Say what you like about this Sheffield United side - and plenty were when they trailed 3-0 after just over an hour of dramatic action - but Nigel Adkins’ team simply never knows when it is beaten.
Defeat to Wigan Athletic last night might not have had the same seismic implications as the one which condemned the visitors to relegation from the Premier League nearly a decade ago but, starting eight points behind Gary Caldwell’s fifth placed team with 22 matches of the season remaining, it would almost certainly have signalled the end of their automatic promotion chances.
It was precisely that knowledge which saw United drag themselves back from the brink to snatch a draw which, given the manner in which it was achieved, could inject fresh impetus into the club’s push for Championship football.
Matt Done (2) and Billy Sharp were the heroes, scoring the goals which saw United claim a share of the spoils when all seemed lost.
But, as Adkins explained afterwards, the comeback would not have been possible without contributions from every single member of his squad. Sheer force of personality pulled United through.
First-half goals from Will Grigg and Haris Vuckic, on loan from Newcastle, appeared to have ended United’s challenge at the DW Stadium although the fixture was not without controversy.
Adkins and his staff were apoplectic with rage when referee Andy Woolmer elected against showing Donervon Daniels a red card when he hauled down Jose Baxter just before the interval.
It could have been a pivotal moment with Vuckic doubling Wigan’s advantage soon after before Chris McCann appeared to have put the game beyond reach.
Done reduced the deficit after combining with Sharp before the latter set-up a grandstand finish when he headed home beyond Jaaskelainen at the far post.
Previously dead and buried, United were now full of life with Done equalising and Sharp going agonisingly close to completing his own brace with only moments remaining.
This match, the first between the two teams since Wigan’s 2-1 victory at Bramall Lane nearly a decade ago sent United spiralling out of the top-flight, exposed the strengths and the weaknesses of the squad Adkins inherited after being appointed in June.
Changes have been made, with more expected before the end of the transfer window.
But while there is no doubt about fight of the goal threat of these United players, its defensive fragility is once again providing cause for concern.
After appearing to have addressed the problem following an abysmal Autumn, Adkins’ joy at the spirit his charges demonstrated will be tempered by the fact they found the back of the net three times away from home and still failed to secure a victory.
Grigg, a summer signing from MK Dons, has dominated the news agenda at Wigan this term as he attempts to secure his second promotion in as many seasons.
But, despite his prowess in front of goal, Michael Jacobs is the player whomakes Wigan tick.
Another close season acquisition, this time from Wolverhampton Wanderers, Jacobs’ passing repertoire caused United problems throughout.
The sweeping ball which released Grigg for the opening goal of the evening was a joy to behold. Unless, of course, you were a visiting defender. Vuckic converted an equally clinical fashion when he glanced the ball over George Long before McCann extended Wigan’s lead.
Whether it was complacency on their part, United’s pugancious streak or a combination of both, what should have been the coup-de-grace marked the start of an amazing transformation in United’s fortunes with first Done and then Sharp, scoring for the 12th time this season.
Wigan, previously so resolute, simply crumbed with only a superb save from Jussi Jaaskelainen denying Sharp from claiming a 94th minute winner after his fellow centre-forward had restored parity.
The fact that Adkins and Caldwell are both the 10th managers to take charge of their respective clubs in the past nine seasons goes some why towards explaining why, a decade after their previous meeting, they now find themselves languishing in the third tier.
Despite spending the past six months preaching the importance of consistent selections and decision-making, Adkins was forced to make three changes here withJose Baxter, Ryan Flynn and Done recalled to the starting eleven.
The reshuffle, designed in part to protect against injury following a hectic run of games, was agonisingly close to reaping dividends in the 12th minute when Done nearly turned home from close range before Baxter blazed over during the melee which followed.
Four minutes later, Grigg handed Wigan the lead. As United’s protests about whether the goal should have stood continued - the Northern Ireland international appeared dangerously close to straying offside - Long produced an superb save to deny him a second.
Again, Jacobs was the architect.
The hosts were fortunate to escape with 11 men still on the pitch when Daniels dragged back Baxter before mayhem ensued following McCann’s strike. Done turned home Sharp’s centre in the 68th minute and, in the 75th, he profited from McEveley’s fine work.
Then, Done struck.
Wigan Athletic: Jaaskelainen, Perkins (Cowie 64), Daniels, Power, McCann, Grigg, Jacobs, Morgan, Barnett (James 80), Pearce, Vuckic (Wildschut 61). Not used: Nicholls, James, Kellett, Cowie, Davies, Hiwula.
Sheffield United: Long, Brayford, Basham, Flynn (Adams 77), Sharp, Baxter, Done, Collins, McEveley (Woolford 77), Edgar, Hammond (Campbell-Ryce 88). Not used: Howard, Sammon, Reed, McGahey.
Referee: Andy Woolmer (Northamptonshire).