Nigel Adkins swats away questions about transfers and tactics with a bat so straight, Geoffrey Boycott would turn green with envy.
But last night’s match at Whaddon Road, otherwise known as the World of Smile Stadium, provided yet more clues about the approach his Sheffield United team will adopt when it returns to competitive action next month.
For the second outing in succession, Adkins utlised all of the options at his disposal against Gary Johnson’s new-look Cheltenham Town. Yet, despite the wholesale changes and seemingly endless substitutions which characterise football at this stage of the summer, some discernible patterns have quickly emerged.
United, who played with two centre-forwards during the victory over Ilkeston 72 hours earlier, employed exactly the same tactic here en route to another hard-fought win.
And, once again, there was an accent on youth with Diego De Girolamo, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Callum McFadzean and Louis Reed among those to start while Che Adams was responsible for scoring the first of three well-taken goals.
But, given the desire of directors and supporters alike to construct an attack-minded squad in response to May’s League One play-off semi-final defeat, they will have been most encouraged to see United surge forward with purpose and numbers whenever the opportunity arose.
Imperfections remain, as illustrated by the mix-up which allowed Amari Morgan-Smith to nulify Adams’ opener. Adkins will use tomorrow’s friendly at Exeter City to iron some of the wrinkles out although, as the introduction of new arrival Martyn Woolford highlighted, United remain a work in progress following his appointment only seven weeks ago.
Johnson has instigated a dramatic makeover of Cheltenham’s senior squad as his club comes to terms with its relegation to the Vanarama National League. With 10 members of his starting eleven signed during the close season - the other, Daniel Parslow, is on trial - United’s opponents predictably lacked rhythm. Nonetheless, they possessed enough hunger and desire to make the exercise worthwhile.
Indeed, after Adams had fired the visitors in front after just 12 minutes, Cheltenham deservedly dragged themselves level on the stroke of half-time when Morgan-Smith pounced.
McFadzean, deputiusing for the injured Bob Harris, impressed during an opening period which saw Adams shoot just wide of Dillon Phillips’ far post following his earlier intervention.
Jamal Campbell-Ryce also caught the eye after being introduced as United went in search of a winning goal. That honour fell to Higdon who converted a stylish half-volley from the edge of the area before Jose Baxter pounced in added time.
Big things are expected of Adams next seas on and the teenager demonstrated exactly why with a clinical finish following Calvert-Lewin’s defence piercing pass. Ensuring James Wallace remains fit after an injury plagued debut season in South Yorkshire also features on Adkins’ ‘to do’ list. The midfielder, who played 45 minutes at the New Manor Ground, enjoyed 60 minutes of action here and appeared untroubled by the knee and groin complaints which limited him to only 13 outings last term.
Robust in the tackle and always looking to surge forward, Wallace created another opportunity, this time for De Girolamo, soon after the interval with a delicate, lofted chip.
Cheltenham’s rearguard snuffed-out the chance but were unable to prevent Jamal Campbell-Ryce, one of the eleven changes United made on the hour, to find Michael Higdon with a wonderful cross soon after. The centre-forward met the ball with his head but could not divert it beyond Calum Kitscha.
James Rowe wasted a glorious opportunity for Cheltenham after Jay McEveley’s unfortunate slip before Higdon was cautioned for a heavy challenge on Rowe. Seconds earlier, Baxter had also thrown himself into a challenge with the Cheltenham substitute although referee Derek Eaton allowed that to go unpunished.
Higdon and Baxter both netted during the closing stages as United’s quality finally told.
CHELTENHAM TOWN: Phillips (Kitscha 60), McLennan (Wynter 75)), Storer (Hall 60), Downes (Deaman 60), Barthram, Pell (Rowe 60), Wright (Dale 60), Morgan-Smith (Williams 60), Waters (Kotwica 60), Munns (Bowen 60), Parslow. Substitutes: Kitscha, Bowen, Williams, Deaman, Dale, Rowe, Wynter, Kotwica, Hall.
SHEFFIELD UNITED: Long (Howard 60), Dimaio (Freeman 60), McGahey (Collins 60), K Wallace (McEveley 60), McFadzean (Woolford 60), Scougall (Campbell-Ryce 60), J Wallace (Basham 60), Reed (Baxter 60), Calvert-Lewin (Murphy 60), De Girolamo (Higdon 60), Adams (McNulty 60).