This weekend sees West Brom travel to Bramall Lane to face Sheffield United in a crucial six pointer at the top of the Championship.
It’s the first time the two have met in Championship action for almost nine years, the last game between them being in in January 2010 when the Baggies ran out 3-1 winners.
However, it is a game from 16 years ago that is perhaps the most memorable the two have ever played out. It took place at Bramall Lane on March 16th, 2002 and has gone down in folklore as ‘The Battle of Bramall Lane.’
Whilst both sides are battling for promotion this season, that wasn’t the case with eight games remaining on the 2001/02 season. West Brom were hopeful of a Premier League spot, they were third, 11 points behind second placed Wolves. The Blades harboured no such ambition, they were 15th an already consigned to midtable obscurity under Neil Warnock.
Within nine minutes controversy ensued as Simon Tracey, the Blades keeper, was sent off for denying a goal scoring opportunity. Warnock acted swiftly, sending on his reserve keeper and bring off Peter Ndlovu. That was his first change of the day.
The Baggies took a 1-0 lead through Scott Dobie, a score they retained after half time. Derek McInnes bagged a second for them just after the hour mark, leaving them on course for all three points.
Just three minutes later, the game descended into the farce for which it is still remembered today. Warnock brought on George Santos and Patrick Suffo, looking to make an impression on the game. Both players did just that, Santos with a vicious two-footed lunge on Andy Johnson. There was history between the two, Johnson had injured Santos the year before with a swinging elbow and the Cape Verde international extracted his revenge.
Santos was immediately sent off, and a huge melee ensued, during which Suffo head-butted the Baggies current boss, Darren Moore. He too was sent off, reducing them to eight men having made all of their subs.
The brutality continued, Keith Curle appeared to throw a punch at McInnes but he remained on the field. Scott Dobie, rather inevitably, gave West Brom a 3-0 lead at which point the Sheffield United players began to go down injured. Michael Brown came off in the 79th minute and with eight minutes remaining, Rob Ullathorne also came off injured.
With just six players left on the pitch, referee Eddie Wolstenholme had no choice. He abandoned the game.
Baggies boss Gary Megson fumed afterwards, saying: “There will be no replay. If we are called back to Bramall Lane we shall kick-off and then walk off the pitch. I’ve been in professional football since 16 and I’m 42 now. I’ve never ever witnessed anything as disgraceful as that. There is no place for that in any game of football, let alone professional football.”
Warnock was forced to deny he had looked to cheating to get the game called off, amid allegations he was telling his players to go down: “I can say that 100% I did not tell my players to come off. I was not trying to get the game called off. I accepted we had lost that game and my only thought was that we have a tough game against Millwall on Tuesday night and I didn’t want anyone aggravating their injury.”
The Baggies ended up finishing second in the table and earning themselves a spot in the Premier League. Sheffield United, having been marooned in midtable nothingness, finished in midtable nothingness.
George Santos and Patrick Suffo didn’t play for the club again. The former joined Grimsby in the summer, the latter represented Cameroon in the 2002 World Cup before securing a move to Spain.
No matter how hotly-contested the match is between the two this weekend, both will be hoping it is nowhere near as infamous as the Battle of Bramall Lane.
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