Sheffield United extended their unbeaten run in League One competition to 11 games by beating MK Dons this afternoon.
Goals in either half from Stefan Scougall and Billy Sharp proved enough to secure the eighth victory of that sequence although, against opponents far, far better than their ranking suggests, they were made to work until the final whistle. And, crucially, survive another test of character after relinquishing the lead.
Dons might be without a manager - Richie Barker being placed in caretaker charge following Karl Robinson's departure earlier in the week - but they were certainly not without a plan. The visitors, who had drawn level when Darren Potter cancelled-out Scougall's opener, were a threat throughout and posed questions of both United's defensive resolve and tactical nous.
But in Sharp, Chris Wilder possesses the type of centre-forward who can come alive in an instant. The United captain did exactly that when, following Potter's intervention, he netted his 10th goal of the campaign. There were some more nervous moments but, much to the 20, 495 strong crowd's relief, no more twists.
United's decision to change formation earlier this season did Scougall no favours. But the former Scotland under-21 international remains a key member of Wilder's squad. With an injury to Matt Done meaning Wilder was forced to dismantle an attack which entered this game having scored 10 times in three outings, Scougall was handed a chance to impress and obliged by steering home beyond David Martin as United made a positive start.
Dons, though, demonstrated that the league table can lie by preventing the hosts from extending their advantage and piecing together some ominious looking moves of their own. One such passage of play, early in the second-half, saw Richie Barker's side draw level courtesy of Potter's clinical finish.
It was no surprise. Dons, who began the afternoon languishing just a place above the relegation zone, looked anything but a team in danger of slipping into League Two. But, as the momentum appeared to be in danger of shifting, Sharp pounced to claim his fifth goal in only three games. Again Scougall was involved, superbly keeping a Paul Coutts centre in play before his colleague prodded home.
News that Done had suffered a fractured jaw during last weekend's visit to Bradford City dashed Wilder's hopes of naming an unchanged starting eleven. With the former Rochdale and Barnsley striker confined to the treatment room, presumably for a pretty lengthy spell, Scougall was tasked with partnering Billy Sharp in attack.
Caolan Lavery, who is yet to make his full debut for United after rejecting Sheffield Wednesday's offer of a new contract, had been considered as a possible replacement. But Scougall's energy, and ability to implement Wilder's high-pressing game, meant he got the nod instead. It quickly proved to be exactly the right call.
Sharp, fresh from scoring twice in each of his last two outings, predictably began on the front foot with a teasing run towards the byline. But it was Scougall who broke the deadlock following a fifth minute skirmish in Martin's penalty area. Chris Basham was crowded out as he primed to shoot before John Fleck, showing good composure, recycled the ball for his team mate to convert on the turn.
Dons, who had earlier forced Simon Moore to make a good reaction save to deny Ben Reeves, are clearly a more dangerous team than their position in the table beforehand suggested. Switching play and passing with precision, they tested United's defensive organisation on several occasions during the opening exchanges. But United went close to scoring again when
Daniel Lafferty met his fellow wing-back Kieron Freeman's cross the to the far post only to head into the side-netting from close range.
Barker, taking charge of his first game since replacing Robinson at the helm on an interim basis, recalled Dean Lewington, Joe Walsh and Ed Upson for the trip to South Yorkshire. The changes, combined with Dons' numerical superiority in central midfield, prompted United to move Basham forward. With 28 minutes gone, though, Dons were forced to reshuffle their system themselves when an injury to Samir Carruthers saw Kieran Agard enter the fray.
Freeman's quick throw presented Sharp with an opportunity to unleash a curling effort which flew just past Martin's far post. A long-range attempt from Fleck followed the same trajectory in the 34th minute while Martin was hurried into quickly clearing his lines when Scougall chased down a loose ball. Jack Hendry joined Freeman in referee Simon Hooper's notebook for a foul on Sharp.
George Baldock was also cautioned for a late challenge on Mark Duffy moments before the interval. Four minutes after it, Dons drew level when Potter rifled home into the bottom corner of Moore's net. In the 64th minute, and after his team had come under some severe pressure, Sharp restored United's lead with a trademark poacher's strike. Scougall provided the assist before being scythed down by Walsh who was duly booked and then substituted for Caolan Lavery.
Meanwhile, United's under-18's triumphed 2-0 at Hull City earlier today. Tyler Smith and Jordan Hallam both scored. United's under-16's won 1-0.
Sheffield United: Moore, Fleck, Basham, Scougall (Lavery 74), Sharp, Wright, Coutts, Freeman, Ebanks-Landell, Duffy (O'Connell 90), Lafferty. Not used: Ramsdale, Brown, Whiteman, Chapman, Brooks.
MK Dons: Martin, Baldock, Lewington, Walsh, Upson, Carruthers (Agard 28) Potter, Bowditch (Powell 79), Reeves, Hendry, Colclough (Maynard 61). Not used: GC Williams, GB Williams, Nicholls, Downing.
Referee: Simon Hooper (Wiltshire). Attendance: 20,495.