They might not have set the pulses racing but, as Stefan Scougall acknowledged, this result saw Sheffield United pass another significant test in the race for promotion from League One.
The contest, against an MK Dons team which destroyed the old adage that tables never lie, was delicately poised when Darren Potter dragged the visitors level early in the second-half.
But, showing the conviction to be expected from a side which has now gone 11 matches unbeaten, United seized both the momentum and the points when Billy Sharp scored his 10th of the season and fifth in only three games. The outcome left them fourth in the table and Scougall, who had earlier broken the deadlock, purring about their ability to eke-out wins.
“That shows our character,” he said. “It showed we’ve got a spirit and togetherness that shone through in the end. We didn’t play that well but we deserved to come through. They’re a good side but we were clinical.”
Dons, who slip to 20th, might have arrived at Bramall Lane without a manager. But they certainly had a plan. Richie Barker, placed in temporary charge following Karl Robinson’s departure, asked his players to test United by switching possession and working between the lines. They saw more of the ball and forced Wilder, already missing injured striker Matt Done, to tweak United’s shape on numerous occasions. But, after Ben Reeves had forced Simon Moore to save during the opening exchanges, they failed to penetrate the hosts’ rearguard until Potter pounced.
United, who had been warned by Chris Wilder that Dons would prove awkward opponents, were dogged. Crucially they were ruthless too. Scougall, replacing Done in the starting eleven, seized his opportunity by turning home following a scramble in the penalty area before providing the assist which saw Sharp wrestle back control.
“You need that fight and that ability to get results like this if you want to be successful over the course of the season,” Scougall said.
the goal machine
Dons, as Wilder had predicted, were much better than either their ranking or recent results suggest. Despite failing to win any of their last five fixtures, all of the visitors’ victories so far this season have come away from home. Robinson might have been axed when chairman Pete Winkelman lost faith in his ability to steer them back to the Championship after being relegated last term. But Barker, returning to management for the first time since being sacked by Portsmouth in 2014, will have been encouraged by their performance. What he lacks, unlike Wilder, is a centre-forward of Sharp’s quality. United’s captain worked tirelessly before getting his reward after Paul Coutts and Scougall had combined.
“If you give the ball to Sharpy in the box, he’s going to score, simple,” Scougall said. “If we put the ball in the right areas, you know he is going to get on the end.”
the other wee man
Scougall, with his impish demeanour and tiny frame, was probably asked to provide ID before collecting the man-of-the-match champagne. Despite looking much younger than his 23 years, the former Scotland under-21 international epitomizes the relentless spirit which makes this United squad a force to be reckoned with. Handed a rare start when Done was diagnosed with a fractured jaw, Scougall was jettisoned by Nigel Adkins last season as he sought to squeeze “six big ‘uns” in his team. Wilder, who adopts a much more aggressive approach than his predecessor, is more bothered about fight than feet and inches.
“Confidence is flying through the squad,” Scougall said. “It’s a good feeling.”
Regardless of where they finish, United are a completely different beast to the team which limped to an 11th placed finish last season. Defenders Ethan Ebanks-Landell, Daniel Lafferty and Jake Wright have yet to taste defeat in a United jersey while John Fleck once again proved his worth on and off the ball. The biggest difference, though, is United’s mind-set. Something Scougall attributes to the principles Wilder and his staff have instilled since taking charge five months ago.
“It’s come from the manager and the management team,” he said. “They’ve put belief in the boys. It also comes from training at a high intensity. If we’re not, he’ll stop the session and tell us to lift things.”