Alan Knill hailed Sheffield United’s mental strength after watching them increase their lead at the top of the League One table.
Two goals from captain Billy Sharp, either side of a Kieron Freeman effort, propelled Chris Wilder’s side to a 3-2 victory over Checkatrade Trophy finalists Oxford at the Kassam Stadium last night.
Although Knill admitted promotion is now United’s “to lose”, he warned there is “still plenty of work to be done” before Championship status next season is confirmed.
But, praising the manner of their response after Chey Dunkley had edged Oxford into a first-half lead, Wilder’s assistant said: “To show that character, on what was a big occasion, speaks volumes about the lads’ character and desire.
“They are such an honest bunch and such a tight bunch too.
“That’s what gets them through in situations like this.
“They don’t know when they are beaten and never, ever give up.”
“People will say it’s ours to lose and, looking at the table, that’s probably right,” Knill added.
“But that doesn’t mean we’ve achieved anything yet because we haven’t.
“There’s still lots of tough and important games coming up.”
United consolidated their grip on first place despite falling behind when Dunkley headed Michael Appleton’s team in front midway through the opening period.
But the visitors, who lost Jake Wright to injury, surged into a 3-1 lead after the break when Sharp (2) and Freeman both hit the target.
Substitute Toni Martinez scored a late consolation deep into added time but United were not to be denied.
Wilder, who led Oxford out of the Conference seven years ago, celebrated in front of the travelling supporters at the final whistle after watching his players extend their advantage over second placed Fleetwood Town and, more significantly, move 11 points clear of Scunthorpe in third.
Knill, who confirmed Mark Duffy had missed the fixture with an ankle problem, revealed Wright had been taken to hospital after sustaining a nasty cut to his nose during a collision moments before Dunkley scored.
“It’s quite a big gash and will require stitches,” Knill said. “That’s why he couldn’t continue.”