THEIR rivals keep posing the question and Sheffield United keep conjuring an emphatic response.
For the fourth time in recent weeks, Danny Wilson’s team entered a contest knowing a positive result was required to regain second place in the table.
And for the fourth time they obliged courtesy of this comprehensive victory over game but limited Rochdale last night.
With Huddersfield Town’s hopes of avoiding the play-offs seemingly wrecked by a disastrous Bank Holiday weekend, United now appear to be locked in a game of ‘who blinks first’ with their neighbours Sheffield Wednesday for the runners-up spot behind leaders Charlton Athletic.
But having overcome an early setback - Jason Kennedy edging Rochdale in front with barely two minutes on the clock - the visitors proved they possess the nerve to prevail with a devastating display of power and poise at rain-soaked Spotland.
Predictably it was Ched Evans who embellished United’s performance.
The striker, whose statistics for the season now read 34 goals in only 41 appearances, looked at his unplayable best as he pounced twice during an explosive first-half.
But with Kevin McDonald, Lee Williamson and captain Michael Doyle also joining Evans on the score sheet, the travelling army of supporters who made the journey across the Pennines could not resist the temptation to goad their neighbours by chanting “Not bad for a one man team.”
Whatever else happens between now and the end of an enthralling campaign - whether Wednesday have the last laugh or United hammer home the message in even greater style - that charge can no longer be levelled at the men from Bramall Lane.
Goal difference enhanced and psychological point made.
Temitope Obadeyi’s neat second-half finish after Doyle had embarrassed David Lucas provided little consolation for the hosts.
United’s have played some delicious football en-route to the upper echelons of League One.
But Wilson’s warning that, against opponents in desperate danger of leaving the division through the back rather than front door, they would have to reveal a darker side to their character proved to be correct when Kennedy headed Rochdale in front.
Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro blazed a trail down the flank and delivered the cross which allowed his team mate to climb above Neill Collins and direct the ball home.
But having seen Evans shave the foot of Lucas’ post during a fast and furious start, McDonald ensured that, from United’s perspective at least, the scoreline looked much more palatable by powering the ball into the back of Rochdale’s net barely three minutes later.
Having kicked-off rooted to the bottom of the table and 11 points adrift of safety with only five matches left to play, relegation beckons for John Coleman’s side.
But the former Accrington Stanley chief has clearly instilled some of the fighting spirit which enabled him to beat the odds year after year at the Crown Ground in his players.
Running with gusto and tackling with relish, Rochdale went close again when the dangerous Akpa Akpro flashed a curling shot wide.
But United, with Evans and Richard Cresswell dovetailing perfectly in attack, possessed the greater quality as the Wales international demonstrated by expertly creating the space to edge them in front after his team mate had punished Joe Widdowson’s 22nd minute slip.
Three minutes later, Williamson twisted the knife still further by prodding into an empty net after Stephen Quinn’s shot struck Lucas and spiralled into his path.
With victory assured, that was the cue for United to move through the gears and lace substance with style.
Evans was a whisker away from wriggling beyond his marker again after Cresswell had harassed Kevin Amankwaah into a mistake before testing Widdowson’s resolve once more following Matthew Lowton’s slide rule pass.
Williamson, who failed to appear for the second-half, was inches away from claiming his second of the evening with an angled drive moments before the interval.
But Evans obliged with only seconds of the opening period remaining following a lovely interchange also involving the former Watford midfielder.
As Rochdale unravelled, Doyle converted from long-range in the 57th minute before Obadeyi beat a helpless Steve Simonsen from the edge of the six yard box.
Matthew Lowton thought he had netted United’s sixth but the crossbar came to Rochdale’s rescue.
ROCHDALE: Lucas 5, Widdowson 5, Amankwaah 5, Kennedy 6, Jones 5, Symes 5, Tutte 6, Holden 5, Obadeyi 6, Byrne 5, Akpa Akpro 6. Not used: Edwards, Adams, Twaddle, Thompson, McConville.
SHEFFIELD UNITED: Simonsen 6, Lowton 7, Doyle 7, Evans 8 (O‘Halloran 69), Williamson 7 (Flynn 46), Collins 7, Cresswell 7 (Porter 65), Maguire 7, McDonald 8, Quinn 7, Hill 7. Not used: Howard, Williams.
Cautions: None Red cards
Red cards: None