This was not the most glamorous date in Sheffield United’s Championship diary. Nor, for that matter, did it turn out to be the most attractive of games.
But Chris Wilder will derive particular pleasure from last night’s result, having predicted it would reveal whether his team is headstrong enough to compete at the top end of the division or should focus on consolidation instead.
Battling both Bolton Wanderers and Storm Aileen, a combination of skill, spirit and stubbornness saw United climb to third in the table following a hard-fought but much-warranted win.
Cameron Carter-Vickers, making his first appearance after agreeing a loan move from Tottenham Hotspur, scored the goal which enabled them to keep pace with the early leaders.
But, as Wilder acknowledged afterwards, his player prevailed because they stuck together as a group.
Particularly when, throwing caution to the wind, Wanderers began to flood forward in numbers.
Wilder’s decision to place so much significance on the outcome could be attributed to a variety of factors.
With Phil Parkinson’s team also gaining promotion from League One last season, a visit to the Macron Stadium does not, for United at least, boast the same ‘wow’ factor as trips to the Riverside or Stadium of Light.
Likewise Wanderers, who remain at the bottom of the rankings, will not have been intimidated by the prospect of facing opponents they beat twice during the previous campaign.
But most of all, it was United’s poor record in this corner of Greater Manchester which made the contest such an important test. It was their first victory here since 2008.
Much was expected of Carter-Vickers when he joined United during the recent transfer window.
Having waited patiently for his chance, the defender delivered in some style. Wanderers’ marking might have left much to be desired but, despite being helped by a deflection, the finish was superb.
As the contest progressed and the weather turned from bad to atrocious, the fixture became a test of character rather than calibre.
Wanderers posed questions but, with their confidence inevitably dented by a series of disappointing results, lacked the conviction to test Jamal Blackman in United’s goal. Indeed, only the width of the crossbar prevented substitute John Lundstram from stretching their lead at the death.
Wilder’s men, fresh from Saturday’s victory over Sunderland, suffered no such problem as they chased, hustled and created several promising openings.
Familiarity bred contempt during the closing stages as Wanderers searched for a route back into the game. But Wilder’s charges kept their composure and concentration to record a fourth successive league win.
Despite making several changes to their starting eleven, United began the contest on the front foot. John Fleck sent Leon Clarke, recalled following suspension, darting through with a slide rule pass before David Wheater recovered to block the centre-forward’s route.
A neat interchange between Mark Duffy and Billy Sharp ensured Wanderers remained on the back foot before United’s captain saw a shot blocked as it powered towards Ben Alnwick.
Gary Madine, whose musings on social media provoked a storm before his team’s trip to South Yorkshire in February, appeared intent on making a more positive contribution this time around.
Isolated at times, the former Sheffield Wednesday marksman was still able to ensure Jake Wright, Jack O’Connell and debutant Carter-Vickers remained on their toes before the latter pounced with 12 minutes of the first half remaining.
Adam Armstrong led the Wanderers’ response, unleashing a powerful drive which Wright did well to clear.
But not even Parkinson, who raised eyebrows with his interpretation of events when United triumphed 2-0 seven months ago, could argue they did not deserve to lead at the break.
Indeed, had Alnwick not impressed with his handling when Carter-Vickers was left unmarked at a set-piece, United’s grip on the contest would have been even stronger.
Daniel Lafferty, the Northern Ireland wing-back, thought he had joined Carter-Vickers on the scoresheet soon after the interval but Wheater hooked his attempt off the line.
Felipe Morais was inches away from snatching an equaliser when his free-kick landed on the roof of Blackman’s net, before Wright, O’Connell and Carter-Vickers were all forced to hack the ball away to safety as Wanderers began to bombard United’s penalty area.
Madine met a dangerous centre from Morais with only five minutes remaining but, once again, United’s rearguard held firm.
Bolton Wanderers: Alnwick, Little, Beevers, Karacan, Buckley (Morais 30), Madine, Robinson (Wilbraham 76), Cullen, Armstrong (Le Fondre 67), Wheater, Burke. Not used: Howard, Dervite, Noone, Wilbraham, Pratley.
Sheffield United: Blackman, O’Connell, Wright, Carter-Vickers, Baldock (Basham 87), Lafferty, Coutts, Fleck, Duffy (Lundstram 64), Clarke, Sharp (Brooks 73). Not used: Eastwood, Stevens, Freeman, Evans.
Referee: Stuart Attwell (Warwickshire).
Star Man: Cameron Carter-Vickers