All wins are equal.
But some, Sheffield United goalkeeper Mark Howard acknowledged following this victory over Doncaster Rovers, are more equal than others.
Especially those achieved against a backdrop of negative publicity off the pitch and opponents boasting a numerical advantage on it.
“The first half was tough,” Howard, whose penalty save from Harry Forrester proved crucial after Paddy McCarthy’s dismissal, said. “We didn’t create a lot of chances but, second half, we showed plenty of character, got right out there and made it difficult for them.
“We got a stern speaking-to from the gaffer at half-time. Not a rollicking, just a strong reminder, because he knows what he wants from the game and how he wants us to play.
“He knows how we can play as well. It was more to get on to us to tell us how much better we can do. He questioned us about why we didn’t start the game well.
“But I think the fact that we are up to fifth now, with a game in hand on some of those above us and without reaching our full potential yet, is a real statement of intent.”
Howard, holding court with the media on Saturday evening, was discussing a result which did indeed lift Nigel Clough’s side above Peterborough, Rochdale and MK Dons in the League One table. Just as importantly, it also helped swing the news agenda away from Ched Evans and on to purely sporting matters. For the time being at least.
“It’s probably easier for us, the players, to focus than a lot of other people,” Howard said. “All we think about is taking things on a step-by-step basis.
“We want to win every match and the next one is always the most important so that’s all I keep my mind on.
“You can ignore it as much as you want to or you can read into it as much as you want to. I just try to get on with my own life and concentrate on doing my job.
“Really, it’s as simple as that.”
Around 70 hours of football will decide whether United are competing at Championship level next season. But four minutes and 13 seconds of action at the Keepmoat Stadium has the potential to shape the rest of their campaign.
McCarthy, on loan from Crystal Palace, was sen off for a trip on James Coppinger as Rovers embarked upon a rare foray forward before the resulting penalty, surprisingly taken by Forrester rather than Nathan Tyson, was expertly parried away.
United, who had also lost midfielder James Wallace to injury, twisted the knife deeper when Jamie Murphy darted upfield and swept a superb finish beyond Sam Johnstone to score what proved to be the only goal of the contest.
Attention to detail was key.
“Mikey Allen, our video analyst, is massive for us,” Howard explained. “He comes to me before every game and tells me their top three penalty-takers and what they do so fair credit to him as well.
“I’ve got to save it, but he helps me with the homework so it definitely helps.
“I was surprised Forrester took it. Before the game we spoke about howTyson had taken their last two and taken them really good as well.
“Obviously I’m just pleased to save it, and it worked out well for the team. It brought us together.
“The sending-off changed the game. Of course, we didn’t want to lose someone as good or as influential as Paddy but, in a stange way, it galvanised us as a team.”
United, who host Crewe Alexandra in an FA Cup first-round replay tomorrow evening, deserved their first win over Rovers since September 2008. Although Howard denied Coppinger with another reflex block midway through the first half, Stefan Scougall and Jose Baxter had already gone close before Murphy’s dramatic intervention while Jamal Campbell-Ryce was denied what Clough correctly described as a “stonewall penalty” moments before the break.
“When the penalty was given and the red card shown, everyone probably thought it would be 1-0 to Doncaster,” Clough said.
“But sometimes it takes a bit of adversity to bring the character and the spirit out.
“We’ve been playing well recently but without getting the breaks. We’ve got that win, which I think we warranted, so let’s kick on.”
Although Rovers possessed plenty of endeavour, they lacked the nous, unlike United, to make it count.
Liam Wakefield’s poor concentration nearly cost the home side dear during the early skirmishes but, after presenting possession to Murphy, the Scot’s pass towards Baxter went awry while Curtis Main was fortunate to only be cautioned once, rather than twice, by referee Keith Hill whose decision-making often perplexed both camps.
When Enda Stevens, who had already been booked, hauled down Campbell-Ryce inside the box the officials decided the offence took place a yard further back. Whether the likes of Andy Butler, prohibited from taking part under the terms of his loan from United, would have been guilty of the same naievity is debatable.
Rovers’ defence has been breached only once during the two appearances Butler has made after being allowed to depart by United compared to six in its last three without him.
With nearly 4,300 fans making the short journey along the M18, Howard said: “Our away support is amazing. They almost take over some stadiums, as they did today. At some points out there, all you can hear is them and, make no mistake, that’s a massive plus for us.”