FOR Crewe Alexandra, tonight’s fixture at Gresty Road is a prelude to their big cup final. For Sheffield United, it is the first of 10 showpiece events between now and the end of the League One campaign.
Danny Wilson’s side will lock horns with Steve Davis’ charges knowing only a win will guarantee they remain second in the rankings. And that victory would also prove their vow to hunt down leaders Doncaster Rovers is no empty threat.
“We’ve entered the final straight now,” Wilson, the United manager, said last night. “There aren’t many games left but every one of them is going to be a test.
“When you get to this stage, when you get to the business end of the season, you’ve got to try and pull something extra out of the bag, do whatever you can to improve even more and find an extra edge.
“If you can’t do that, if you can’t have that mentality, then you’ve got to question yourselves but I’ve got no concerns about the attitude of my lads.
“We are going there aiming for three points. Hopefully we can bring them back.”
Should United achieve that objective, they will climb to the top of the rankings if leaders Doncaster Rovers are beaten by Carlisle.
Wilson, though, is mindful that Crewe are dangerous opposition. Davis’ team, who will contest the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy with Southend next month, have frustrated many of the division’s supposed superpowers since clinching promotion last term.
And, comfortably positioned in mid-table, can go about the business with a freedom those jostling for a place in the Championship lack.
“Steve has done very well there,” Wilson said. “The fact that they’re safe might help them to relax more.
“If you do that, however, it can go one of two ways. Either it encourages you to play with a freedom and that brings out the best in you or you lose a little bit of your edge.
“That’s not our concern though. We’ve got a saying here that the only thing we are really bothered about is the things that we can actually control.
“And that, of course, is ourselves.”
Three days ago, when MK Dons visited South Yorkshire, United were held to their second straight goalless draw at home.
Nevertheless, Wilson’s squad have been mightily impressive on the road with four of their previous five victories coming away from Bramall Lane.
“It was exactly as we expected against MK,” he continued. “The way they played made it a very technical game.
“I thought overall we played well, although of course we were disappointed not to take the three points the lads probably deserved.
“The biggest frustration was some of the refereeing decisions which went against us. But overall, performance wise, I thought the boys did well.”
“We didn’t pick up any injuries,” added Wilson. “And we’ve had a few more days to work with Jamie (Murphy) and Jonathan (Forte) which has been a blessing.
“That will be really beneficial for them because they weren’t quite at 100 per cent (against the Dons).
“But we’ve had more time to work with them now after their first game back.
“So that’s a real plus from our perspective.”
United, unbeaten in seven, have not conceded a goal since Stephen McGinn netted a consolation for Shrewsbury Town when the two clubs met at Greenhous Meadow last month.
Wilson said: “We’ve been very solid on our travels of late.
“We’ve kept our shape well and we know that we’ve got players in the team who can nick a goal. That’s a record we want to be intact after this one. “We’ll be working hard to ensure that’s the case.”