Match Report: Ipswich Town 0, Sheffield United 1
With Championship points his biggest priority, particularly the three on offer against Sheffield Wednesday next week, oneÂ suspected Chris Wilder would not have been beside himself with grief had Ipswich Town won this game.
But after insisting beforehand that a performance was expected, the Sheffield United manager will have been delighted to see his much-changed side produce both a cohesive display and a result.
Nathan Thomas' superb first-half goal proved enough to book their place in the fourth round draw of the FA Cup and prolong Ipswich's eight year wait for a win in the competition.
But, perhaps more importantly, United will now enter arguably the most eagerly anticipated contest of their season on a victorious note.
The trip to Suffolk, coupled with Wilder's desire to utilise his squad, provided opportunities for those who have found action hard to come by in recent months.
Thomas, who has now scored on both of his two starts for the club, caught the eye with his superb effort from 25 yards out before succumbing to injury. His replacement, Steelphalt Academy graduate Regan Slater, also impressed with his industry and commitment in the tackle. Caolan Lavery busied himself in attack and, like Samir Carruthers, nearly extended United's advantage following Thomas' strike while Daniel Lafferty was neat and tidy at the back.
Whether or not their contributions are enough to persuade Wilder to alter his plans for Friday's Steel City derby remains to be seen. But they did confirm, as the visiting manager had demanded, there is competition for places at Bramall Lane.
Fears that both Wilder and McCarthy would select starting elevens more suitable for a development fixture than the third round of the world's most prestigious domestic knockout tournament were assuaged when their picks were announced an hour before kick-off.
Although there were reasons why so many first team players appeared - many of the hosts' fringe players were actually cup-tied - McCarthy's picks and Wilder's lack of numbers at least ensured there was plenty of quality on show.
Most of it, during the first quarter-of-an-hour at least, came from Ipswich with Bersant Celina, the Kosovo international, seeing a shot deflected wide following an excellent run and Lafferty surviving a penalty appeal for handball.
However, with Richard Stearman and Lafferty both making crucial interceptions to deny the opposition clear shots on goal, Thomas shot side from just outside the box as United announced their arrival in the game. Carruthers' skill and patience on the right flank - standing-up his marker before working the ball back towards Chris Basham - instigated the move.
Nevertheless, Ipswich continued to look the more threatening with Cameron Carter-Vickers producing a crucial block to deny Celina a clear sight of goal. It proved doubly important when, in the 25th minute, Thomas' long-range strike left Bartosz Bialkowski grasping at thin air.
The former Hartlepool midfielder went down with an injury soon after and was on the verge of being replaced before telling Wilder he wanted to continue. Although Thomas was eventually replaced during the interval - youngster Slater being summoned from the bench - his show of determination after being linked with a loan move away from Bramall Lane will have impressed United's coaching staff.
Lavery, who began his career in England as youth team player at Ipswich, saw a shot cleared-off the line as his former club made a much poorer start to the second period than they had the first. Sharp's beligerence created the opening and, although his fellow centre-forward did everything right, so did Ipswich's Freddie Sears who tracked back to clear the hosts' lines.
Martyn Waghorn, whose introduction briefly provided McCarthy's men with something resembling a cutting edge, headed over the crossbar after meeting Celina's centre but Carruthers wrestled back the momentum by drawing a fine save from Bialkowski following Billy Sharp's reverse pass.
Ipswich Town: Bialkowski, Iorfa, Knudsen, Chambers, McGoldrick, Celina, Connolly, Hyam (Waghorn 62), Sears, Bru, Kenlock. Not used: Crowe, Skuse, Garner, Drinan, Webber, McLoughlin.
Sheffield United: Blackman, Baldock, Basham, Thomas (Slater 46), Sharp, Wright, Carter-Vickers, Stearman, Lavery (Donaldson 72), Lafferty, Carruthers. Not used: Moore, Stevens, Fleck, O'Connell, Norrington-Davies.
Referee: Michael Jones (Chester).