Sheffield United moved out of the League One drop zone after a 1-0 victory over play-off chasing Swindon Town at Bramall Lane.
Swindon Town, now managed by Mark Cooper, have made a pretty decent fist of once again challenging for promotion.
Sheffield United, meanwhile, find themselves embroiled in a battle for survival at the opposite end of the table after enduring a wretched start to the campaign.
Nevertheless, with Nigel Clough’s appointment heralding an improvement in results, the hosts started this afternoon’s contest with high hopes of stretching their unbeaten run to five games.
Despite the opening period ending all-square, United edged it on points although Swindon twice went close during its dying embers.
The early exchanges of the match, against the division’s 20th and seventh placed teams, were predictably frantic as both attempted to wrestle control.
Doyle, snapping like an angry terrier in midfield, quickly made his presence felt. Likewise Murphy who, making his first start since October, tested the visitors’ defence with a driving sixth minute run towards the byline before being forced to check back.
Mason, among several loanees Cooper has poached from Tottenham Hotspur in recent months, required treatment after sustaining a knock as Flynn attempted to dart forward, before Collins was a whisker away from meeting Baxter’s eighth-minute free-kick.
With Clough cajoling from the touchline, United continued to press and Swindon were fortunate to escape when Foderingham spilled McMahon’s rasping 10th minute attempt from range.
Moments later Baxter won another set-piece which, after McMahon’s dummy, the former Everton forward clipped agonisingly off the wall.
Long, who has delivered a series of excellent performances in recent weeks, once again demonstrated his new-found maturity by darting off his line to prevent the ball from reaching Ajose when Swindon looked to spring a counter-attack.
The striker, whose loan from Peterborough expires next month, threatened again soon after but, having swept past Maguire, found Collins impossible to beat.
As the half progressed, though, Swindon began to discover their passing rhythm. Luonho, who Cooper fears could be prised away from the County Ground during next month’s transfer window, glided forward but
Maguire intercepted his pass towards Ajose in the box. Baxter and Coady responded with an excellent exchange of their own but, unfortunately for Clough, the latter lost his footing as he powered towards the half way line.
Six minutes before the interval, Long patted away a low, acutely angled drive, from Ajose before repeating the feat when Mason tried his luck.
United had battled, scrapped and fought for every ball and were unfortunate not to get their reward when, moments before Nathan Thompson was withdrawn in the 52nd minute, three excellent chances were created in the space of 60 seconds.
First, Foderingham turned away Baxter’s shot and, during the melee which followed, Flynn seized possessioon but saw his attempt turned behind for a corner. From the resulting set-piece, Porter did beat Foderingham but was left ruing his luck when a deft side-foot cannoned back off the foot of the post.
Swindon, who had introduced Byrne at the defender’s expense, was prised apart again when Murphy charged towards the byline but, just as Porter primed to shoot, an opponent intervened.
Foderingham was cautioned for time-wasting as Cooper’s men began to creak under pressure, but the free-kick was crowded out.
They finally, and from United’s perspective deservedly, broke in the 66th minute when BAXTER claimed his second in as many games. White delivered a deep cross towards the back of Foderingham’s area which Flynn nodded back into the danger zone and towards the far post. There, in front of The Kop, the Liverpudlian was waiting to head high over the Swindon goalkeeper and across the line.
That was the signal for Cooper to make his second change with Harley coming on for Kasim. Likewise Clough, who introduced Brandy in the 71st minute. Murphy, who had impressed on his return to the starting eleven, was the man to make way in a like for like swap.
N’Guessan entered the fray, with Louis Thompson being withdrawn, as Swindon went in search of an equaliser. Clough, meanwhile, looked to shore things up with Hill replacing White as the visitors gathered some momentum.
Porter made way for Miller soon after but United, despite Swindon’s best efforts, were the ones to claim three precious points.