There is a banner at the Stretford End of Old Trafford which reads 28 years and ticking.

That is how long since Manchester City last won a trophy, and gloating United fans update the number for every season their rivals remain potless.

Perhaps somewhere in Sheffield there is something similar to mark the Bantams'

barren run.

It is now 25 games since City managed to beat either side from the Steel city.

The last time they saw off either United or Wednesday was April 1988 in the "nearly" season when goals from John Hendrie and Ian Ormondroyd clinched a 2-1 win at Bramall Lane.

Stix, who still recalls his far-post header that day, was there on Saturday in the radio booth. But few of us saw any hope of history repeating itself.

Sheffield United away is hard enough at the best of times. Then consider the pounding the dressing room has taken in the last week or so and Bryan Robson's men surely didn't stand an earthly.

Since their last trip to South Yorkshire a fortnight earlier, Robson had been robbed of five players including skipper David Wetherall, who aggravated a calf problem in training.

Add to that list Alan Combe - still suspended - and Ipswich hanging on to Alun Armstrong and it was an achievement that Robson got a team out at all. As it is, 39-year-old goalkeeping coach Andy Rhodes had to be hastily registered to take the fifth spot on the bench.

And if City's preparations weren't hampered enough, halfway down the M1 the ferocious wind ripped the sun roof off the team coach. Another sign from the footballing Gods!

Yet as the players boarded the battered bus for the trip home afterwards, most were scratching their heads at not taking any reward with them.

On a day when football was near impossible at times, City had more than matched their high-flying Yorkshire neighbours. But they had nothing to show for it, apart from another hard-luck story after switching off fatally for a couple of minutes on the hour.

They dozed off twice in that brief spell and the home side seized the chance to somehow manoeuvre themselves within eight points of Norwich and West Brom in the automatic promotion slots.

Dean Windass predicts more play-off misery for Sheffield United. He reckons the top two are guaranteed and the third promotion ticket will be snapped up by West Ham.

The noisy City fans who were there on Saturday will not argue with that.

It was hardly the best day to judge anyone's credentials, but the Blades lacked a cutting edge. Andy Gray did little to upset his old pals and novice keeper Clint Davies was more troubled by the wind than anyone in a red and white shirt.

Windass, captain for the day in Wetherall's absence, won a toss of Michael Vaughan proportions and opted to make his motley crew play into the gale first half.

Given the wind assistance, the desperate need for points, and the makeshift make-up of the visitors you expected the home side to throw everything at the City box and pile in like an ugly couple at a wife-swapping party.

But the anticipated battering failed to materialise. The rejigged back four, in which left-footer Wayne Jacobs came out of exile to shine at right back, kept the Blades at arm's length as Davies suffered few uncomfortable moments.

Peter Atherton, adapting well to a return to centre half, held his breath after tugging back Jack Lester when through. But fortunately the card from sensible referee Phil Joslin was only yellow and Michael Tonge wasted the free-kick.

Atherton bailed out his keeper midway through the first half after the wind completely deceived Davies in the corner of the box. He found himself stranded by a ball that suddenly died allowing Dutch winger Dries Boussatta to poke the ball beyond him but Atherton was sweeping up behind.

Davies admitted: "I've never seen wind like that in my life. Birmingham's training ground is pretty windy because it's open but it never goes across the pitch diagonally like that.

"You couldn't tell what it was going to do next. Sometimes the ball would come through, then it would hold up.

"The wind was just swirling around from the open end of the stadium. Even when you put the ball down for a goal kick it was blowing away all the time."

Davies got a decisive punch to a wind-aided inswinging corner by Boussatta on the half hour to take it away from Gray and then Mark Bower was alert to Lester's presence after Gray's cross hovered dangerously across the six-yard box.

Tonge cut in to test Davies from 20 yards but it was City who finished the half on top, creating a couple of half-chances which were as good as anything conjured up at the other end.

Paul Heckingbottom drifted a free-kick just over the angle and then nodded down a Jacobs ball to Paul Evans, whose crisp volley rifled the wrong side of the post. As the whistle sounded, Robson - who had resisted the temptation to ditch his 4-3-3 formation - was entitled to be a happy man.

He said: "Considering all the disruptions we've had building up to the game I was quite pleased to go in at 0-0. It was very difficult to get the ball down and play attractive football but we still managed to do that more than them."

Sheffield United had been booed off and the natives were growing more restless by the minute.

City tried to seize the initiative and Michael Branch fired over with his only chance while Tom Kearney, making his first start since the FA Cup third round, drove wide from distance.

Neil Warnock gambled with a double substitution and threw on two more strikers. Within two minutes the move paid off with a goal, although fingers had to be pointed at City's lackadaisical marking.

Seventeen-year-old Jon Forte, one of the new arrivals from the bench, used his pace to win a corner which proved City's undoing.

The markers were still picking up men in the box as Tonge rolled it short to Stuart McCall. With City slow to react to the impending danger, McCall returned it to Tonge who had worked a better angle to bend a cross towards the penalty area where Chris Morgan was waiting with a stooping header to sneak his first league goal for the club past the statuesque Davies.

Suddenly all City's good work had been undone. And while the inquest was going on, Sheffield United struck again for good measure.

The second was down to a huge assist from the wind as both centre halves were taken out by the conditions.

Atherton went to clear a long ball but the gust sent it scooting off the back of his

head, fooling Bower who had moved across

to cover. He stretched out a leg in desperation but ended up in a heap and Lester latched

on to the chance and slotted it round the keeper.

The game was up although, to their credit, City had a go in the closing stages.

Branch and Windass nearly nicked the ball off Paddy Kenny when he got into difficulties with a back pass caught on the breeze and the former Park Avenue stopper had to produce a diving save on his own line to keep out a corner from Paul Evans which Tonge had missed in front of him.

For the last 20 minutes Robson threw on Rob Wolleaston for his first senior action since Watford back in October. He got up to speed pretty quickly considering his only competitive matches since were two trial outings for Wimbledon reserves.

Wolleaston should have had a goal three minutes from time. Evans sent a raking ball down the left wing for Lewis Emanuel to chase, and the youngster, who had made little impression, whipped in a decent pass to the six-yard box.

Wolleaston met it first time but Kenny got his considerable frame in the way and held on at the second attempt before the ball could be blown over the line.