REF’S HOWLERS ANGER ADKINS
FOR such an enthralling game, it was a shame referee Geoff Eltringham was the post-match focus.
After being completely dominated by high-flying Walsall for the best part of an hour, United fought back to earn a point in a thriller.
But it was Eltringham’s performance – waving away two big United penalty shouts but awarding them a controversial free-kick in the build-up to Jose Baxter’s equaliser – that had both bosses talking. To be fair, both had a point. With United – deservedly – a goal down, Romaine Sawyers’ 66th-minute challenge on Paul Coutts out wide was never a freekick.
But it was given and moments later, Baxter found the bottom corner from 20 yards.
Any injustice Walsall felt, however, should have been balanced out by the two penalty incidents either side of the goal.
Che Adams paid the price for trying to hurdle Saddlers keeper Neil Etheridge and stay on his feet before the leveller, while Walsall defender Jason Demetriou seemed to handle a Bob Harris cross late on.
Blades boss Nigel Adkins groaned: “The one on Che was a stonewall penalty. And when Bob Harris has crossed the ball, their lad has handled it, we’ve seen the video.
“Then when our player has done the same at the other end, the ref gives a free-kick. We’re looking for that consistency, aren’t we?
“But the lads have shown character again to come from behind. The players have shown they are having a right go for each other and that’s important. There’s a determination and spirit about the group.
“It’s about fine margins sometimes and at the moment they are just not going our way.”
Saddlers boss Dean Smith was equally aggrieved about United’s equaliser.
He complained: “It was never a free-kick and then when it was taken Connor Sammon slipped and brought our defender Jim O’Connor down.
“I’m disappointed we didn’t pick up all three points. It wouldn’t have been an injustice if we had gone in at half-time three goals up.
“I thought our first-half performance was excellent and that we made a good team look average.”
Walsall twice hit the woodwork in a one-sided first period, Paul Downing’s header striking the post as United keeper George Long flapped at a corner before Milan Lalkovic’s 25-yard rocket crashed off the bar.
Long twice kept out longrange efforts from Walsall’s excellent Man City loanee George Evans and made a stupendous triple save.
Bradshaw finally broke the deadlock six minutes into the second half, sliding home Sawyers’ cross from close range. But United took over from there and after Baxter’s equaliser and those penalty shouts, they almost pinched it at the death, only for Etheridge to save.
LEVELLER: Sheffield United’s Jose Baxter scores the equaliser OFF AND RUNNING: Walsall celebrate Tom Bradshaw’s opening goal