Match Report: Sheffield United 1 Carlisle United 0

Sheffield United v Carlisle United    12.3.14'pic : Martyn Harrison'Jose Baxter - Sheffield United  1ST GOAL''� BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
Sheffield United v Carlisle United 12.3.14'pic : Martyn Harrison'Jose Baxter - Sheffield United 1ST GOAL''� BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
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Sheffield United achieved this landmark victory with a modicum of fuss.

Indeed, having seen his players stretch their winning sequence to 10 straight games, perhaps manager Nigel Clough’s only regret was that the outcome remained in the balance until the final whistle.

Jose Baxter was responsible for supplying the goal which, according to some measures, equalled the club’s best run of form in its 124 year history.

But with a potentially pivotal League One encounter at Preston North End looming large on the horizon, the sight of United recording a seventh consecutive clean sheet will also fuel suspicions that, despite making a wretched start to the campaign, the play-off positions are now more than just a pipe dream.

Baxter claimed his seventh of the season following a first--half exchange with fellow Liverpudlian Conor Coady and although Carlisle engineered several promising positions of their own, they lacked the cutting edge to make them pay.

Mark Howard’s goal came under sustained attack only once during last night’s fixture but, when Graham Kavanagh’s side did prise apart United’s well-marshalled defence, Ben Davies was on hand to clear David Amoo’s header.

Given their gruelling fixture schedule - United have now played 11 times since they were beaten by Crewe Alexandra on February 1 - they inevitably became increasingly ragged at the evening wore on.

But, with the top six now tantalisingly close, United dug deep and crossed the line.

Clough resisted the temptation to make wholesale changes to a team which, only three days earlier, had reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup.

John Brayford, whose goal effectively sealed their progress, was rested after playing through injury against Charlton Athletic with another loanee, Davies of Derby County, taking his place.

Clough was rewarded with a first-half display which largely underlined exactly why United had entered the contest being mooted as possible play-off contenders with Baxter edging them into a 28th minute lead with an immaculate finish before tired limbs provided their opponents with a glimmer of hope at the end.

Carlisle, who have slipped perilously close to the relegation zone in recent weeks, have been active in the loan market as manager Kavanagh, attempts to preserve their third tier status.

Two new arrivals, Reece Brown and James Pearson, made their debuts after being signed from Watford and Leicester City respectively.

Their presence helped to bolster a rearguard which kept the hosts, eight points behind sixth placed Peterborough a game in hand, at bay until Baxter pounced following a flurry of near misses.

Jordan Pickford was the busier of the two goalkeepers as United imposed their presence early on.

Clough has challenged his two centre-halves to instigate attacks whenever they are in possession and a delightful pass from Neill Collins, which pierced the visitors’ back four, set in motion the chain of events which ended with Stefen Scougall testing Pickford’s handling after combining with Ryan Flynn.

United, who had earlier seen Jamie Murphy flash a low drive across the six yard box, continued to dominate possession with Brown nearly turning another low centre, this time from Conor Coady, into his own net.

Nevertheless, Carlisle served notice they were not content to simply soak-up pressure when David Amoo’s cross was inches away from finding Lee Miller.

Amoo, a Liverpool academy graduate, appeared the greatest threat to United who have now gone over 12 hours without conceding a goal.

But it was Brad Potts who, after Baxter had broken the deadlock, came closest to beating Howard with a looping long range shot.

Despite entering this fixture just a point above the bottom four, Carlisle have plenty of experience. Captain Pascal Chimbonda, the former France, Sunderland and Tottenham defender, played in an unfamiliar central defensive role while Nacho Novo, previously of Sporting Gijon and Glasgow Rangers, stepped-off the bench with less than 20 minutes remaining.

Chimbonda has lost a yard of pace since completing his second spell at Spurs. Scougall ghosted effortlessly beyond him after being relased by Coady before failing to spot the advancing Flynn.

Pickford comfortably smothered the young Scot’s shot before breathing a sigh of relief moments later when Flynn’s compatriot also went close.

But it was no surprise when Baxter ended his three-game barren run after latching onto yet another Coady pass. The deft feint and body movement which perplexed Pickford and created the angle to caress the ball into the far corner of the net looked simplicity itself.

United began the second-half in the same fashion they had the first with Murphy agonisingly close to finding the top corner of the net after beating Chris Chantler for pace and Coady drifting forward in support.

Chantler recovered to block Flynn’s close-range attempt soon after while Murphy enjoyed another sight of goal only for Pickford toscramble away to safety.

Ammo and substitute David Symington led Carlisle’s charge for an equaliser but United, who introduced new signing Kieron Freeman during the closing stages, held on.