World champion boxer Kell Brook was guest of honour at Bramall Lane this afternoon.
Could Sheffield United, who entered the match against Port Vale without a win in five League One fixtures, also deliver a knockout blow?
The next 90 minutes or so would decide but United, just as manager Nigel Clough had demanded ahead of kick-off, certainly made a bright start with Kieron Freeman and Jason Holt combining well before Matt Done was crowded-out on the edge of the visitors’ six yard box.
Moments later, in the third minute, Paul Coutts swept a fine pass out towards Jose Baxter on the flank.
His final cross was disappointing. Likewise the decision of referee Jeremy Simpson who decided Jamie Murphy had not been impeded by Vale full-back Adam Yates.
Robert Page’s side announced their presence with an intricate exchange instigated by Marcus Marshall before United wrestled back the initiative. Steven Davies, the centre-forward on-loan from Derby County, expertly headed a long ball into Holt’s path before the midfielder was brought down.
Baxter’s free-kick took a wicked deflection off the wall and, from the corner which followed, Davies and Done were both inches away from getting what would surely have been a decisive touch on Coutts’ fiercely driven centre.
The contest, which pitted fifth against 13th in the table, also marked the end of United’s 125th anniversary celebrations and unveiling of next season’s new home strip.
Michael Brown, who was involved in the incident which led to Chris Basham’s dismissal at Vale Park in December, was cautioned for a 17th minute foul on Freeman when a square pass from Baxter fell short.
Murphy’s form has tailed-off slightly of late but, midway through the first-half, he looked back to his old self when he breezed past Yates and unleashed a powerful, rising shot which Chris Neal did well to gather at the first attempt.
Mark Howard also demonstrated good positional sense when, on Vale’s next foray into United territory, he plucked Chris Robertson’s header out of their air following Michael O’Connor’s set-piece.
Neal, however, would have had no chance of stopping Davies’ angled attempt soon after had it been on target but the Vale goalkeeper breathed a sigh of relief when, instead, it flew just past the far post.
In the 29th minute, United took a deserved lead from the penalty spot.
Murphy was brought down by O’Connor, who appeared to raise a high foot, and BAXTER converted in emphatic fashion from the spot. The former Everton and Oldham Athletic youngster was involved in the move which United, until Simpson’s assistant ruled Davies offside, had doubled their advantage almost straight from the re-start.
Coutts joined Brown in the Lancastrian official’s notebook for a deliberate foul on Byron Moore as Vale launched a counter-attack. Basham also had his name taken, albeit harshly, for a 44th minute tackle.
Vale won two quick corners in succession but United dealt with both.
In contrast to the first-half, though, gaps were now appearing in between their midfield and attack which the opposition were able to exploit. A third followed in the 66th minute but Howard came to claim.
United introduced Flynn for Done as they looked to rectify that situation.
But not before Neal saved a first-time effort from Davies after a barnstorming Murphy run past three defenders.
He nearly made an immediate impact, dovetailing with Freeman on the touchline but the latter chose to cross rather than shoot and the moment was gone.
United continued to press for a second goal as the action became ragged. Michael Doyle entered the fray with 10 minutes remaining with Baxter the player to make way. He had performed well before tiring as the afternoon had progressed.
Ryan McGivern was booked for hacking Davies to the turf following a delightful tou8ch and turn from the striker.
United, though, were afforded a huge let-off when Howard slid out of his penalty area clutching the football but neither Simpson or his assistant saw the infringement.
Frederic Vaseli had his name taken as Vale tempers began to fray and the effective Davies nearly wrestled himself into a position to shoot as United continued to probe.
Brown was dismissed in the 90th minute after collecting his second caution for a foul on Flynn. Before play re-started, Craig Alcock replaced Holt as United bolstered their defence.
SHEFFIELD UNITED: Howard, Harris, Brayford, Basham, Murphy, Baxter, Done, Coutts, Freeman, S Davies, Holt. Substitutes: Alcock, Flynn, Doyle, McNulty, B Davies, Turner, Adams.
PORT VALE: Neal, Yates, Robertson, McGivern, Dodd, Williamson, O’Connor, Brown, Moore, Marshall, Veseli. Substitutes: Duffy, Birchall, Pope, Johnson, Daniel, O’Sullivan, Campion.
REFEREE: Jeremy Simpson (Lancashire),