Three days ago, Nigel Clough was outlining his plans for Sheffield United to the media after being unveiled as David Weir’s permanent successor at Bramall Lane.
Seventy-two hours later, the time had come to try and implement them against arguably the most unpredictable team in League One competition.
Crewe Alexandra arrived in South Yorkshire having incurred the wrath of their manager Steve Davis after losing heavily to Stevenage in midweek.
But the visitors, who reported for duty less than an hour before kick-off due to traffic congestion, have also claimed some impressive scalps this term. Here, they started in encouraging fashion before crumbling alarmingly.
Clough, who gave Chris Morgan a very public pat on the back in the technical area in recognition of his contribution after taking caretaker charge of the club, watched from the technical area as a midfield arm wrestle quickly developed.
Some looping balls over the top threatened to send King, restored to the starting eleven, and Taylor through.
But clear cut chances, for United at least, proved to be at a premium until MAGUIRE edged them in front midway through the opening period.
Steve Davis, the Crewe manager, had questioned his players’ bravery ahead of this afternoon’s contest.
They demonstrated plenty of enthusiasm during the early exchanges here though, with Oliver sending a fifth minute header wide of the far post from Moore’s raking free-kick.
Seven minutes later, Osman drew a smart save from Long when the United goalkeeper was forced to acrobatically tip the ball behind.
Despite both team’s footballing principles, the match continued to unfold in fractious fashion. However, in the 19th minute, United took the lead.
McGinn swept a free-kick, taken from near the corner flag, deep into Steve Phillips’ penalty box. The Crewe defence hesitated but Maguire stayed switched on and stooped to head the ball into the back of the net before wheeling away in delight.
The centre-half’s intervention signalled a sea-change with a delightful move, insitgated by Flynn, ending with Taylor forcing Phillips to make a smart reaction block.
Cracks were beginning to appear in the Crewe defence and, in the 30th minute, MAGUIRE claimed his second with another header.
Again, McGinn was the provider and when the visitors failed to deal with the Scot’s corner, his unmarked team mate was on hand to direct the ball back across goal. Clough punched the air in delight while Davis simply shook his head. The youngster impressed again, albeit at the other end of the pitch, as the interval approached, to prevent Oliver reaching Moore’s searching centre as Crewe showed signs of life.
The first-half, despite a couple of early scares, had transpired to be a pretty comfortable journey for United.
The second began exactly the same way with McGinn, who has improved immeasurably in recent weeks, seeing a shot charged down after powering towards The Kop.
Nevertheless, Moore wasted a glorious chance to reduce the deficit when, inexplicably, he elected to shoot rather than head after meeting Grant’s cross.
It proved to be a costly miscalculation when, in the 57th minute, Maguire won a challenge in midfield and FLYNN, after seizing on the ball, drilled a low shot between Phillips’ outstretched palm and the near post from long-range. Turton, still feeling the after effects of Maguire’s determination to win the ball, was duly substituted with Aneke entering the fray.
King received a warm reception from the near 19,000 crowd when he made way for Miller with 21 minutes remaining.
Soon after Collins came within a whisker of claiming United’s fourth but his prodded shot, following another a set-piece, was collected by Phillips. Inman, later substituted in favour of Clayton, was cautioned for dissent soon after, with Collins and Davis becoming involved in an exchange of words.
The Crewe substitute blazed wastefully wide but, having seen Aneke clip the crossbar, CLAYTON did open Crewe’s account in the 77th minute after latching onto his team mate’s through ball.
Collins tried to intervene but, as Long advanced, was beaten by a low stabbed shot.
In the 82nd minute, Taylor was withdrawn as Coady was introduced to bolster United’s midfield and, as Cuvelier waited to step off the bench, Aneke struck a dangerous looking free-kick against the wall. With less than 60 seconds left on the clock, the Belgian make his entrance, with Lappin making way.