Last Time: Owls 1-2 Blades (18/02/2006)

Last updated : 07 January 2008 By @blades_mad1889

Neither side looked like taking control of a fiercely competitive but lacklustre Steel City derby at Hillsborough before Michael Tonge broke the deadlock with a brilliant free-kick and Ade Akinbiyi unleashed a stunning volley to silence the home fans moments before the half-time whistle.

For the second game in a row United missed at least one sitter before Steven MacLean won and scored a penalty, his first goal of the season on his first home start.

Having taken just two points from their last three games, United were on their joint worst run of the campaign. However, they ended their last such spell with December's Bramall Lane win over Wednesday.

And after runaway Coca-Cola Championship leaders Reading's record 33-game unbeaten sequence finally ended yesterday night, the Blades had another opportunity to breathe life into the title race, while the Owls were looking to put more daylight between themselves and the bottom three.

Manager Paul Sturrock made two changes from the midweek defeat at Coventry, recalling top scorer Chris Brunt and on-loan Southampton striker Leon Best to the starting XI.

With Leigh Bromby and Craig Short injured, United threw loan signing Neill Collins into the cauldron of a local derby, while handing Rob Kozluk his first league start of 2006.

A 33,439 crowd - the division's biggest this season - got the competitive start they were seeking, with Best firing over from just outside the box under severe pressure from the United defence.

Neither team were allowed much time on the ball in what was developing into a typical derby, although Brunt saw his volley blocked following a miscue from the visiting backline.

It did not help that each side appeared intent on surrendering possession on the rare occasions they did have the chance to pick out a team-mate.

Brunt broke the monotony with a drive Paddy Kenny gathered well, perhaps realising it was going to take something special to end the stalemate.

And with time running out, it duly arrived as Tonge cracked a wonderful free-kick into the far corner from the left-edge of the penalty area.

But the midfielder was upstaged on the stroke of half-time by Akinbiyi, who blasted a rising volley past the despairing Chris Adamson after Peter Gilbert had misjudged Chris Armstrong's crossfield ball.

It was the £1.75 million man's first goal since scoring on his debut at the start of the month and with Wednesday the second lowest scorers in the Championship it was going to take an almighty effort to claw their way back into the game.

But it was United who looked like adding to the scoring as Wednesday's carelessness on the ball continued.

Akinbiyi somehow failed to kill them off when he sent a diving header over the bar from Bruce Dyer's wicked cross, moments before Sturrock withdrew the ineffectual Best for Marcus Tudgay.

The substitute almost had an immediate impact but his mishit finish was comfortable for Kenny.

As the game opened up, Kozluk exchanged passes with Dyer before shooting straight at Adamson, while Dyer himself bundled a Paul Ifill cross over the top.

But worse finishing was to follow as the visitors again carved Wednesday open, Akinbiyi putting the ball on a plate for his strike partner who casually toed wide from four yards.

And Dyer really was kicking himself barely a minute later, as MacLean was tripped in the box and he picked himself up to score low to Kenny's right.

It set up an unnecessarily frantic final 10 minutes, with United penned in their 18-yard box, and Kozluk was required to head the ball off the line.

But the Blades held firm to close to within nine points of Reading, leaving Wednesday still looking over their shoulders.