IT was far from big and at times, particularly towards the end of a fractious second half, not particularly clever, but this victory over Carlisle proved Sheffield United are prepared to employ substance as well as style in pursuit of promotion.
With their rivals towards the top of the table all enjoying successful afternoons in the November sunshine and prospective new signing James Beattie watching from the stands, Danny Wilson’s side produced a performance which, although far from inspiring, ultimately delivered three more precious League One points.
Wilson, the United manager, has espoused an expansive approach since accepting the challenge of bringing Championship football back to Bramall Lane following last season’s relegation.
His description of the South Yorkshire club’s “fantastic” achievement against spirited opponents will inevitably raise eyebrows among some sections of the home support, but striker Richard Cresswell endorsed the former Northern Ireland international’s claim that it made a mockery of suggestions they lack the mental or physical fortitude to prevail in what already promises to be a long, drawn-out and bitter campaign.
“That was a big result for us,” Cresswell said. “I know (Carlisle manager) Greg Abbott well and he always makes sure his teams are well-organised, hard-working and difficult to beat.
“We needed to mix things up out there and battle. That’s exactly what we did. We’ve been letting in too many goals at home but out there we worked hard from front to back.
“That’s what you need to do to have a successful season. Of course we want to play good football but that counts for nothing if you aren’t prepared to roll up your sleeves as well.
“Getting a clean sheet was really important for us and, to be honest, I think it was deserved.”
Had Cresswell not missed a penalty midway through the final period then United, who saw Ched Evans claim the only goal of the game before the break, would not have been forced to endure such an anxious finish.
But with Neill Collins and Marcus Williams superbly marshalling a defence which has appeared worryingly porous of late, their proflicagy rarely looked like being punished.
Indeed, Lee Miller’s long-range effort apart, Carlisle, who had travelled eastwards unbeaten in four outings, enjoyed few clear-cut opportunities to claim one of the division’s most prized scalps.
Evans, who initially appeared unwilling to let Cresswell take the 70th-minute spot-kick Christian Ribeiro had conceded with a foul on substitute Ryan Flynn, embellished his burgeoning reputation with a lively shift before being withdrawn during the closing stages.
United’s failure to exploit their advantage in terms of territory and possession will inevitably increase the clamour for Beattie, a free agent after being released by Glasgow Rangers, to be brought on board irrespective of concerns about his fitness.
But, on this occasion at least, the hosts can take consolation from the fact their lack of bite going forward was masked by their ruthlessness at the back.
“Yes, Ched wanted to take the spot-kick but I told him I was,” Cresswell said.
“I mis-hit it; it wasn’t good but it wasn’t the end of the world either.
“We spoke a lot beforehand about the need for us to keep people at bay and for everyone, not just the defenders, to contribute.
“Did Carlisle really force Simmo (Steve Simonsen) to make a save? I don’t think they did.”
Lee Williamson, who later limped off after taking a blow to a leg, had already seen a thunderous shot palmed on to a post by Simonsen’s opposite number, Adam Collin, before taking the corner which Cresswell helped into Evans’ path.
The Welshman, whose duel with Lubomir Michalik made compelling viewing, should have taken his tally for the season to nine soon after converting from close-range but was thwarted by the giant Slovak.
Stephen Quinn wasted another chance to extend United’s lead moments before the interval and, with Francois Zoko’s introduction belatedly giving Carlisle a presence in attack, Cresswell’s miss after Michael Doyle sent Flynn scampering through could have been costly had the visitors’ possessed more guile.
Cresswell said: “So long as we keep on winning then that’s the most important thing.
“We’re not going to roll everyone over. We’re not going to have things all our own way.
“All we can do is keep looking after ourselves and that’s what we did out there today.”