Middlesbrough nick it at the death – and it’s a long, long way back from here
MICKY Adams, like his counterpart across the technical area, is not disposed to public displays of emotion.
But while Tony Mowbray’s sullen demeanour masked his delight at having secured Middlesbrough’s npower Championship status following this fortuitous victory, the Sheffield United manager’s disappointment was plain for all to see.
Seven points adrift of safety and now rooted to the bottom of the table, Adams insisted survival is still a possibility after watching Marvin Emnes’ last gasp strike condemn the Blades to their most costly defeat of the season so far.
But with only six games remaining, including tomorrow’s visit of promotion-chasers Cardiff City, it is difficult to see how United can escape sliding into League One.
“When you go home and look at our position it doesn’t look good,” Adams admitted. “But if we give up mentally then we’ve got no chance at all.
“Even a draw out there would have been frustrating. There are a lot of people who are very down in that dressing room but it’s my job now to make sure they pick themselves up and are in a positive frame of mind.”
Mowbray had described the division as a brutal, uncompromising competition soon after returning to Teesside six months ago. He might also have added cruel.
United, who fell behind when Matthew Bates opened the scoring with a smart finish, dominated for long periods after Matthew Lowton had cancelled-out the Middlesbrough captain’s effort.
But having spurned a welter of chances to take the lead, their profligacy was punished when Emnes pounced on substitute Julio Arca’s defence- splitting pass and stroked the ball beyond Steve Simonsen.
With a Bramall Lane bracing itself for a string of departures over the summer, it was one of United’s most coveted players who was their main culprit in front of goal.
However, making only his third appearance since serious injury, Darius Henderson will not have impressed his army of admirers by failing to convert any of the three gilt-edged opportunities that came his way.
One in particular, created by the excellent Bjorn Helge Riise, seemed impossible to miss. But when the Norwegian picked him out at the far post during the closing stages, Henderson inexplicably headed over the crossbar.
The former Watford and Gillingham was jeered by sections of the home support when he trudged disconsolately down the tunnel at the final whistle. Adams, publicly at least, was in more forgiving mood.
“I thought Darius led the line excellently. I’m not going to criticise anyone for missing chances, so long as they are putting themselves in a position where they can score.
“He’s been out for a long time and we’ve got another 90 minutes out of him so the lad should benefit from that.”
United, who handed a debut to Norwegian Erik Tonne late on, fell behind when Shane Lowry’s clearance from Seb Hines’ long punt fell kindly for Bates. But, with Riise and Daniel Bogdanovic exploiting the space in front of Middlesbrough’s defence, United’s emphatic response was rewarded just before the half hour mark.
Riise, demonstrating exquisite balance and close control, fooled Stephen McManus with a deft feint and duly found Lowton lurking in the box.
United, who had earlier seen Henderson nod wide before being denied by Paul Smith from close-range, continued to press after the interval. The Middlesbrough goalkeeper nearly parried Joe Mattock’s thunderous drive into his own net while Lowton looked to have claimed his second of the afternoon until McManus intervened.
However, as United searched for the winner, Middlesbrough threatened on the break and Simonsen made two fine blocks in quick succession from Tony McMahon and Rhys Williams.
But he was powerless to prevent Emnes, who was fortunate to still be on the pitch after lashing-out at Michael Doyle, from scoring at the death.
“I thought some of our football out there was excellent,” said Adams. “We’ve never, since I’ve been here, struggled to make chances. It’s just the finished product that’s not been there.”
We feel like we’ve been mugged.
There are a lot of disappointed people in that dressing room.
We also feel we’ve been hard done by in terms of the referee.
There were some key decisions out there that didn’t go our way.
There isn’t any consistency.