Jose Baxter’s seventh goal of the campaign helped Sheffield United clinch a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Carlisle United tonight and seal a 10th successive win in all competitions.
Ben Davies replaces Cardiff City loanee John Brayord in the right-back slot in the only alteration to the team who beat Charlton Athletic in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup last weekend.
It took United less than 30 seconds to have the first sight at goal, Jamie Murphy forcing Jordan Pickford into a smart stop at his near post after he tricked his way past Carlisle debutant James Pearson.
Neill Collins and Ryan Flynn combined well to feed Stefan Scougall and the little midfielder let fly from just outside the penalty area but his strike went straight at Pickford.
Carlisle made a statement of their attacking intent when David Amoo wriggled his way past Collins on the right flank and swung in a teasing delivery which narrowly evaded Lee Miller in the centre.
However, the hosts should have taken the lead courtesy of Scougall after he latched on to Coady’s clever pass. His composure in the one on one situation deserted him at the vital moment and Pickford spread himself well to block the effort.
Flynn, oozing confidence following his FA Cup goal, fired off target after another flowing United move.
But Clough’s men deservedly went ahead in the 28th minute as Baxter neatly sidestepped Reece Brown in the area before slotting home. It was his seventh goal since joining the club on a permanent basis from Oldham Athletic.
United did not have it all their own way and Mark Howard had to be alert to keep out a well struck half volley from distance by Brad Potts.
Clough’s troops continued to monopoloise possession after the break and it took a smart reflex stop from Pickford to prevent Jamie Murphy from doubling their advantage.
Midway through the second half, United freshened things up, throwing on Stephen McGinn and Chris Porter for Scougall and Baxter respectively.
Tiredness began to kick in during the latter stages of the contest and Carlisle almost made United pay for getting too deep when substitute David Symington’s ambitious effort deflected inches wide. From the resulting corner, Amoo’s weak header was cleared off the line by Davies.
United: Howard; Davies, Maguire, Collins, Harris; Flynn, Doyle, Coady, Scougall, Murphy; Baxter. Substitutes: Hill, Porter, Miller, McGinn, Paynter, Long, Freeman.
Carlisle Utd: Pickford, Pearson, Chimbonda, Brown, Chantler, Noble, Potts, Berrett, Amoo, Byrne, Miller. Substitutes: Fleming, Symington, Redmond, Brough, Guy, Meppen-Walter, Novo.