Nigel Clough has gone to great lengths to rubbish talk of promotion after orchestrating a dramatic change in fortune at Bramall Lane.
But, after Sheffield United’s winning sequence continued, he is facing arguably the most futile challenge of his managerial career.
Clough scrunched his face and insisted only those with a fragile grip on reality believed the play-offs were an achievable target when discussing the matter three days earlier, after beating MK Dons.
But that result, United’s seventh straight victory in all competitions, inevitably convinced some that top-six qualification was not an impossible dream, with Jose Baxter happily admitting as much on the eve of last night’s contest.
With Ben Davies’ 48th-minute strike complemented by a late effort from substitute Chris Porter, Baxter is now unlikely to be the only dissenting voice behind the scenes.
The odds are still stacked against United forcing themselves into the end -of-season knockouts.
But, in every other sense, the numbers stack up.
United, who have now taken maximum points from their previous six League One fixtures, ended the evening boasting a fifth consecutive clean sheet.
When Joe Newell summed up Peterborough’s thoroughly lamentable contribution by fluffing a golden chance to reduce the deficit at the death, it meant they have also gone over nine hours without conceding a goal.
Terry Kennedy impressed at the heart of United’s back four and went about his business with a sense of conviction the visitors, given Clough’s decision to change over half of his team, inexplicably lacked.
But it was Davies who, having earlier seen Stephen McGinn and Billy Paynter go close, ensured his colleague’s efforts did not go unrewarded during the early skirmishes of the second half.
The vastly-experienced midfielder, described by Clough as being “absolutely magic from set-pieces” soon after arriving on loan from Derby County, lived up to his billing by powering an unstoppable finish into the roof of the net following Shaun Brisley’s foul.
When Porter claimed his ninth of the campaign during the closing stages, United’s rise to 10th in the table - eight points behind their sixth-placed opponents - was assured.
The League One landscape has significantly changed since Darren Ferguson, whose previously free-scoring team has now netted just twice in five matches, accused United of “parking the bus” during October’s stalemate at London Road.
Peterborough prepared for that contest second in the table and on the back of a five-match winning streak.
Five months later and, having lost 12 of their 27 outings since, the visitors arrived hoping to cement a top-six place rather than challenge for an immediate return to the Championship after being relegated in heartbreaking fashion last term.
United, meanwhile, are on an upward curve.
An FA Cup quarter-final against Charlton Athletic looming large on the horizon, is likely to have been responsible for Clouigh’s decision to make six changes to a starting 11 which has been a model of consistency in recent weeks.
Kennedy, making only the fourth appearance of his senior career, was tasked with helping Neill Collins anchor United’s rearguard while Callum Mc
Fadzean, Shaun Miller and Billy Paynter were also recalled.
Fears that Clough’s selection policy would produce a disjointed performance were extinguished as early as the second minute when Kennedy, whose whole-hearted displays at under-21 level have caught the former England international’s eye, nearly bundled both ball and marker into the back of the net after an intricate passing move forced Peterborough to concede a corner.
They survived another scare midway through the opening period when Mark Little was inches away from slicing Miller’s centre beyond Bobby Olejnik while McFadzean saw another powerful effort deflected wide moments before succumbing to injury.
Inevitably, though, there were aspects of United’s work which betrayed their unfamiliar line-up.
Another corner, conceded following a mix-up between Mark Howard and Terry Kennedy, ended with Collins giving his own goalkeeper a scare while Danny Swanson’s close-range effort was smothered after the back four was prised apart by Jack Baldwin’s perfectly-flighted pass.
Peterborough, however, lacked either the courage or purpose to exploit those poor lines of communication.
Instead it was United who continued to enjoy the better of both territory and possession.
Only the width of the post prevented McGinn, following a 38th-minute exchange between Conor Coady and Michael Doyle, from giving the hosts the lead.
Miller set in motion the chain of events which allowed Davies to break the deadlock by drawing Brisley’s 48th-minute foul.
Porter went close after replacing the industrious Paynter before Flynn drilled just past the foot of Olejnik’s right-hand upright.
However, the substitute striker made no mistake with an emphatic finish as United recorded an eighth straight success for the first time since December 2011.
GOALS: Davies (48), Porter (88).
SHEFFIELD UNITED: Howard 6, Hill 6, Doyle 7, Miller 6, McGinn 7 (Scougall 53, 6), Collins 7, Coady 7, Paynter 7 (Porter 66, 6), Davies 7, McFadzean 6 (Flynn 26, 6), Kennedy, 7. Not used: Harris, Baxter, Long, Reed.
PETERBOROUGH UNITED: Olejnik 6, Alcock 5 (Newell 64, 6), Brisley 7, Baldwin 5, Swanson 7, McCann 5, Rowe 5, Ajose 6, Washington 5 (Bostwick 54, 6), Little 6, McQuoid 5 (Assombalonga 54, 6). Not used: Ntlhe, Bostwick, Payne, Day, Kearns.
REFEREE: Nigel Miller (County Durham).