A match which started in sombre fashion ended, from Sheffield United’s perspective at least, on an upbeat note.
Ninety-three minutes after paying tribute to its former manager Howard Kendall, who passed away at the weekend, Bramall Lane witnessed Nigel Adkins’ side putting Fleetwood Town decisively to the sword thanks largely to another sparkling performance in front of goal from England under-20 international Che Adams.
The result not only lifted United to fifth in the table, four points points behind second-placed Walsall, but also busted the myth that football is purely a results based business.
Until Billy Sharp made the game safe during the closing stages, the hosts found themselves being chastised by sections of the home crowd for failing to go about their work with the rhythm and tempo which Adkins believes is the hallmark of most promotion winning teams.
United look destined to achieve one of his objectives - being firmly in the mix entering the crucial festive period - but some observers clearly remain in need of convincing despite watching them control proceedings pretty much from start to finish.
As expected, Adkins used this game to officially unveil Dean Hammond as a United player following his arrival on emergency loan from Leicester City yesterday.
Every foray into the transfer market carries an element of risk but signing the midfielder is as close to a dead cert as the 50-year-old can get given their previous together at Southampton.
Hammond, who will spend the next three months at least in South Yorkshire, used an hour-long cameo to showcase some of the qualities which have helped win promotion at both the KP Stadium and St Mary’s.
But, having failed to completely stamp his authority on proceedings, it is clear that even a performer of Hammond’s calibre will need time to acclimatise to the hurly burly action of League One.
Instead it was Adams, taking his tally for the season to seven after scoring for the fifth time in three home games, who took centre stage although Sharp and the industrious Kieran Wallace, responsible for two assists, threatened to wrestle away the limelight.
Last night’s match was also a poignant occasion for Fleetwood’s Steven Pressley, who was sacked by Coventry City following a defeat at this stadium before reportedly being interviewed for the position Adkins accepted in June.
Four months later, and overseeing his first away fixture since taking charge at Highbury, the Scot endured another testing experience as Adams found the back of the net in the second and 65th minutes before Sharp ended any possibility of a comeback seven minutes later.
United have identified slow starts as the biggest factor behind their chequered form of late but needed less than two minutes to seize the initiative against the visitors from Highbury.
Matt Done blasted a free-kick into the wall but, when Chris Basham recycled the ball and powered his way to the byline, Adams was on hand to turn home at the near post.
Fleetwood, with former Sheffield Wednesday centre-half Richard Wood spending more time on the edge of Mark Howard’s penalty box than his own during the opening exchanges, remained full of confidence following a resounding victory over Burton Albion three days earlier.
They were encouraged by the agitated response among sections of the crowd too whenever they hosts, who saw Adams go close again midway through the first-half, went backwards or played keepball.
Nevertheless, despite being implored by Adkins to increase their tempo, it proved easier said than done against opponents who, whenever they conceded possession, quickly set-up in two well-drilled banks of four.
The edgy atmosphere was reflected in United’s work although, as the interval approached, Jamal Campbell-Ryce nearly snaked his way through towards Chris Maxwell following a mazy run while Neill Collins hooked over from the resulting corner.
Adams enjoyed another sight of goal when Sharp darted clear from a deep lying position but could not find the time or the space to produce a powerful shot.
Kieran Freeman combined well with Basham and Adams as United tried to extend their lead in the second-half but Sharp could not keep his marker at bay when the latter’s lofted pass spiralled downwards.
Although Campbell-Ryce’s crosses continued to go astray, he was enjoying much more success on the floor. Twice the winger tested Fleetwood’s defensive resolve with some nimble dribbling but it was a move involving numerous members of Adkins’ squad, including substitute Paul Coutts and Wallace, which ended with Adams scoring his and United’s second before Sharp made it three.
Again Wallace, whose cross was deflected into the striker’s path, enjoyed a pivotal role as United’s patience paid off.
Sheffield United: Howard, Freeman, Basham, Sharp, Done (Baxter 66), Collins, Campbell-Ryce (Woolford 79), Adams, K Wallace, McGahey, Hammond (Coutts 60). Not used: Sammon, Reed, Long, Kennedy.
Fleetwood Town: Maxwell, McLaughlin, Jonsson, Bell, Ryan, Proctor (Haughton 80), Grant (Matt 66), Sarcevic, Hunter (Ball 66), Wood, Teixeira. Not used: Jordan, Sowerby, Gogic, Davis.
Referee: Eddie Ilderton (Tyne and Wear).