Chris Wilder, the Sheffield United manager, believes his players are maturing into a formidableChampionship team.
Speaking ahead of Saturday's meeting with Aston Villa, which pits seventh versus fourth in the Championship table, Wilder cited United's cerebral approach during last weekend's victory over Bolton Wanderers as evidence to support his claim.
Contrasting their performance in Greater Manchester to the one they delivered at Ipswich Town five months ago, Wilder said: "Ipswich wanted to put us on the back foot, the same way Bolton tried to do. Down there, we just headed the ball out and straight back to them. We were a little bit cuter (at Bolton) and, because of that, didn't get sucked into playing how the opposition wanted to play. We still dealt with things well but in a manner that gave us a chance. I think that shows the boys are learning."
The visit of Villa, one of the division's most fancied teams, represents another opportunity for Wilder to put his theory to the test. United failed to beat Steve Bruce's side last term, conceding a late equalier at Bramall Lane before losing the return 1-0 despite producing an enterprising display.
"Sometimes you've got to recognise we don't have five or six years of Championship experience," Wilder, who led United to promotion two seasons ago, said. "The likes of Jack (O'Connell) are learning, Bash (Chris Basham) has not been in the Championship for a long time, Kieron (Freeman) isn't a consistentChampionship player through his career but they have all shown they belong."
Despite their vast experience and lavishing millions on Bruce's squad, Villa will make the journey north above United on goal difference alone and under increasing pressure after being knocked out of the Carabao Cup by Burton Albion. The defeat, which came only three days after Bruce rued his players' profligacy during a 1-1 draw with Reading when, according to Wilder's predecessor, they created enough chances to "win two games" let alone one.
"We've got to eradicate the individual errors that are starting to creep in and cost us," he said. "The basics of the Championship are we've done enough to win two games there."