Sheffield United manager Nigel Clough prepared for this game by sleeping rough overnight to help raise funds for a local homeless charity.
During the opening period of the Blades’ League One fixture at SportsDirect.com Park, which saw Dominic Poleon blaze Oldham Athletic into a two-goal lead, it seemed as if his players were in equally benevolent mood before efforts from Jason Holt and Jamie Murphy demonstrated they are not prepared to surrender their grip on play-off qualification without a fight.
The half-time inquest, which - coupled with Stefan Scougall’s introduction - proved the catalyst for United’s recovery, was as brutally honest as the contribution of Steven Davies who defied an excruciating foot injury to help his colleagues take another important step towards a top-six finish.
“It wasn’t pleasant in the dressing room,” midfielder Michael Doyle said. “But you expect that when you concede in the manner that we did.
“We’re all men, we’re all professionals and there’s no point in patting people on the back and telling them they’ve been brilliant when they’ve not been. It doesn’t cause an issue whatsoever because we’re a tight-knit group and we are all striving for the same thing.”
United, as both Doyle and later Clough attested, attributed both of Poleon’s strikes to individual mistakes, with the usually reliable Terry Kennedy and Mark Howard deemed culpable.
However, the sight of Holt and Murphy extending their unbeaten run away from home to eight matches, illustrated why the visitors’ captain believes a return to the Championship might finally beckon at the fourth time of asking.
“At the beginning of the campaign, even when we were up and down a bit, we showed the right character ,and we’re showing it again now,” Doyle, who epitomised United’s never-say-die spirit during a combative shift, continued. “We don’t know when we’re beaten and we just keep on going and going no matter what.
“That’s the attitude we’ve got in the camp and we could even have won it at the end. We’re due a little bit of luck in the play-offs but we’re on the right track.
“The team that comes through them is going to be the team that shows the most character and determination. And we’re showing it right now.”
Nevertheless, United know progress will also depend on their ability to eradicate the type of errors which allowed Oldham, who would have entered this fixture ranked eighth rather than 13th if only results against the division’s leading clubs counted, to seize control.
Poleon opened the scoring after Kennedy’s misjudgement allowed Danny Philliskirk to send him bearing down on Chris Basham before the former United loanee converted from long range.
“Both their goals came from mistakes and that was disappointing because, other than that, I don’t think Mark Howard had a lot to do,” Clough said. “Mark should have got the second, I think he was a little taken by surprise, but we’d expect a goalkeeper of his quality to save it.
“Terry tried to bring the ball down and got caught. He was brilliant at Barnsley but maybe he thinks he’s turned into Bobby Moore overnight, although, in fairness, he was carrying a knock at that stage.”
Kennedy was not the only member of Clough’s squad hampered by a fitness issue during their 57th competitive outing since August.
“Steven has got a foot injury from (Doncaster) the other night,” Clough said. “He’s got a screw in there from a previous injury and, because of a whack that he took, that’s pressing on his boot.
“He had a little jog with his trainers on during the warm-up because he couldn’t get the boot on but then, when we said we needed him, he wedged into it and went out there to make some important headers in the final 15 minutes.
“If we’d been in a better position, certain of being in the play-offs, then he wouldn’t even have been in the 18.”
“Jay (McEveley) woke up with a dislocated shoulder,” Clough added. “He actually did it in the night sleeping. His arm was right round the back of his head and he had to go to hospital to get it put back in. That’s why he was here in a sling. Jamie felt his groin and we’re hoping Steven will be okay.
“The same goes for Matty Done who has been struggling with a groin injury too. We’re going from hard pitches to soft pitches and back again. That might be a factor but, really, it’s probably just eight months of playing.”
Despite their casualty list, United, still eight points clear of Rochdale in seventh, are becoming adept at finding a way, regardless of performance, to take something from a game.
Poleon, one of three Oldham players who featured here to boast spells at Bramall Lane on their footballing CVs, struck after Marc McNulty had seen an attempt saved before beating Howard again as the interval approached.
“I played with Dom, he’s a great kid,” Doyle said. “I was pointing to Bash to show him on to his right foot which he did but he scuffed it in. Joking aside, he took them well. Dom will be delighted but we’ll look at them and think we could have done better.”
Scougall’s entrance equipped fifth-placed United, who average 2.1 points per game from their last six matches, with a greater cutting edge. But it was fellow substitute Paul Coutts who provided the cross which Holt, netting for the fourth time in five appearances, touched home before Murphy followed suit following Scougall’s disputed corner.
Doyle, who had earlier been denied by a fine Joel Coleman save, then saw a powerful shot rebound back off the post.
“It hit the inside and I thought it was going to go in,” he said. “It was difficult out there with the wind and the pitch but it was important we showed a response, and we did.
“You can get greedy when you get back level in situations like that but, during the break, we’d have taken the draw, and it keeps us ticking over, which is good.”
OLDHAM ATHLETIC: Coleman 7, Brown 7, Mills*6, Kelly 7, Jones 7, Poleon 7, Philliskirk**7, Winchester 7, Wilson 6, Lockwood 6, Turner 6. Substitutes: Kean, Mellis, Wilkinson, Wilson, Kusunga, Sadler*(46) 6, R Murphy**(81).
SHEFFIELD UNITED: Howard 6, Brayford 6, Basham 6, Flynn 7, Doyle 8, J Murphy 7, McNulty***6, Reed*5, Freeman 6, Kennedy**5, Holt 6. Substitutes: Alcock, Scougall*(46) 8, Baxter, Done, Coutts**(46) 7, Turner, S Davies***(74).
MANAGERS’ VIEW - Dean Holden: “Dominic is one of those players who excites people and gets them out of their seats. Since I’ve been in charge he’s given everything. He scares full-backs to death because he’s so quick.”
MANAGERS’ VIEW - Nigel Clough: “Given the results elsewhere, that looks like being a very important point. It was good to see the character of the players to come from two goals down but, having said that, we shouldn’t have been two goals down in the first place.”
HERO: Captain Michael Doyle was a formidable presence at the heart of Sheffield United’s midfield, even during a disappointing first half, while the entrance of Stefan Scougall at half-time provided them with a thrust they had previously lacked.
KEY MOMENT: The decision to bring on Stefan Scougall and Paul Coutts at half-time took only 11 minutes to pay dividends with the latter delivering the cross for Jason Holt to score. Scougall caused the hosts all sorts of problems with his driving runs.
VIEWPOINT: Sheffield United proved they are ready to roll up their sleeves and scrap after recovering from a desperately disappointing first half to claim a share of the spoils while the sight of Stefan Scougall impressing as a substitute was encouraging.
REF WATCH: Richard Clark (Northumberland). Louis Reed and Jason Holt were cautioned for Sheffield United while Joe Mills, who was later substituted, was the only Oldham Athletic player to be shown a yellow card by Clark who did not enjoy an afternoon to remember.