Chris Wilder, the Sheffield United manager, warned his team must win more wars of attrition in order to reach the Premier League following a hard-fought but deserved win over Bolton Wanderers.
Second-half goals from David McGoldrick and Billy Sharp, his 20th in all competitions so far this term, means Wilder's side will enter Friday's game against Aston Villa third in the Championship and three points behind second-placed Leeds.
Although United eventually finished as comfortable victors, they were forced to wait until after the interval before finding a route past opponents fighting for survival at the opposite end of the table.
Analysing the story of the match, Wilder predicted it could be the first of several similar tests his team must pass between now and the end of the season.
"We told the lads, without being disrespectful, that we've got teams coming here who aren't at the top end and it's how they might approach it as well," he said. "Because of the position we're in, it might be that they look to frustrate and take the sting out of the game.
"We've told the players not to to look at where teams are in the division. Every game has got to be taken on its merits."
With Villa, Middlesbrough and Leeds also among those United must face during their remaining 16 fixtures, Wilder does not anticipate every contest unfolding in a similar manner to Saturday's meeting with Wanderers. But, following the arrival of Scott Hogan, Gary Madine and Kieran Dowell during last month's transfer window, he believes United are now better equipped to maintain their challenge than before Christmas.
"Once we got going and into our stride and pattern, we played some decent stuff and moved the ball around well," Wilder said. "It looked comfortable but for 45 minutes, it wasn't for us.
"It's going to be important to keep clean sheets. But possibly, when we're on top, we have to win games and scoring is obviously key to winning games of football.
"That's what we're trying to do. I'm delighted with what we've done in January and the players at the top, we're excited about what we can achieve with them."