Sheffield United 1 Ipswich Town 2
SHEFFIELD United, now without a win in four games, slipped to a second successive home defeat as Ipswich maintained their promotion push. Richard Naylor's 89th-minute strike sealed a fifth victory in the last seven away matches for George Burley's young side.
Yorkshireman Naylor, playing in the absence through injury of regular strikers David Johnson and James Scowcroft, claimed his first goal of the season on his 50th appearance for the club. He met Jamie Clapham's free kick and glanced a header just inside Alan Kelly's right-hand post.
Sheffield looked to have salvaged a point - which manager Steve Bruce felt they deserved - on 78 minutes when substitute Paul Devlin was also on target for the first time this season. Four minutes after coming on, he pounced at the back post after Richard Wright had superbly stopped on-loan Andy Campbell's close-range shot from a Marcelo cross.
On a day when both teams were depleted by injuries and suspensions, Sheffield, without eight regulars, fielded six players under 21 while Ipswich, who gave 17-year-old Titus Bramble his debut because of the absence of both regular centre-backs, had only one man aged over 26.
Not surprisingly, Bruce and Burley both praised the character of their young players.
"We have lost nine key players, three of them having been sold, and it was all credit to the squad. I told the youngsters to enjoy it, and I was pleased at how we went from strength to strength in the second half," said Burley.
Bruce described defeat as cruel. "We were worth a point. In Curtis Woodhouse we had the best player on the field and I couldn't ask any more from my lads. The bonus is in the emergence of the young lads."
A dour game that was never a classic took a turn for the better after Samassi Abou, in his third match on loan from West Ham, claimed his first goal on 49 minutes with a left-foot drive from just inside the penalty area. Bobby Petta's attempt to hit the target saw the ball rebound conveniently for Abou off Kieron Dyer.
Burley felt there was only one side going to win at that stage and Ipswich might have increased their lead had Shaun Derry not headed off the line from Naylor. However, Sheffield hit back and Woodhouse forced an excellent diving save from Wright a subsequent piece of brilliance from the goalkeeper proved not enough to prevent Devlin equalising.
Adam Tanner, whose error had led to Sheffield's goal, was grateful that another slip went unpunished when Wright denied Wayne Quinn, and Sheffield might have snatched the lead when Derry shot over from close range.
Ipswich, showing greater fluency in their passing in the second half, probably deserved their 13th victory of a season in which Burley has proved the merits of a positive philosophy and an excellent youth policy.