IT promises to shred the nerves of seasoned professionals and supporters alike.
But Jamie Murphy, whose goal enabled Sheffield United to seize control of the tightest race for promotion League One has witnessed in recent years, is loving every single minute.
The former Scotland under-21 international was on target for the second time since leaving Motherwell last month as Danny Wilson’s side surged to the summit of the table courtesy of an impressive win over opponents harbouring high hopes of promotion themselves.
That Bournemouth, beaten for the second time in succession, slipped from second to sixth as a result only served to underline how the margins for error towards the top of English football’s most competitive division remain uncomfortably slim.
Having spent the vast majority of his career being forced to simply make up the numbers, though, Murphy is determined to savour rather than shy away from the challenge ahead.
“It feels great to be actually going for a title,” he said. “In Scotland it was always a case of trying to stay as close as possible to Rangers or Celtic and trying to be the best of the rest as it were.
“You had a chance of getting a cup or into Europe but realistically that was it.
“The chance to be involved in this type of situation - to have an opportunity of actually winning the league - was one of the reasons why I wanted to come down here.
“We knew this was a big, big game and so to come away with something is tremendous. But we haven’t achieved anything yet.”
Murphy’s effort, which came after his initial shot had thundered back off the foot of a post, applied the finishing touch to a performance memorable for its discipline and attention to detail.
Maxim Demin, Bournemouth’s billionaire benefactor, might prefer to keep a low profile but the influence the Russian’s roubles has bought is abundantly clear, with players such as Matt Ritchie and Ryan Fraser arriving at Goldsands Stadium in recent weeks.
Despite that abundance of attacking talent, Eddie Howe’s men struggled to find a way through a well-marshalled rearguard whose task was made easier by striker Dave Kitson’s willingness to defend from the front and another wily contribution from experienced midfielder Barry Robson.
With youngsters such as Murphy and Ryan Flynn meticulously severing the supply lines to Lewis Grabban, responsible for one of
Bournemouth‘s few attempts of note, the game-plan Wilson had devised was followed to the letter.
“Having people like Barry around, who has been there, seen it and done it for Celtic, is a real help,” Murphy said. “We’ve got a lot of experience in the team and that helps to drive the rest of us on and react to things in the right way.
“Keeping our focus and concentration is massively important. It sounds boring but we
really have to just take things one game at a time.
“There are a lot of good sides in this league. You’ve only got to look at how it’s stacking up to see that so, personally speaking, I think the psychological aspect could be key.”
“The manager, his assistant (Frank Barlow) and Morgs (coach Chris Morgan) help us to maintain that,” Murphy added. “We listen to them and they give us all the right instructions.
“They keep us calm and keep everyone’s feet on the ground.”
United, who return to action against Leyton Orient tomorrow, had beaten Bournemouth 5-3 at Bramall Lane earlier this term. The latest meeting between these two teams, however, proved a much closer and more tetchy affair, with Wilson accusing Brett Pitman of feigning injury in a unsuccessful attempt to get Neill Collins sent off.
Robson, one of four players cautioned by referee Gary Sutton, saw a long-range drive rattle Shwan Jalal’s crossbar before George Long produced a fine save to deny Grabban.
It was the last time Bournemouth managed to trouble the United goalkeeper, although Long was forced to tip Harry Maguire’s sliced clearance on to the roof of his net after Collins’ free-kick had set in motion the chain of events which ended with Murphy clinically converting midway through the first period.
Danny Higginbotham tested Jalal with a header from Robson’s centre while Kitson twice came agonisingly close to connecting with two more corners.
United, who lead second-placed Swindon Town by a point, enter their fixture with Orient searching for a fifth straight victory.
Murphy said: “Every single game is going to be important for us now. We know that and there could be lots of twists and turns yet. So we’ve just got to keep plugging and chipping away - working hard on everything we do.”