things are on a high but we didn't feel like we were taking a gamble with him.

"We've come out of a bad run but we still felt Kyle could be involved.

"He's a level-headed young man.

"The challenge for Kyle now is to reach those levels every week and get even better."

Naughton's impressive display against opponents whose own fitness problems show no sign of abating - goalkeeper Scott Loach was forced off during the early skirmishes with an horrific-sounding injury - was a triumph of simplicity and common sense.

Solid and uncomplicated at the back, the teenager also demonstrated sharp attacking instincts and, when the chance arose, intelligent pass selection.

Seven days after their controversial draw with Reading - the visitors from Berkshire profiting from a dreadful mistake by the match officials - Watford travelled north with a game-plan to frustrate the home crowd.

But when Speed pounced barely 50 seconds after kick-off, touching home from close range when Chris Morgan and Sharp helped on Greg Halford's long throw, it was immediately reduced to tatters.

The opportunity to frustrate supporters who, only a couple of hours after learning United had won a landmark legal victory over the Carlos Tevez Affair saw their heroes brutally dismantled in midweek by Arsenal, lay in ruins.

"We wanted to keep things tight but obviously we didn't," Watford manager Adrian Boothroyd admitted.

"We were undone too easily and paid the price.

"We spoke about staying tight and trying to make them a little bit nervous but that didn't happen.

"They got off to the perfect start."

"Scott looked very serious a one stage," Boothroyd added.

"He's torn all the abductor muscles off his pelvis and we were worried that there was internal bleeding. There was also a suggestion that he had damaged his spleen but, thankfully, that looks like it's a false alarm."

Neither Loach nor Richard Lee, who proved a more than able replacement, were culpable for either of United's efforts.

Blackwell, who has seen his tactics and selections come under premature scrutiny of late, will feel vindicated by the sight of his players engineering some incisive moves.

Beattie's winner came after one such passage - Sharp granted thespace to clip an inch-perfect ball into the danger zone

by Stephen Quinn's clever run.

Although United were far from at their fluid best, they were worthy victors here.

Loach denied Danny Webber before departing the field and the forward was involved in the move which saw Quinn warm Lee's gloves only for O'Toole to then dispatch a stooping header beyond Paddy Kenny.

Blackwell showed his displeasure on the touchline, indulging in a furious bout of finger-jabbing, but, when Beattie pounced and Sharp drew a superb reflex block from Lee on the turn, it was Boothroyd's turn to rage.

Only the width of the crossbar, which Speed hit moments before the whistle, saved him from combustion.

"We showed good character, especially given everything we've been through," Ellis, whose next task is to help prepare United for tomorrow's South Yorkshire derby at Doncaster, said.

"We had too after being pegged back. The boys showed what they are made of and that's pleasing."


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