Sheffield United winger Jamie Murphy celebrated clinching a new Blades deal with a match-winning performance to knock Swindon Town off the top of League One.
The 25-year-old netted twice in the second half of a feisty contest to propel United back into play-off contention.
Murphy’s new deal – which will keep him at Bramall Lane until the summer of 2017, with another 12-month option – was announced before kick-off on Saturday.
While that was expected, the news which followed that manager Nigel Clough was making 10 changes for the visit of high-flying Swindon certainly raised eyebrows.
Murphy, who was part of the side which had pushed Tottenham Hotspur all the way in the League Cup semi-final three days previously, was rested to the bench.
With one eye on tomorrow’s FA Cup replay with Preston North End – and a possible lucrative televised tie with Manchester United as the prize – Clough drafted in his three new signings, Paul Coutts, Kieron Freeman and John Brayford.
But after a flurry of first-half bookings, and Michael Higdon close to being sent off after coming close to collecting two yellow cards, Murphy replaced the striker before the interval.
The Scotsman helped United seize the initiative in the second half and two stunning strikes helped cap a memorable afternoon for Murphy.
His two-week-old daughter, Sophie, was in the crowd for her first game, to leave dad thrilled after a memorable fortnight.
“I have been working hard and, thankfully, the manager and the club have asked me to sign a new deal, and I was more than happy to,” said Murphy.
“Negotiations were pretty quick. The club wanted me to stay, I wanted to stay, the fans wanted me to stay, so it was pretty easy. Everything is going great, my little daughter was born two weeks ago and it was her first game today.
“When I first came here I couldn’t envisage the way things have turned out. From not being happy, that sort of stuff, wanting to go home, to the complete opposite. A great place for me to live, I have started my family, and, hopefully, I am going to bring them up here for the next few years. I am sure the club has the same ambition as me, to get promoted, to get the club back where it belongs.”
Murphy joined United in January, 2013, and while used predominantly as a winger with a licence to roam, he is no stranger to playing as a lone striker.
With Higdon’s exit, Murphy took up the role with ease and caused Swindon problems in the second half.
“I have done it throughout my career – in big European games for Motherwell I used to play up front myself,” he said. “I am lucky enough to have experienced that.”
The first goal was stunning, Louis Reed’s probing run down the right flank ended with a peach of a cross and Murphy took the ball in his stride before drilling it beyond a stranded Wes Foderingham.
If the Swindon goalkeeper lost that battle, he was also outfoxed in stoppage time as Murphy bagged his second goal.
Swindon were still complaining after being denied a penalty when Jordan Turnbull looked like he was tripped in the area.
A sublime pass from defender Terry Kennedy, who himself also agreed a new contract extension before kick-off, cut open the Swindon defence to see Murphy race clear. One-on-one, Murphy had time to choose which way to beat Foderingham, before opting to chip the ball over the goalkeeper.
So which was his favourite goal? “The first one,” he smiled. “It was a bit harder than the second one. I caught it well and it was a great ball from (Louis) Reed.
“For the second one, the goalkeeper took his time and made it difficult, but you always know he is going to go down.”
Murphy’s manager Clough, himself a celebrated striker in his playing days, leaned towards the second goal as his favourite. “Two great finishes, two different ones,” he said. “The second one is more difficult because you have so much time to think about it, when you are running clear.
“But he has just waited for the goalkeeper, then dinked it over him. Brilliant finishes. He is in that confident mood and frame of mind, at the moment.”
Victory took United to sixth spot, 18 points off leaders Bristol City, but have played fewer games.
“We have said all along, we are not giving up on the top two,” said Clough. “It’s difficult to sustain two cup runs and a league challenge. We are still going for the top two, but if worst comes to the worst, then top six.”
On the new deals for Murphy and Kennedy, Clough added: “Both are influential members of the squad and have the potential to be even better.
“Jamie has caused Premiership defenders countless problems in our cup runs, whilst Terry is a no-nonsense defender, the type of which are particularly appreciated at Bramall Lane.”
One piece of bad news for the Blades is prospect Diego De Girolamo has rejected a new Blades deal and could be on his way out of the club.
Sheffield United: Turner, Brayford, Basham, Kennedy, Freeman, Davies, Reed, Wallace (Scougall 60), Coutts (Baxter 79), Higdon (Murphy 43), Adams. Unused substitutes: Long, Alcock, McNulty, Doyle.
Swindon Town: Foderingham, Branco, Thompson, Turnbull, Byrne, Swift, Thompson, Stephens, Toffolo, Williams (Hylton 82), Obika (Smith 63). Unused substitutes: Barthram, Belford, Rodgers, Marshall.
Referee: D Coote (Notts).