IF last weekend’s tussle with Wycombe exposed some uncomfortable truths about Sheffield United’s League One credentials then tomorrow’s against Charlton Athletic promises to be even more revealing.
Win and Danny Wilson’s side will be feted as one of the ‘teams to beat’ in a competition high on commitment but low on genuine class.
Lose and, having already been dispatched by Huddersfield, murmurs they are nothing more than playground bullies will begin reverberating around Bramall Lane.
Theories which, with the 2011/12 season still at an embryonic stage, would both be without substantive foundation.
But, in the excitable world of Planet Football, inevitable nonetheless.
“What happens this month is not going to decide where you finish in the league,” Wilson insisted. “I know from experience that no-one is going to run away with this league.”
The sight of United spurning a hatful of opportunities en route to a shock 1-0 defeat at Wycombe only fuels suspicions they lack the prolific goalscorer required to enhance their top-six credentials.
Publicly, Wilson has refused to enter the debate, preferring instead to laud the qualities of Richard Cresswell, Ched Evans and Chris Porter.
Privately, however, his refusal to quash talk of a move for James Beattie suggests he would also like to strengthen, although with Evans’ long-term future in South Yorkshire shrouded in doubt, it would be remiss not to consider possible alternatives.
Marcus Williams, who has been passed fit to face Athletic, could also be invited to extend his loan from Reading.
“We’ll speak to all of the parties involved,” said Wilson. “Marcus, his agent and most importantly his parent club.
“At this moment in time it’s a long shot but it really all is down to Reading, although we’d like to keep him if we possible can.”
If United’s manager seeks a solution in the loan market, then new chief executive Julian Winter’s presence means he is likely to turn to a player already on the scouting department’s radar.
Winter, who successfully steered Watford during a period of financial uncertainty, insists he will not look to replicate lock stock and barrel the methods which proved so effective at Vicarage Road.
But the level of scrutiny he demanded potential signings were subjected to - six reports apparently being complied before any purchase was even considered - seems certain to be adopted as Winter looks to reduce the number of costly mistakes Wilson’s predecessors made when it came to recruitment.
“We are always looking for the right piece of the jigsaw,” Wilson said. “That process never ceases but I’ve got to say that the performances of the players we have here is very good and that reduces the pressure.
“Everyone told me that last year, the number of loans were part of our Achilles heel and so we always want to be careful.
“But we never, ever stop looking.”
Teams and ref
UNITED (possible): Simonsen, Lowton, Collins, Maguire, Williams, Mendez-Laing, Doyle, McDonald, Quinn, Cresswell, Evans (4-4-2).
ATHLETIC (possible): Hamer, Morrison, Taylor, Wiggins, Solly, Jackson, Stephens, Wagstaff, Hollands, Hayes, Wright-Phillips (4-4-2).
Scott Mathieson: The Cheshire official booked three Sheffield United players - Nyron Nosworthy, Andy Reid and Kyle Bartley - on his last visit to Bramall Lane, last season’s 3-2 defeat by Hull on Boxing Day. Averages 2.8 cautions per game this term.
United lead Athletic by 27 victories to 19 in previous meetings between these two sides. 17 contests, including 2007’s Premier League fixture at The Valley, have ended in draws.
One to watch
Bradley Wright Phillips, the former Manchester City, Southampton and Plymouth striker is the visitors’ leading scorer with six goals so far this season. All of those efforts have come in his last seven games.