Blades hit back as late surge pays off
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AN INDIFFERENT start to the season has seen Bryan Robson's credentials unfairly questioned in some quarters but he clearly still commands the utmost respect in the dressing room.
The cruel taunts of the Cardiff City fans, warning him to expect his P45, were reverberating around the stadium when United launched a dramatic late surge to not only salvage a point but also, quite possibly, their hopes of mounting a serious bid for promotion.
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United looked dead and buried after goals from Joe Ledley, Robbie Fowler and Gavin Rae had eclipsed James Beattie's early opener and left Robson's men teetering dangerously on the brink. But after Chris Armstrong's first of the season dragged them to within touching distance, Chris Morgan averted the prospect of a third straight league defeat.
Seldom can the centre-half have scored a more important goal.
The match brutally exposed United weaknesses but also showcased their strengths and led Robson to suggest it could mark an end to the bad luck which has plagued them since August.
United's efforts to adapt to life outside of the Premiership has been hampered by problems - not all of their own making - and although they were once again guilty of some slack defending, there were also signs they are finally getting to grips with Robson's footballing philosophy.
"The lads got what they deserved," he said. "There was no way they deserved to lose that game.
"We've got to stop giving away goals or we'll go nowhere but we also played some excellent attacking stuff.
"They kept on going right until the end and after everything that has happened that took real character."
Robson used his programme notes to plead for patience and understanding from supporters angered by a barren run which saw their team take to the field languishing in the lower reaches of the table.
The United manager has spent the first four months of his reign trying to instil the same qualities in his players but in Beattie he possesses a striker in no need of counselling.
It took a 4m transfer fee and a good salary to persuade Beattie to swap the glamour of a UEFA Cup campaign with Everton for the muck and nettles of a Championship promotion battle but the former England international is proving to be worth every penny and underlined his importance to the United cause by scoring his eighth goal in nine games by converting Keith Gillespie's corner.
"We ended up chasing the game again but this time we did it with intelligence," Robson said.
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Got a view? Add your comment below. "We kept our shape and our heads.
"Cardiff could have scored once or twice after the break but that's always going to be the case when you've got people with the nous of Robbie Fowler and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.
"We knew what we wanted to do and we used our brains by getting in the crosses from the right positions."
Robson, making four changes to the side beaten by Southampton at the weekend, has quickly discovered that life never runs smoothly at Bramall Lane and so it was an air of resignation which greeted Gillespie's premature departure with a strained hamstring.
With Gary Naysmith, Nick Montgomery and Derek Geary already unavailable through injury, Robson could be forgiven for thinking the gods are conspiring against him and his mood went from bad to worse when Cardiff ruthlessly exploited the space afforded to them by a lacklustre United defence, Joe Ledley's exquisite volley leaving Paddy Kenny with no chance from 15 yards.
It was another wholly preventable goal to add to the long list already conceded this season and doubly disappointing given the fact that it came following a sustained period of pressure from Robson's men.
Worse was to follow when Cardiff took the lead in first-half stoppage time but this time referee Andy D'Urso was the culprit, harshly adjudging Morgan to have tripped Roger Johnson as the United captain attempted to hook the ball clear.
Fowler, who scored three penalties against United in Liverpool colours last term, duly applied the finishing touches from the spot.
"There was a lot more going in Cardiff's favour than our favour," Robson added.
"I couldn't believe we were going in losing 2-1.
Unlike D'Urso, whose performance after the interval descended into farce, Fowler's effort served to galvanise the hosts.
United, who saw three strong appeals of their own waved away, responded with commendable character and resolve until Rae appeared to have sealed their fate just before the hour.
Armstrong's late goal - the defender drilling home a well-placed finish after good work by substitute Luton Shelton - invited a thrilling finale and Morgan duly obliged when he climbed above his marker to convert David Carney's corner.
"I've just berated my players for 5 minutes," admitted Cardiff manager Dave Jones when he emerged from the dressing room.
"They (United) should have been booed not carried off but full credit to them. If we can stop conceding silly goals then we will be right up there because going forward we were superb.
"There are plenty of positives but the one problem is locking the back door - and at the moment I can't find the key."Manager's view
There was a lot more going in Cardiff's favour than our favour. I couldn't believe we were going in at half time losing 2-1. I've seen the replays and it was never a penalty. Morgs has gone in for a block and two players have collided. It's as simple as that.