Warnock's men will provide a tough test

NEIL Warnock, the Sheffield United manager, was the deserving winner of the Nationwide League manager of the month for January, but the jinx associated with the award struck even before it was announced, writes Tony Garnett.

NEIL Warnock, the Sheffield United manager, was the deserving winner of the Nationwide League manager of the month for January, but the jinx associated with the award struck even before it was announced, writes Tony Garnett.

United entered the first day of February with a 1-0 defeat against Millwall at The Den. Warnock was far from pleased and suggested that his players could only perform at their best in front of the television cameras.

Otherwise it was a good week for Warnock, who signed an extended contract wasting no time in putting pen to paper.

Certainly the steel city derby against Sheffield Wednesday and the two-legged Worthington Cup semi-final against Liverpool saw the Blades at their sharpest.

A fortnight ago Sheffield United fielded an under-strength side for their FA Cup fourth-round tie against Ipswich Town at Bramall Lane. They made it plain that battling for promotion to the Premiership was their priority Tired legs were rested and the squad has been enjoying a mid-season break in Portugal since then.

United went three up, Ipswich battled back to level the scores, then conceded a late goal to nippy substitute Paul Peschisolido through defensive frailty. Ipswich went out of the cup which, in view of the importance of promotion, was disappointing but by no means a disaster.

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Everything at Portman Road was now geared for the rise up the Division One table, or so supporters hoped. A good run in the League since early December had boosted hopes. Then last Saturday came the totally unexpected setback against a Bradford City side who seemed to have resigned themselves to defeat before the start.

Now Ipswich must concentrate on making up the ground they lost by taking three points off Sheffield United this afternoon.

United will be a stronger outfit than Ipswich met in the cup. First choice goalkeeper Paddy Kenny will be back after resting his sore knee a fortnight ago. Kenny looked sharp in the matches against Liverpool. Wilko de Vogt, has, in the meantime, been transferred to RBC Roosendaal.

Michael Tonge, the teenage midfield star, missed the cup tie because of a one-match ban. He will be a threat while the burly Dean Windass, signed from Middlesbrough, was cup-tied.

Windass will be at Bramall Lane until the end of the season. The Blades have agreed to pay £100,000 if they are promoted. Windass could re-sign for another year if things go well.

The 33-year-old scored three goals in four appearances for the Blades in a loan spell at the end of last year but returned to the Riverside after the 2-0 win at Reading.

Sheffield United have also taken Tommy Mooney on a three-month loan deal from Birmingham City. The 31-year-old, who can play in midfield or attack, was on loan at Stoke earlier in the current campaign.

Central defender Robert Page, formerly of Watford, missed the Millwall defeat because of suspension but is sure to return in central defence alongside Shaun Murphy, the Australian who also missed the cup tie.

That will release Phil Jagielka to resume at right-back with Wayne Quinn at left-back. Quinn has been given permission by Newcastle United to stay at Bramall Lane for a further two months so Ipswich will have to be wary of his long throws.

The Sheffield strength seems to be in their midfield. The speedy Zimbabwe international Peter Ndlovu, the veteran Stuart McCall and the inspirational Michael Brown should provide the springboard for United's success.

There are options up front. Windass and Mooney started against Millwall to be replaced by Wayne Allison, known as The Chief, and Steve Kabba, who caused a degree of havoc against the Ipswich defence when on loan at Grimsby.

Allison was released by Tranmere last summer after three seasons with the Prenton Park club. A drop to Division Three was a possibility as newly-promoted Boston United were looking for an experienced forward. Allison fitted the bill.

Boston's offer of £1,300 per week did not appear too bad either. But just when he was close to starting negotiations, Warnock offered a trial to Allison, and eventually a one-year contract.

Now 34, Allison has not looked back. Even though he is understood to be earning considerably less with the Blades than he could have picked up at Boston, there is no way he would swap the last six enjoyable months he has spent at Bramall Lane. "We are looking forward to every match and enjoying it. If you are enjoying your football and scoring and winning, there's nothing better," said Allison.

The Blades have signed Dutch right-winger Marcel Cas on a non-contract basis to provide cover now that Jon-Paul McGovern has returned to Celtic.

Defender Richard Edghill, who was at Manchester City under Joe Royle, has been signed on a non-contract basis for a month. He could be on the bench. The 28-year-old was recently released by Wigan.

A recent Blades' departure is midfielder Jean-Phillipe Javary who has gone on loan to Walsall for a month.

Players to have represented both clubs over the years include Welsh international Mick Hill, Les Tibbott, David Barnes, Brian Gayle and Gus Uhlenbeek.

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