The standard of opposition must be taken into account before getting too carried away by the scoreline.
But, by once again choosing to begin their preparations for the new season with a visit to Stocksbridge Park Steels, Sheffield United made it possible to gauge exactly how far they have come under Chris Wilder’s management.
Almost a year ago to the day, United began their programme of summer warm-up fixtures with a comfortable 5-0 win at the Look Local Stadium. 12 months and a League One title later, they returned boasting a remodelled squad and duly smashed nine goals past their part-time neighbours.
“It always takes time,” Wilder said. “Especially when you are trying to put across new ideas, get everyone on the same page and working together.
“But we are definitely a lot closer to where we want to be now than we were back then. And we’ll have to be because of the standard of the division we are about to go into.”
Although Caolan Lavery stole the limelight by claiming a hat-trick as United, making 11 changes, ran riot during the second half, other members of the visitors’ squad also impressed. Samir Carruthers, who went close on several occasions during the early exchanges, was a bundle of creative energy, debutant Nathan Thomas threatened along the flank while Chris Basham whipped a series of inviting crosses into David Reay’s box.
Leon Clarke produced a delightful touch to set up Billy Sharp’s opener before helping himself to a brace but it was two Steelphalt Academy graduates - Sam Graham and David Brooks - who provided the game’s most intriguing sub-plots.
Brooks, who like Clarke scored twice, rose to prominence with a series of exciting displays at under-23 level last season before embellishing his reputation still further at this summer’s Toulon Tournament.
Unlike his fellow teenager, Graham has yet to feature in a competitive first-team fixture. Although he is still a long way off dislodging the likes of Jack O’Connell and new signing Richard Stearman from the starting 11, the young centre-half possesses both the physical and the mental strength to suggest he has a bright future.
“I thought there were some really good individual displays out there,” Wilder said. “But it’s all about the team and so it was even more important to see everybody contributing.”
“We wanted to give everybody a run,” he added. “Or everyone who was ready to be involved anyway.”
Wilder, whose squad travels to Spain for warm-weather training and a friendly against Malaga on Monday afternoon, was delighted with the result and manner in which it was achieved. But, with next month’s Championship curtain-raiser against Brentford looming on the horizon, confirmation that every player on show had emerged unscathed will have pleased him the most.
Stocksbridge, who reached the Evo-Stick Division One play-offs last term, were out-gunned in the skill department. But Chris Hilton’s side attempted to redress the balance with tenacity and desire. Indeed, their willingness to throw themselves in front of the ball prevented United from winning by an even more emphatic margin.
Wilder expressed his admiration for Stocksbridge’s commitment afterwards.
“Credit to Stocksbridge,” he said. “We always enjoy coming here. It’s a terrific club and they always look after us.
“The occasion was great, the fans came in their numbers again, as they always do, and we thank them for that. We thank Stocksbridge too. They kept on going and deserve the utmost respect for that. They showed guts.
“There were some competitive tackles going in,” Wilder added. “But it was all in the right spirit.”
United seized control of the match straight from kick-off and did not relinquish their grip until the final whistle had blown. Carruthers and George Baldock, former teammates at MK Dons, both went close before Sharp powered home.
Clarke doubled and then trebled United’s lead while Lavery stretched their advantage with three goals of his own, the second of which came from the penalty spot. Brooks, whose surge forward was responsible for creating Lavery’s first, completed the rout with efforts either side of Enda Stevens’ header.
“It was a good work-out for us,” Wilder said. “The lads have trained well since coming back in but they were ready to get back out there on a pitch again.”
Sheffield United (first half): Moore, Basham, Graham, O’Connell, Baldock, Carruthers, Fleck, Thomas, Duffy, Sharp, Clarke.
Sheffield United (second half): Eastwood, Wilson, Stearman, Lafferty, Freeman, Coutts, Reed, Stevens, Brooks, Lavery, Hanson.
Goals: Sharp (21), Clarke (25, 27), Lavery (57, 72, 82), Brooks (85, 89), Stevens (88).
Next match: Malaga, Friday July 14, Estadio Jose Burgos Quintana, Coin.