DANNY Wilson had described Sheffield United’s previous meeting with Leyton Orient as a turning point in his team’s season.
This latest skirmish could prove equally significant.
But if anyone was hoping a result which swung the battle for automatic promotion from League One emphatically in the South Yorkshire club’s favour would tease a powerful proclamation out of its notoriously phlegmatic manager they were left sorely disappointed.
Wilson, whose side remain second in the table with only three games remaining, insisted there is still “no room for manoeuvre” in the battle for a top-two finish.
Michael Doyle, meanwhile, scorer of one of the three goals which saw United move four points clear of third-placed Sheffield Wednesday, assessed the situation in only slightly more colourful terms.
“That was a good win but nothing has changed in terms of our attitude,” Doyle said. “All we are going to do is concentrate on doing the same in the next match.
“There wasn’t anyone getting carried away in the dressing room afterwards and there was no celebrating.
“In fact that (Wednesday’s draw with Colchester) hasn’t even been talked about. It doesn’t mean anything.”
United and Wednesday have spent the past 123 years casting suspicious glances at each other across the Steel City’s footballing divide.
But few of the neighbourly disputes they have been embroiled in over the years have been quite as absorbing as the one which has gripped the region for the past eight months.
Indeed, it speaks volumes about the ferocity of this latest campaign that United, who also saw Lee Williamson and Ched Evans hit the target, have now surpassed the 87-point average which has been enough to secure the runners-up berth since 2007 and yet they are still unsure of joining Charl
ton Athletic in the Championship next term.
Orient tested United’s character with vigour until Ryan Dickson’s dismissal wrecked their hopes.
“It was a ridiculous decision on my player’s part and it’s not one I’m going to defend,” Russell Slade, the Orient manager, admitted after watching Dickson receive a straight red for a lunging challenge on Williamson.
Doyle, a member of the Leeds squad which climbed out of this division two seasons ago, said: “The big difference, as far as I’m concerned anyway, is that we’ve got lots of experience in the right areas of the pitch here.
“At Elland Road we nearly messed it up because everyone, myself included, was always worried about what the other teams were doing.
“You’ve got Neill Collins at the back and he brings the best out of Matty (Lowton) and Harry
“Then there’s Quinny (Stephen Quinn), Kevin McDonald and myself in the middle and Cressy up front.
“All we’re bothered about it what is in our control.
“Orient were tight, and they made it tough for us.”
The portents appeared ominous for Slade’s charges as they went in search of their first win at this stadium since 1978.
It was visitors who, prior to kick-off, had conceded 22 goals in their last 10 games versus opponents who entered the contest having netted 17 in their last five.
But despite travelling north only one place above the relegation zone, Orient defended with resilience and counter-attacked with precision as United endured a chaotic start which saw Cresswell sustain a shoulder injury and substitute
Marcus Williams concussed following an accidental touchline collision.
Wilson revealed that October’s draw at the Matchroom Stadium had prompted some serious soul-searching in the United camp and questions will have been again asked about how Lisbie evaded his markers before dispatching a clinical effort beyond Steve Simonsen early on.
Indeed, the centre-forward and midfielder Dean Cox both spurned opportunities to extend Orient’s lead before Williamson levelled during the closing stages of the first period.
Doyle netted for the second time in as many outings with another vicious shot and, when Dickson departed, Evans, who had already hit the foot of the post, claimed his 35th of the campaign with an angled drive having already recorded two assists.
“The gaffer has been on at me to have a go from there,” Doyle said. “One of the things I’ve really worked on is my technique in those positions.
“I just concentrate on trying to connect with it properly because, if you do that, it’s much better to control the flight and you generate the same power anyway.”
With Quinn, Maguire, McDonald and substitute Chris Porter also going close for United, Slade said: “United have got a game-plan, they stick to it, don’t deviate and have got the scorers to back it up.
“When my lad got sent off that was us deviating from our game-plan.
“When Porter came on United could change their dynamic and go a bit more direct because he wins his headers.
“But we didn’t roll over and the attitude was there.”
Substitutes: Flynn**(76), Howard, C Porter*(23) 7, O’Halloran***(87), Williams.
Ben Youssef, 6
Substitutes: Reed**(79), Andrew, G Porter***(79), Laird, Campbell-Ryce*(56).
REFEREE: T Bates (Staffordshire), 7
MANAGER’S VIEW: The sending-off was deserved and we made the most of it. That fell in our favour. Orient were very determined though and made it very difficult for us. That wasn’t easy at all. It was every bit as tough as we knew it would be so we’re relieved to get the three points because that’s what we wanted.
REDS AND YELLOWS: Ryan Dickson’s moment of madness left Leyton Orient with a mountain to climb. The on-loan defender was guilty of a completely needless foul on Sheffield United’s Lee Williamson and correctly saw red. Harry Maguire and Ched Evans were cautioned for the hosts while Kevin Lisbie and Dean Leacock also collected yellows for the visitors.
HERO/VILLAIN: Michael Doyle impressed in the centre of Sheffield United’s midfield and capped a typically industrious display with a fine second-half finish. Ched Evans worked his socks off in attack and deserved his goal while Neill Collins also caught the eye at the back. Chris Porter made his presence felt after coming on as a substitute.
KEY MOMENT: Had Leyton Orient’s Dean Cox not blazed wide from close range after Kevin Lisbie’s opener then Sheffield United would have been staring down the barrel of a gun. Instead, having been granted a reprieve, they went on the level through Lee Williamson and the rest is history.
REMEMBER THIS: Not so much remember this as don’t remember much for Marcus Williams. The Sheffield United substitute was forced to retire from the bench after suffering concussion following an accidental collision with a member of the Leyton Orient bench as they celebrated Kevin Lisbie’s goal. Truly bizarre.
VIEWPOINT: Same old result and same old reaction. Sheffield United moved a step closer towards securing automatic promotion and then promptly refused to acknowledge they had done anything of the sort. It might not make for great headlines. But, given the state of play towards the top of the League One table, their low key approach makes perfect sporting sense.