Whether or not this is the result which reinvigorates Sheffield United’s bid for automatic promotion remains to be seen.
But it was certainly a reminder that, after Billy Sharp’s eighth goal of the season propelled Nigel Adkins’ side to a hard-fought and potentially significant victory, good things come to those prepared to put their bodies on the line. Battle, fight and scrap.
“We had a game-plan and the lads have worked so hard to make sure we were solid. Solid and resolute,” Adkins, the United manager, said. “You’ve seen a commitment and a discipline to the cause. There was a resilience, adogged resilience. So credit to the players.”
This, as Adkins acknowledged, was a triumph of substance rather than style. And, given the pugnacious manner of United’s performance, a fitting tribute to Bramall Lane legend Alan Hodgkinson and club photographer Martyn Harrison who had passed away earlier in the week.
Adkins’ team survived on its wits at times and benefited from two slices of fortune when Paul Coutts’ corner spiralled home off Sharp’s shoulder after Jacob Murphy’s centre had been adjudged not to have gone over the line into the United net.
The Blades are now nine points behind second-placed City, who saw Sam Rickett’s dismissed during added time, and Adkins insisted the luck was earned.
“There was a mindset out there,” he said. “A mindset that was all about desire and determination to keep the other team out. At times, we want to be attack-minded but have left ourselves a little bit exposed. Sometimes, you’ve just got to have the platform of being hard to beat, because I know we can score.”
Sharp, together with fellow substitute Stefan Scougall, made a positive impact after stepping off the bench and ended his eight-match drought when Reice Charles-Cook failed to collect Coutts’ delivery towards the far post.
“I swapped things around but I’ve still got a huge belief in Billy,” Adkins said. “I always have had and always will.”
City, previously unbeaten in the competition since mid-September, approached yesterday’s fixture with a surprising degree of deference given United’s problems of late.
Certainly, until the closing stages of the first half, a side which has overcome the likes of Gillingham and Peterborough in recent weeks, seemed curiously loathe to commit despite boasting the ability to retain possession for long periods.
They became increasingly adventurous as the match progressed - George Long denying Adam Armstrong and Ruben Lameiras before Sharp pounced - but, for the most part, failed to prise apart defence United in name and nature.
Jay McEveley tackled with tenacity, John Brayford covered every blade of grass while Neill Collins and David Edgar put themselves in harm’s way when the situation demanded.
“Credit to them, they defended well and set up well,” Tony Mowbray, the City manager, said. “They played like the away side but they got their reward.”
Mowbray, who felt McEveley could have been dismissed rather than cautioned for an early challenge on Lameiras, miscalculated the contest’s possession and shots-on-target counts. But his overall assessment of a game which saw United climb to 11th was correct.
“There wasn’t many clear-cut chances,” Mowbray added. “It wasn’t that type of affair.”
Adkins, recalling Edgar, Conor Sammon and Martyn Woolford, had decided changes were required to arrest his team’s recent slide down the rankings.
City, despite being on an altogether different trajectory of late, treated United with plenty of respect during the opening exchanges; preferring to probe rather than attempt to overwhelm a side supposedly low on confidence.
Charles-Cook, the former Arsenal trainee, walked a fine line between delight and despair early on with Matt Done and Sammon testing both his handling and positional sense. But it was George Long who made the first notable save when, after 19 minutes, he denied Adam Armstrong following Ruben Lameiras’ pass.
Long made another key block in the 59th minute, arching his back to palm Lameiras’ first time shot away to safety before benefiting from a slice of good fortune when Murphy’s centre deflected off Collins and looked to have crossed the line. The officials, however, remained unmoved.
There was no room for doubt, though, when Sharp turned Coutts’ corner home 10 minutes from time. Or when, having already been cautioned, Ricketts departed deep into added time after a foul on Basham.
“You talk about making your own luck,” Adkins said. “Well, if we did get any, then I think it was deserved.”
Sheffield United: Long 7, Brayford 7, Basham 7, Coutts 6, Done 7 (Flynn 84), Collins 6, Woolford 6 (Scougall 55, 7), Sammon 6 (Sharp 66, 6), McEveley 7, Edgar 6, Hammond 7. Not used: Howard, Reed, K Wallace, McGahey.
Coventry City: Charles-Cook 7, Stokes 6, Vincelot 7 (Antoine-Fortune 81), Fleck 6, Lameiras 7 (Kent 70), Armstrong 6, O’Brien 6 (Cole 60), Turner 6, Ricketts 6, Martin 6, Murphy 7. Not used: Burge, Tudgay, Haynes, Kelly-Evans.
Referee: Iain Williamson (Berkshire).