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Blackwell delighted with Sheffield Utd character after Preston battle

Sheffield United boss Kevin Blackwell was delighted with his players' show of character after they earned a 1-1 draw at Preston in last night's first-leg of the Coca-Cola Championship play-off semi-final.

Blades midfielder Brian Howard struck in clinical fashion just seconds into the second half to cancel out Sean St Ledger's 21st-minute opener and give his side a thoroughly deserved share of the spoils.

"Our performance over 90 minutes was outstanding in a stadium that's quite hostile," said Blackwell.

"Having gone 1-0 down I think quite a few clubs would have crumbled but the players showed such mental strength.

"There were five players under the age of 21 here and they're starting to grow.

"I think you can always want more but if you had said to me when I got on the bus at Bramall Lane this morning that we'd come back with a 1-1 draw I'd have been quite happy.

"I thought our performance was absolutely first class tonight and we created some great chances."

Blackwell singled out midfielder anchor man Nick Montgomery for playing a key role in front of the United defence.

"I thought he played a terrific role and retaining the ball in a hostile atmosphere meant we could quieten the crowd a bit.

"That was the key - to keep hold of the ball - and I thought we did it very well.

"As the game went on we kept the ball well and really carved out some good openings."

Blackwell was also keen to lavish praise on goalscorer Howard after he claimed a fine left-footed strike to draw United level and also brought several fine saves out of Preston goalkeeper Andy Lonergan.

"Brian has come in and done a terrific job but I though it was an excellent 11-man performance from Sheffield United," he added.

"I thought our commitment and our desire got us back in the game, along with our quality."

The only negative for Blackwell was an injury to striker Darius Henderson, who was replaced early in the second half and could now miss Monday's clash along with Jamie Ward and David Cotterill.

Preston boss Alan Irvine hailed the performance of Lonergan, saying: "Andy has been top class this season and made a couple of great saves.

"He's done that on many occasions this season and I certainly think as a team that we competed well against Sheffield United.

"They're a very strong and physical outfit and I was pleased with that aspect of our game, but I was disappointed with how we played when we had opportunities with the ball.

"You have to be able to cope with their strengths but also pass the ball well, and I felt we didn't do that at times."

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Tribal Football Staff

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