Roeder's loan men bond and deliver

CHRIS LAKEY Glenn Roeder would never admit to it, but perhaps he enjoyed a touch of schadenfreude when, 10 minutes before half-time on Saturday, the Sheffield United fans began to chant "Robson Out".

CHRIS LAKEY

Glenn Roeder would never admit to it, but perhaps he enjoyed a touch of schadenfreude when, 10 minutes before half-time on Saturday, the Sheffield United fans began to chant "Robson Out".

Having sat through a virtually one-sided opening half, the visitors were clearly restless, and they had good reason to be, because City had been in total control from the moment Ched Evans put them ahead on 10 minutes.

Robson has had a tough act to follow, taking over from Blades legend Neil Warnock in the summer, but he wasn't exactly slow in stamping his name on the club, and spending their money.

He paid out £4m on one player (James Beattie) during the summer and had another who cost him £2m (one-time Canaries target Billy Sharp) on the bench on Saturday.

The odds were that the ex-England skipper would take them straight back to the Premier League after their controversial relegation last season.

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Roeder, meanwhile, walked into a club that was staring relegation in the face even as pumpkins were being carved up for Halloween. Money wasn't an issue - there just wasn't that much around, so Roeder, who arrived too late to make permanent signings, spent wisely in the loan market and has been decisive in his squad selection. The axe has fallen at about the same time the penny dropped for a whole clutch of players.

In came experience, quality and hunger: the excellent Martin Taylor, Matty Pattison, Mo Camara and Ched Evans, joining Chelsea's Jimmy Smith.

All five, almost half the City team, started on Saturday. That's the maximum squad allowance.

But it wasn't a collection of oddballs brought together in desperation: a team has been formed through adversity. And it is doing just what was said on the tin when Roeder stepped into his new office on October 30.

While Beattie was a peripheral figure at best on Saturday, Roeder's loan players excelled. Again.

Taylor was excellent at the back, demonstrating, with Jason Shackell, how to keep an England international at bay while showing a range of long passing that would put most players to shame.

Ched Evans is a different case: while Taylor may have a future at Carrow Road, the Manchester City teenager's future lies in the Premier League, and that's a long way from Norwich for now. Two goals in his first two seniors starts in a great stat, but his all-round play is quality too.

Mo Camara is filling the gap left by the injured Adam Drury and at 32 years old his experience is invaluable, but he's another who has to make a major decision soon.

Matty Pattison is a likely stayer, and on Saturday's evidence that's no bad thing: a lovely left foot hides an aggression that was exemplified by one run and tackle just in front of the City dug-out.

Then there's Jimmy Smith, brought in by Peter Grant but stymied by injury. This was his best performance by a long way - but will Chelsea want him back next month?

Taylor's undoubted quality at this level is integral to City's future and persuading him to stay either to the end of the season, or longer, would be a huge coup for Roeder and an indication that the board will back their manager's judgment, with hard cash, at every step. After all, it hasn't been too wide of the mark so far.

Roeder wants to keep all of them past January 1 - and on the evidence of Saturday that's easy to understand.

If ever there was a game of two halves, this was it: City were dominant in the first, but were stretched to the very limits in the second - which is not to say they didn't play well after 4pm.

When Evans put City ahead for the second time in a matter of days it should have led to more of an advantage by half-time. But Cureton was wasteful with a lob that went over the bar and Darren Huckerby's excellent play down the left too often lacked a final touch.

New skipper Mark Fotheringham was enjoying himself in the middle, alongside Pattison and Smith, and Jon Otsemobor and Camara were pushing up well in attack. Luckily, United looked so very average that you didn't think a narrow lead would be much of a problem.

Not so. As soon as the second half resumed, they were at City's throats. Huckerby became a peripheral figure, prone to the occasional burst, while the full-backs' forward thrusts were severely restricted. But all too often it was Beattie who was United's target and he simply wasn't getting any change out of the home defence. As the minutes ticked by and the urgency of their situation increased, then the visiting attacks became more frenzied - albeit all too familiar.

Time, then, for a cool head: enter Dion Dublin for one of the best cameo performances you are likely to see.

It's not that he ever looked like scoring, but at 1-0 his job was all about ensuring no one else did either. And as the game entered its final five minutes he did that to perfection. A cross from Keith Gillespie wide left was for all the world heading for Beattie at the back post, until Dublin's 38-year-old legs found an extra spring from somewhere, enabling him to rise high and clear the ball.

It was a header that, in the final analysis, probably earned City their win. Had he not made it then even Beattie, at the end of a long, wet, miserable afternoon, would surely have scored.

United will then point to the goal that never was, when Gillespie's cross from the right was headed home by Matthew Kilgallon - and as United's players ran towards their delirious fans, their path was blocked by one of the bravest linesmen you will ever see - with his right arm raised indicating offside.

TV replays were inconclusive - Roeder said he hadn't seen them while Robson's reaction at the final whistle when he stormed the pitch to confront referee Darren Deadman and his absence from the post-match press conference suggested he had.

And one or two people who came out of the home dressing room and who shall remain nameless suggested that this time, City had ridden their luck and that the official had got it wrong.

They say your luck deserts you when things aren't going well.

Lady Luck has clearly returned.