NEVER mind measuring up for their Wembley outfits, Sheffield United’s players already have a perfect 10.
In a milestone week, the buoyant Blades equalled their best-ever run of consecutive wins, 10 – set in the autumn of 2005 – and if that wasn’t enough, they also drew level with another noteworthy statistic.
Namely securing their seventh successive clean sheet in the league, equalling the record set by the promotion class of John Harris, who went up to the old Division One in 1970-71.
Goalkeeper Mark Howard has now not let in a league goal for a staggering 630 minutes – some 10-and-a-half hours – with it seemingly being a week for records at Bramall Lane after the Blades became just the ninth third-tier side to reach the FA Cup semi-finals on Sunday. The latest victory was hailed in song at the final whistle with an airing of the Perfect 10 – performed by the Beautiful South whose lead singer is Unitedite Paul Heaton – followed by the Impossible Dream. Maybe with a slight inference to the play-offs even.
Despite switching back to their staple diet of League One after dining out in style against Charlton, the Blades showed they weren’t averse to bread-and-butter business in front of a crowd which was just over half of the Lane attendance three days earlier.
The margin of victory against the relegation-haunted Cumbrians, whose wait for a first win in S2 since August 1980 goes on, may have been slender, but the Blades were deserving of the spoils, despite a late rally from Carlisle which caused a fair bit of anxiety among the 15,437 crowd.
But United, with wingmen Jamie Murphy and Ryan Flynn causing the visiting rearguard plenty of overtime, pocketed another win bonus as they moved up to tenth spot in League One, eight points behind sixth-placed Peterborough with a game in hand. All told, it was a satisfactory enough evening for Nigel Clough, who had spoken about his fears of an “After the Lord Mayor’s Show’ scenario after booking a trip to Wembley.
Any fears Clough may have had about his side being all partied out following a super Sunday disapated inside 20 seconds, with Murphy going close to giving the Blades the lead, with his low shot blocked by Jordan Pickford.
The visiting goalkeeper then held Stefan Scougall’s effort after an intricate Blades move and even at an early juncture, you got the impression it would be a long night for the Cumbrians.
Pickford then earned his corn again to save Scougall’s shot after he was sent clear by Conor Coady before Flynn dragged a shot wide as the hosts kept their hand firmly on the trottle.
The pressure eventually told with a choice home goal on 28 minutes which spoke volumes about the Blades’ burgeoning confidence levels of late.
A polished move started by a sweeping pass from Harry Maguire ended with Coady supplying Baxter and he deftly turned his marker before expertly steering home a low shot into the bottom corner for his seventh goal of the campaign.
WIth Carlisle having brought meek offerings to the attacking table, the odds on Howard recording another shut-out, even at this stage, would have been short, with it looking like another relatively comfortable evening.
But he was finally thrust into action twice before the break, first holding onto Brad Potts’s long-ranger before he blocked a dangerous cross-shot from David Amoo.
On the restart, the Blades continued on the front foot with Murphy’s shot flying across goal before the Scot twisted and turned ahead of shooting at Pickford.
But a rubber-stamping second goal never transpired to give the Cumbrians some semblance of heart after they rode their luck for most of the first period.
To their credit, the relegation-haunted and injury-hit visitors hung in there and their stoicism paid off with a concerted spell of pressure in the final quarter.
Amoo’s overhead kick flew across goal, David Symington saw his shot deflected just wide and Ben Davies cleared Amoo’s header from on the goalline.
United collectively dropped deeper in the final stages, with Kieron Freeman brought up as an extra defender, but they survived five added-on minutes of stoppage time competently enough.
Carlisle’s late pluck might stand them in good stead for their relegation battle, but the Blades – after their fair share of drop fears in 2013-14 – are firmly looking in the other direction.
Sheffield United: Howard; Davies, Maguire, Collins, Harris; Flynn (Freeman 86), Coady, Doyle, Murphy; Scougall (McGinn 68), Baxter (Porter 69). Unused substitutes: Hill, S Miller, Paynter, Long.
Carlisle United: Pickford; Pearson, Brown, Chimbonda, Chantler (Brough 90); Amoo, Berrett, Potts, Noble (Symington 63); L Miller, Byrne (Novo 72). Unused substitutes: Fleming, Redmond, Guy, Meppen-Walter.
Referee: C Boyeson (East Yorkshire).