Neill Collins emerged from the dressing room looking like he had just gone 12 rounds with Kell Brook, the world champion boxer, who watched this goal-strewn contest unfold from the stands.
The Sheffield United centre-half’s cut eye and swollen cheekbone were caused by a stray boot rather than swinging hook but underlined that, no matter what the discipline, sometimes you must shed blood to succeed.
“I couldn’t believe I never even got a foul for it,” Collins said. “The studs went right across my face. There’s no stitches, just glue, but that’s a big part of the job, putting your head in where it hurts. That’s what I have made my career out of, and it doesn’t feel as sore now because we’ve won.
“It wouldn’t have been my face that would have been hurting if we had lost, it would have been my pride.”
Collins revealed the move which saw him head home Jose Baxter’s corner, after Keith Hill’s side had twice hauled themselves level, was the brainchild of assistant manager Andy Crosby who, following Nigel Adkins’ appointment in June, has assumed responsibility for devising United’s set-piece routines.
The fact that Collins has now hit the target more times in 12 outings than he did during the entire 2013/14 campaign is testament to the effectiveness of the 42-year-old’s work.
But the real star of the show was Che Adams who, making his first league start since being dropped for an off-the-pitch indiscretion, was denied a hat-trick only by Josh Lillis’ tremendous last minute save.
“It’s all part of the learning process,” Adkins responded when asked whether the teenager had played his way back into the coaching staff’s good books. “It’s in the past, we’ve moved on and so all I’ve got to say is what a player he can be.”
Collins, who was preparing to help Wolverhampton Wanderers reach the Premier League when his young colleague was entering secondary school, agreed.
“Sometimes you hear people say it’s a training-ground routine and it’s not but that was straight off he training ground,” he said. “We worked on two corners, and I should have scored from one in the first half, but it ended up over the bar.
“With the goal, fair play to Jose Baxter, he called it - because we were going to do something else - and put the ball straight on a sixpence. As soon as I headed it, I knew it was going in the net.
“Sometimes it’s the wee fine margins, with a set-piece we have worked on, that can a turn game for you. It’s won us three points today.”
Collins recalled Wolves’ march out of League One two seasons ago following a fixture which, having initially seemed destined to become a non-event, suddenly burst into life.
United are sixth but yet to truly find their rhythm after some indifferent results of late.
Adkins, who lost Jay McEveley and Stefan Scougall to injury and illness respectively, insists the bottom line is “being in the fight come January”, and Collins, for all United’s attacking prowess, believes replicating the same character which saw off Rochdale’s challenge will be key.
“We all have to realise that,” he said.
“I remember two teams who got out of the league, Charlton and Wolves. Neither of them were free-flowing but they used to grind out 1-0s, and 2-1s, score goals from set-pieces and free-kicks.
“It was only at the turn of the year when they started turning teams over more convincingly. So, today’s three points will be just as important as any others we get when we get 2-0 or 3-0 wins.”
If United can combine their creativity going forward with a little more frugaility at the back then those wins will not be too far away.
Adams opened the scoring in clinical fashion when Baxter spotted his angled run before Matt Done, who produced Herculean shift against his former club, conceded the foul which allowed Peter Vicenti to equaliser from the penalty spot.
Billy Sharp claimed a superb assist for Adams’ second but Rochdale proved a mighty tough nut to crack and deservedly levelled, albeit in scruffy fashion, when Lewis Alessandra’s effort squirmed beyond Mark Howard, making his 100th appearance for the hosts, and across the line.
United, though, demonstrated commendable durability by dusting themselves down and scoring a third when Collins, recovered from his earlier tangle with an opposition player, met Baxter’s corner.
Adams was on the verge of claiming the match ball when he weaved his way towards Lillis during the closing stages but the Rochdale goalkeeper produced an excellent block.
“We worked hard, played some good stuff and showed, on top of that, we weren’t going to give up,” Collins added.
Sheffield United: Howard 6, Freeman 7, Basham 7, Coutts 6 (Reed 74), Sharp 6, Baxter 6, Done 7, Collins 6, Scougall 6 (K Wallace 46, 7), McEveley 6 (McGahey 46, 7), Adams 8. Not used: Wooolford, Sammon, Campbell-Ryce, Long.
Rochdale: Lillis 8, Rafferty 6, McNulty 7, Lancashire 6, Vincenti 7, Lund 6, Alessandra 6, McDermott 6 (Noble-Lazarus 52, 7), Mendez-Laing 7, Cannon 5 (Allen 34), Kennedy (Tanser 70). Not used: Eastham, Barry-Murphy, Musangu, Bunney.
Referee: Oliver Langford (West Midlands).