But when it came to jockeying for position in the race for promotion from the Championship, both Sheffield United and West Bromwich Albion, now above Paul Heckingbottom’s men on goal difference alone, knew a win would give their challenge real impetus.
United took the points, recording an eighth win in their last 10 league outings. And predictably it was the irrepressible Billy Sharp who fired them to victory, netting either side of his fellow captain Jake Livermore’s red card.
Sheffield Wednesday injury update on Michael Smith, concerns cooled over defensive pair
Sheffield Wednesday's crucial Lee Gregory update as new signing is ruled out 'for some time'
"They sat behind the ball" - Sunderland boss talks Sheffield Wednesday tactics after Owls win in Carabao Cup
‘One or two wilted’ – Sheffield Wednesday to learn from last year as Darren Moore makes brutally honest transfer admission
Sheffield Wednesday identify two possible striker transfers – meeting to be held to discuss next steps
Tenth in the table, United are now only a point outside the play-off positions having played two games less than sixth-placed Nottingham Forest. Steve Bruce’s team slipped to ninth after suffering a third straight defeat.
Nevertheless, of all the teams in all the world and particularly England’s second tier, Bruce would have chosen United as the opposition for his first match in charge of the visitors.
Well, that isn’t strictly true of course. Someone from the Shepton Mallet Sunday League, or maybe even Andy Carroll’s former club Reading, would obviously have been more preferable. But there is something about Bramall Lane, where he began his coaching career over two decades ago, that brings out the best in the 61-year-old. Of the previous 14 times Bruce has pitted his wits against United, he has come out on top on 10 occasions.
But not this time, thanks to a combination of Sharp’s finishing and Livermore’s rash decision-making.
West Brom posed more of a threat than they should have done following his dismissal, partly because of Carroll’s physical presence and also thanks to the hosts’ failure to properly exploit their numerical advantage. Until Sharp claimed his second of the night that is - sweeping the ball into the corner of the net before celebrating in front of The Kop.
Heckingbottom has developed a reputation for bold selections in recent weeks. He continued in the same vein here, recalling Conor Hourihane, Jack Robinson, George Baldock and David McGoldrick to the starting eleven despite seeing United beat Birmingham City five days earlier.
Once again, his tinkering had the desired effect with McGoldrick setting in motion the chain of events which ended with Sharp scoring for the 11th time this term and Baldock producing a superb challenge to prevent a suspiciously offside looking Grady Diangana from equalising afterwards.
Hourihane found himself centre-stage during another pivotal moment, with Livermore seeing red following a surprisingly full-blooded challenge on the Republic of Ireland international. Surprising because it took place in what commentators like to describe as a “nothing” area of the pitch. That tiny patch of grass just inside United’s half clearly meant something to West Brom’s skipper though, as he left Hourihane in a heap before receiving his marching orders.
Bruce’s side were actually the more effective of the two sides until Sharp’s opener. They threatened on occasion afterwards. But for the most, it was United who appeared most likely to double their advantage with Jayden Bogle twice seeing shots blocked and Iliman Ndiaye being denied by Sam Johnstone.
Sharp finally did exactly that, picking his spot perfectly after being teed-up by Morgan Gibbs-White on his return from injury.