Sheffield United found the back of the net eight times as they thrashed promotion rivals Port Vale at Bramall Lane.
The fact that four of those ‘goals’ were chalked off for marginal offside infringements did little to dilute the feeling that this performance was a real statement of intent from Chris Wilder’s Blades.
Two goals from Ethan Ebanks-Landell put United on their way to victory, before second-half strikes from Mark Duffy and Stefan Scougall extended their unbeaten league run to eight matches.
The way United cut through Vale’s rearguard – the visitors had conceded just 14 goals in their opening 12 games – deserved more than their four goals.
While there have been many false dawns over recent years, optimism at Bramall Lane is growing that United could finally escape the clutches of League One.
Whatever hurdles the Blades encounter between now and May, it is unlikely they will get so many ‘goals’ wiped out.
Certainly Ebanks-Landell – the on-loan defender from Wolverhampton Wanderers – was left shaking his head at the final whistle.
“I have been in games where we’ve had a few ‘goals’ disallowed, but never four,” he said.
“I haven’t looked at them yet to see if they were rightly disallowed.
“I was very close to one, thinking I could have got there myself, but Sharpy (Billy Sharp) was there and offside, so maybe he should have left it for me.”
Sharp and Matt Done both had the ball in the back of the net twice, only for the cheers from the 19,699 crowd to be silenced by referee Mark Heywood.
The opening 20 minutes saw an open contest, with United indebted to a goal-saving block from Kieron Freeman which denied Anthony Grant.
Done flicked home a header, only for it to be flagged offside, before the hosts took the lead.
John Fleck, outstanding in United’s midfield, delivered his corner to the far post where Ebanks-Landell headed home.
Former Rangers midfielder Fleck thought he had made it 2-0 – as did referee Heywood and the Bramall Lane PA announcer – when his long-range effort squirmed through beyond Jak Alnwick.
But after the referee consulted his linesman, he ruled it out as it deflected off Sharp, who was deemed to be offside.
Just before half-time, United got the second goal their first-half display deserved, Sharp unable to connect with a bouncing ball before Ebanks-Landell volleyed home.
Amazingly, a third ‘goal’ was wiped out at the start of the second-half when Done was again penalised for being offside, after he headed home Duffy’s cross.
But, on 62 minutes, United went 3-0 up. From a Vale corner, Fleck ran to the other end before feeding Sharp.
The United striker’s initial shot was blocked by Ben Purkiss, but Duffy kept his composure to stroke the ball into the net.
Sharp saw his header wiped out by another close offside call, and, at the other end, Blades goalkeeper Simon Moore had to be alert to deny striker Alex Jones.
United capped off an impressive afternoon when Chris Hussey and Harry Chapman combined to find Sharp, whose header back across goal picked out substitute Scougall to nod in from close-range.
Ebanks-Landell – who also netted a stoppage-time equaliser last time out at Fleetwood Town – has quickly become a crowd favourite at the Lane.
He said: “I don’t know why (the fans have taken to me), I am just playing my own game. I guess they can see I am giving all I can.
“If you are not giving 100 per cent, you won’t be playing. Everybody knows that.
“You can see that in our dressing room, although I always give 100 per cent so what the gaffer says just enforces that.
“At 2-0, we felt they had gone, they didn’t have too much more to give.
“We knew in the second half they were going to give it a go, and we managed to ride out the first 15 minutes before we got back on top.”
The 23-year-old – who previously had loan spells at Bury – is an unlikely goal hero, and admitted he was happier at getting a clean sheet than scoring at the other end of the pitch.
“I have only got three goals for now, but, hopefully, I can pick up a few more,” he said.
“It’s a bonus to get goals, but my job is to get clean sheets. I am more happy for the clean sheet than the goals, definitely.
“We had four ‘goals’ disallowed, so just the fact we are creating chances is a positive.
“I will have to look at the goals again, I don’t really remember them.”
Although he was unequivocal when asked who would have taken a late penalty, and the chance of a hat-trick.
“I would have been on it,” he smiled.
“Me and Sharpy would have a little battle for it, but I think I would have taken it.”
Sheffield United: Moore, Wright, Ebanks-Landell, O’Connell, Freeman, Coutts, Duffy (Chapman 72), Fleck, Lafferty (Hussey 69), Done (Scougall 81), Sharp. Unused substitutes: Lavery, Ramsdale, Brown, Whiteman.
Port Vale: Alnwick, Purkiss, Streete, Smith, Knops, Jones, Amoros (Pereira 59), Grant, Hart, Foley (Geraldo Rosa 81), Paterson (Turner 67). Unused substitutes: Mac-Intosh, Cicilia, Mbamba, Kiko.
Referee: M Heywood (Cheshire).