Two goals in five first half minutes from Jon Stead and Michael Tonge lifted Sheffield United seven points clear of the relegation zone after a 2-0 defeat of Fulham.
The massive victory ended the Blades’ four-match winless run and Neil Warnock’s unstinting faith in his goalscorers was richly rewarded. Stead broke a ten-game barren streak with his first United goal midway through the first half and Tongue fired home his first goal for nine months as Bramall Lane bounced in delight. The hosts fully deserved their victory against a below-par Fulham, who suffered their first defeat in eleven games.
The Blades dominated from the outset and had effectively wrapped up the points inside the first half hour. It was a chastening return to first team football for Niemi after four weeks on the sidelines following a horrific neck injury sustained against Watford. The Finnish international was clattered by Rob Hulse instead the first minute and required lengthy treatment after preventing United from taking the lead as blood poured from his own wound. Niemi then saved three times from Stephen Quinn as Warnock’s men up the pressure.
But the Blades did go in front midway through the first half. Nick Montgomery stripped Vincenzo Montella of possession and linked up with Stead, who smashed high into the net from seven yards out. Tongue then grabbed his first goal since last April, when he poked home from six-yards after Quinn’s cross had deflected off Liam Rosenior and Ian Pearce. Montella was substituted shortly afterwards as Italian subtly was not going to be rewarded when Sheffield steel was so demonstrably on top.
Rob Hulse nearly made it three before the break but after the interval the Blades eased to a comfortable success with Fulham failing to register a single attempt on target in the ninety minutes. United could have extended their lead, with Hulse hitting the crossbar with an astonishing bicycle kick in stoppage time, but the win was warmly welcomed by Warnock.
SHEFFIELD UNITED (4-4-2): Kenny; Geary, Jagielka, Lucketti, Armstrong; Kazim-Richards, Tonge, Montgomery, S. Quinn; Hulse, Stead. Subs (not used): Bromby, Webber, Alan Quinn, Fathi, Nade.
GOALS: Stead (23), Tongue (28).
FULHAM (4-4-2): Niemi, Rosenior, Queudrue, Knight, Pearce; Volz (Dempsey 82), Brown, Davies, Radzinski (Routledge 74); Montella (Helguson 33), McBride. Subs (not used): Lastuvka, Omozusi.
REFEREE: Lee Mason (Lancashire).