THIRD in the table and only a point behind leaders Tranmere Rovers, Sheffield United could be forgiven for feeling pretty satisfied with the progress they are making in League One so far.
But rather than bask in the glory of what, on paper at least, was a routine victory at Carlisle, captain Michael Doyle delivered a withering critique of the visitors’ performance against Greg Abbott’s side.
Displaying the same combative streak off the pitch which makes him such a fearsome competitor on it, Doyle described United’s second-half contribution as “just not good enough” before conceding the fact they had been so dominant during the first was the source of his frustration.
“We‘ve only shown glimpses of how good we can be,” Doyle, a member of the team beaten in May’s play-off final, said. “We had a really good season last year and produced some excellent stuff but we didn’t go up and we want to actually do it this time around.
“I’m not saying we threw it away back then but the small details are important and we’re not in the position yet where promotion is ours to win or lose.
“The frustrating thing was that everything we did so well to begin with here we didn’t do after the re-start.
“It was almost like we thought ‘let’s have a look at what Carlisle can do’ and that gave them a lift.
“I don’t think any of the lads will be happy with how difficult we ended up making it for ourselves and we’ve got to get more ruthless and better at seeing teams off.”
One member of the United camp, though, was exempt from any criticism.
Nick Blackman arrived at Bramall Lane earlier this summer as a promising young striker but has blossomed since Danny Wilson’s decision to deploy him down the flanks.
Blackman, signed for an undisclosed sum from Blackburn Rovers, again emerged as a driving force behind United’s 10th victory of the season by scoring one and creating two of their three goals.
The 23-year-old’s 11th for Danny Wilson’s charges, courtesy of an angled finish following an incisive exchange with Ryan Flynn, would have graced Barcelona let alone Brunton Park.
But Doyle, who claimed the late effort which extinguished Carlisle’s hopes of a fight-back, revealed: “Nick works so hard and is very committed to his profession. When the rest of us leave training you’ll often see him staying behind to practice his shooting or doing some extra bits and pieces in the gym.
“He’s got bags of ability but it’s that dedication which really makes him such a promising player and it’s great to see someone of his age have that kind of attitude.”
Carlisle have enjoyed consistent success under Abbott’s tutelage - finishing 20th, 14th, 12th and most recently 8th in the rankings - but his fifth campaign at the helm threatens to buck that trend.
Nevertheless the Cumbrians, now perilously close to the relegation zone and having lost five of their last six outings at home, possess plenty of raw talent with Mark Beck, Bradley Potts and the impressive Dave Symington counting Sunderland among their top-flight admirers.
However, despite demonstrating a durability which underlines Abbott still commands the dressing room‘s respect, Carlisle lacked United’s polish, poise and purpose during the opening 45 minutes.
Flynn converted Blackman’s cross at the far post before his colleague underlined United’s superiority in simply sumptuous fashion.
Danny Livesey, having earlier seen Liam Noble and Symington hit the woodwork, reduced the deficit but Doyle eased United’s nerves when he bundled Blackman’s corner beyond Carlisle’s Adam Collin although Neill Collins claimed he had made the vital touch.
“We‘ve looked back on the video and the ball was definitely over the line when Neill got at it,” Doyle said. “If it wasn’t then I’d gladly let him have it but it was.
“I’m claiming that one 100 per cent.
“The most important thing was that it made sure of the result for us. It wasn’t the prettiest of goals you’ll see but they all count.
“And, at the end of the day, this is a really good result because Carlisle is always such a difficult place for anyone to come.”