Sheffield United on the slide
Crystal Palace forward Darren Ambrose probably ought to give Sheffield a wide berth given the damage he has inflicted upon its football teams.
Last season, his crucial strike at Hillsborough on the final day of the campaign sent Sheffield Wednesday tumbling into League One and ensured Crystal Palace's Championship survival.
On Saturday, his stunning 25-yard volley illuminated the gloom at Selhurst Park and gave the Eagles a 1-0 precious victory over relegation rivals Sheffield United. It was Ambrose's first goal in 10 games and it was worthy of winning any encounter, let alone a tense and error-strewn contest between two struggling teams.
"You cannot legislate for a wonder goal like that," said Blades boss Micky Adams as he picked the bones out of yet another defeat.
The significance of the victory cannot be under-estimated. The Eagles remain fourth from bottom in the Championship table but they now have a five-point advantage over the Blades, who remain 22nd.
It was Palace's second victory since Dougie Freedman was permanently installed as manager on 11 January and also continued a fine run of form at Selhurst Park. The Eagles have not conceded at home in more than 12 hours and are unbeaten in nine fixtures at their own ground.
Darren has developed a knack for scoring against Sheffield clubs - photo: Getty.
"It gives everybody around the building a lot of confidence," said Freedman. "We are starting to turn slender games our way and although there is a long way to go there is a little bit of light there now."
Form on the road remains a problem, with just one league win away from Selhurst Park all season, but I sense that Freedman, who succeeded George Burley as manager, feels his team have turned a corner.
The same cannot be said of Blades boss Adams, who is still waiting for his first victory since taking over at Bramall Lane at the turn of the year. That figure is now 10 games and counting, with five defeats and five draws so far in all competitions.
"There has been plenty of media coverage about it but it is just another stat," said a beleaguered Adams on Saturday. "I cannot deny that the wait for a win [since I took charge] goes on but I am not worried about me, just the team."
The statistics make for uncomfortable reading. The Blades have not won since they defeated Swansea 1-0 on 18 December and have scored just 28 league goals this season. Equally worrying United have not worked out how to keep clean sheets and have conceded at least once in their last six fixtures.
Adams is a lifelong Blades supporter who started his career as a trainee at Bramall Lane. When he took over at the club he understandably described it as a dream move for him but so far it has been a nightmare.
Adams has drafted in Dave Bassett to help him at Bramall Lane - photo: Getty.
He left a promotion campaign at League Two club Port Vale to become United's third manager of the campaign after Kevin Blackwell, who lasted three games, and Gary Speed, who jumped ship to take over as boss of Wales after four distinctly mediocre months in charge.
Very quickly Adams realised that he needed some help and last week brought in former Blades boss Dave Bassett in a consultancy role.
"He's back because there's not enough hours in the day for me," said Adams. "I've found the club bigger than I thought.
"When you're manager at Port Vale you probably get three calls a day and one of those is from the wife asking me what time I'm coming home for my tea."
Adams is an experienced manager who has been in charge of Fulham, Swansea, Brentford, Brighton (twice), Leicester and Coventry in addition to Vale and the Blades. He has won promotion with Fulham, Brighton and Leicester. If I was a supporter of United I would be concerned that the man responsible with saving them had so badly misjudged the task he had undertaken. Others might argue that he should be praised for recognising that he had a problem and moving quickly to solve it.
There are crumbs of comfort for the club's supporters. The Blades have 14 games left, plenty of time to bridge the gap separating them from safety. The club finished eighth last season and numerous quality players remain. The likes of Nyron Nosworthy, Stephen Quinn, Daniel Bogdanovic and Richard Cresswell are more than capable of thriving in the Championship.
I thought United were unlucky not to take something from Saturday's match. It was a disappointing game, particularly in the second half, but the Blades did create several promising positions. Neill Collins should have headed them in front after just three minutes, while Nathaniel Clyne cleared off his line from Cresswell and Palace skipper Paddy McCarthy almost headed into his own net as he tried to clear a dangerous cross.
"I was pleased with the performance," added Adams. "For long periods we pinned Palace back but things are just not dropping for us and that is the way our luck is at the moment. We just have to keep going."
The problem is that the longer the wait goes on for United, the more confidence will drain away from the squad and the greater the pressure will increase on Adams.
"I have never been as long without a win and that is becoming a challenge in itself," admitted the Blades boss.
There has already been speculation that his position is under threat and Tuesday's match against second-from-bottom Scunthorpe is now a huge encounter. The Iron defeated Nottingham Forest last week and drew with Derby on Saturday to move just one point behind the Blades as well as having two games in hand over their relegation rivals.
"The big games are coming thick and fast now and we know the importance of Tuesday," said Adams.
Fulham were almost bottom of League Two when Adams took over at Craven Cottage in March 1996 and Coventry were in the Championship drop zone when he was appointed manager of the Sky Blues in January 2005. Both teams avoided relegation.
"I have taken over at clubs in worse positions that we are," said Adams. "Don't write us off yet, we are not finished yet."
But without question, United need to start winning soon if they are to halt their slide towards the third tier of English football for the first time since 1988.