A win marks progress along the road to Wembley.
Defeat represents an opportunity to concentrate solely on the League.
There are no shortage of narratives on offer for clubs entering the Capital One Cup at the first round stage but Sheffield United did not need any excuses after dispatching Mansfield Town at Bramall Lane, last night.
Marc McNulty’s goal with four minutes remaining of the match secured the hosts a second round tie away at Premier League West Ham United after Alex Fisher had earlier cancelled out Andy Butler’s opener.
Nigel Clough, whose old-fashioned approach to knockout competitions sets him apart from those who argue they no longer boast a significant place in the game, later expressed his satisfaction with aspects of United’s performance which, despite never quite hitting the heights, provided glimpses of the potential which exists within their ranks.
But he acknowledged Mansfield’s contribution to an entertaining if not enthralling fixture meant his players were forced to show character as well as calibre in order to secure a place in the draw.
Despite making eight changes to their starting eleven - Michael Doyle, Neill Collins and Butler among those recalled - United burst out of the traps when Jose Baxter and McNulty combined to test Sascha Studer’s reflexes.
The Swiss goalkeeper was called into action again moments later when Baxter unleashed a curling shot from the edge of the penalty area but it was Jamal Campbell-Ryce who perhaps came closest to breaking the deadlock, before Butler’s 53rd minute intervention at least, when his tantalising centre was smothered at the near post.
Having led United into the semi-finals of the FA Cup earlier this year, Clough has made no attempt to disguise the fact he believes success in these tournaments can have a positive effect upon results in the league.
The visit of Paul Cox’s team, who finished 11th in the bottom tier last season, represented an opportunity to not only rebuild confidence following Saturday’s defeat by Bristol City but also allow players such as Butler, making his 400th career appearance, Stephen McGinn and McNulty to stake claims for prominent roles at Coventry City this weekend.
With Mansfield finding chances limited before the interval, it was Baxter and Campbell-Ryce who impressed the most although McNulty, a summer signing from Livingston, also looked lively and went close with a diving header midway through the opening period.
But the introduction of Sam Clucas for the injured Liam Hearn after a quarter-of-an-hour equipped the visitors with a cutting edge and the substitute twice drew smart saves from Mark Howard.
Nevertheless, United were inches away from taking a 39th minute lead when Ben Davies’ set-piece evaded both Chris Porter and Butler before flying agonisingly wide of target.
Davies went close himself with a long-range free-kick moments before the interval.
But it was Mansfield who made the brighest start to the second-half with Clucas depositing a header on the roof of Howard’s net.
United wrestled back control when Doyle saw a low shot deflected behind for a corner and, when Baxter met Davies’ expert delivery, Butler was on hand to scramble home at the far post.
Their lead lasted less than five minutes with Fisher drawing Mansfield level in fortuitous fashion courtesy of another wicked deflection.
McNulty hooked over the crossbar after pouncing on Lee Beevers’ error while Studer was called into action to deny Doyle from distance.
But he was left horribly exposed when McNulty, holding-off Ryan Tafazolli and Ritchie Sutton, claimed his first United goal since arriving from Scotland from substitute Michael Higdon’s pass on the 86th minute.
Sheffield united: Howard 6, Harris 6, Butler 6, Doyle 6, Baxter 8, McNulty 7 (McGahey 88) McGinn 6(Murphy 71), Collins 6, Davies 8, Porter 6 (Higdon 72), Campbell-Ryce 7. Not used: Basham, Flynn, Willis, De Girolamo
Mansfield Town: Studer 7, Sutton 6, Riley 6 (Dempster 72), Tafazolli 6, Fisher 6, Hearn 4 (Clucas 16, 7), McGuire 6 (F Bell 67), Heslop 6, Beevers 6, Taylor 6, Clements 7. Not used: Jones, Thomas, Belford, A Bell.