COVENTRY CITY 1-2 SHEFFIELD UNITED BY KEV MONKS
"Can we play you every Boxing Day?" was a song that the Sheffield United supporters should have been singing as they made their way out of Highfield Road after a 2-1 win.
Watched by a bumper Boxing Day crowd of 21,146, Peter Reid who gave his players Christmas Day off unlike every other club certainly in the division, if not the Football League, made two changes with Adie Williams replacing Richard Shaw and Michael Doyle coming back from suspension to take over from Isaac Osbourne.
Wearing florescent orange shirts that are on a par with other Sheffield United away kits of the past, (Lime green or Salmon pink are just two examples that spring to mind),Neil Warnock's team were the first to attack winning a fourth minute corner much to the delight of their 3,600 strong following.
After a number of beach balls thrown by some of the visiting supporters onto the pitch had been cleared away, Danny Cadamarteri theatrically dived over the legs of Williams, giving the away team a tenth minute free kick. The kick was played out to Michael Tonge who delivered a cross which Luke Steele easily dealt with.
Steele cleared upfield and Morrell played in Stepgen Hughes for a shot which Blades keeper Ian Bennett dived to push to away for a corner.
Hughes took the kick,the ball went to Gary McSheffrey on the left. He crossed and Stern John flicked the ball onto the post before a covering defender hacked it into the East Stand for a corner.
At this point, medical staff raced up the East Stand steps and were seen treating a supporter for what turned out to be a heart attack, (apparently the fate unfortunately suffered by another City supporter later in the game).
Hughes flag kick came to nothing but when City next attacked seconds later, they were awarded a penalty. A 14th minute ball came in from the left and Adie Williams went down. My initial reaction was what it had been handled by United's latest recruit Danny Culip. It transpired to have been a shove and referee Mike Dean pointed to the penalty spot.
Despite having the likes of penalty takers like Hughes and McSheffrey on the pitch, Stern John opted to take the kick. Why I don't know as the Trinidadian had missed against Ipswich and takes a highly predictable kick.
As myself and others were saying "He'll hit it low to the keepers left, John stepped up and placed the ball exactly where we had said. It was such a poor strike that it was close to stopping short of the goal-line before Bennett dived to his left to make a save which I could have done with a note,pen and walking stick in my hand.
However four minutes later, Stern John went from Villain to hero when he put City ahead,turning to fire the ball past Bennett from close range after Gary McSheffrey had nodded down a Stephen Hughes free kick.
United who have risen to fifth in the table thanks to seven victories, came back and were only stopped by the coolness of luke Steele who punched away an Andy Gray header before getting down to save from an Andy Liddell six yard header after Leigh Bromley had ghosted past Giddings.
Any team managed by Neil Warnock not only works hard to close down the midfield but is quite prepared to get stuck in when necessary and in the 25th minute,Gary McSheffrey took exception to Dele Adebola being shoved and retaliated by taking down Chris Morgan.
Boosted by his goal, Stern John found space in the 27th minute, weaved his way through the United defence and curled a shot inches wide of the far post.
Stephen Hughes went close two minutes later,curling a 25 yard free kick just over.
With the half hour mark reached, City who have announced a home kit for next season, not too dissimilar to a Tescos carrier bag, were not doing too badly, ok they were struggling to gain anything in midfield but by City standards this was not too bad, when suddenly it all went pear-shaped.
The visitors picked up a loose ball from midfield and it fell for Alan Quinn to rifle a shot which bounced off the back of Dele Adebola and went for a corner.
When the kick came in, a pathetic attempt at a clearance by Adie Williams saw the ball knocked the ball into the path of Chris Morgan who stabbed the ball low into the net from five yards.
As both sets of supporters were singling out those who over indulged in the Christmas festivities, United took a 39th minute lead after Stern John lost possession in the centre circle,some crisp passing played in Andy Gray who stabbed the ball into the net from close range.
The mood amongst the City supporters at half-time was solemn although there was an air of expectancy that City would come out and take the game to the visitors in the second half.
Unfortunately, whatever ranting and raving,the under fire City manager who treats his position at the club merely as a 9-5 job said in the dressing room had little effect as the visitors continued to control the game.
The hard working McSheffrey did managed to cause concern for the United defence when he picked up on a 48th minute pass from Stern John. But as he prepared to shoot, across came Morgan to get in his way and concede a corner.
That came to nothing but less than a minute later, a foul on McSheffrey by Culip gave Coventry a free kick some twenty yards out of the West End goal. McSheffrey decided to take the kick. Instead of shooting, he passed sideways expecting Michael Doyle to run on and shoot. Doyle, who looked clearly unaware that he was the intended target stood still and the away team cleared their lines.
A good diving save from the competent Steele gave United a 55th minute corner as Liddell lurked at the far post before City took the ball up the other end.Gary McSheffrey jinked his way past two defenders and hit a left footed drive which was deflected for a corner. Stephen Hughes took the kick which for once was a good one.
All it needed was a touch from a player of either side and the ball was in the net, but no-one was on hand and the ball flew across the face of the goal and out for a goal kick.
On the hour mark, McSheffrey again did well to get through. However, as he advanced a reckless challenge from Michael Tonge brought him down and the United midfielder was cautioned.
As the players lined up for the free kick, Warnock made the first change of the game replacing Alan Quinn with fellow former Wednesdayite Derek Geary. Hughes took the kick and sent a disappointing effort over the crossbar.
United were always on the look-out for a third goal and in the 62nd minute,they almost got it when a Steele save gave United a corner. The ball was played back to Geary and a header from Leigh Bromby crashed off the far post and landed in the arms of the City keeper.
Ten minutes later, another yellow card appeared from the pocket of Mr Dean's shirt and was waved in the direction of Stephen Hughes who must have said something uncomplimentary about the referee's decision as a free kick was moved ten yards forward.
Now some of the City fans in a match where the visitors created most of the atmosphere,had been calling for Eddy Johnson for most of the second half by singing his name to the tune of that 80's Pigbag classic "Papa's Got A New Pigbag"
However, in the 74th minute when Peter Reid made a change,it was not Johnson who came on. For some reason, the City boss with his side losing and looking well beaten,took off the now hapless Stern John and replaced him with midfielder Neil Wood.
In the 76th minute,Adie Williams joined the list of cautions when he was carded for a foul on Cadamarteri. Andy Liddell stepped up the take the kick and saw his thirty yard curler saved by the diving Steele.
Johnson did finally make an appearance when he replaced Andy Morrell who had a quiet game in the 79th minute and then straight after,Warnock followed suit bringing on Paul Thirlwell.
With City supporters heading out of the stadium in increasing numbers,many disgusted at a lacklustre second half from the Sky Blues - hardly a positive sign for a club that is praying its long suffering supporters will fork out up to £352 for a season ticket in the new arena, City won an 87th minute corner. Adie Williams got on the end of it but Tulip was able to clear and Sheffield United held on to record their second successive Boxing Day victory at Highfield Road.
HT CCFC 1-2 SUFC FT CCFC 1-2 SUFC
GOALS - Stern John (18)
Chris Morgan (31)
Andy Gray (39)
BOOKED McSheffrey, Tonge,Hughes,Laville
Man Of The Match - Gary McSheffrey won the votes for the way he tried with a strong nomination for Luke Steele
Steele,Carey,Laville,Williams,Giddings,Hughes, Doyle,McSheffrey, Morrell (Johnson 79), Adebola,John (Wood 74)