Sheffield Wednesday threw down the gauntlet to city rivals United with a fourth successive win in their quest for promotion to the Championship.
Headed goals from Gary Madine, Miguel Llera and Ryan Lowe maintained Dave Jones’s unbeaten start as Owls manager and enabled them to leapfrog the Blades into second place in the table.
The fourth win on the bounce, coupled with a fourth clean sheet, took the Owls to 83 points with four matches remaining. Last season Huddersfield Town finished third on 87, with Southampton second on 92 and Brighton champions with 95.
To reach the Saints’ tally, Jones’s side need three more wins from their remaining games, away to Colchester and Brentford allied to Hillsborough games against Carlisle and Wycombe.
But first attention switches to Spotland tonight as United travel to Rochdale needing to avoid defeat to retake second place.
Two wins in 48 hours left Jones counting the cost after picking up several injuries.
Against Huddersfield on Saturday, Reda Johnson limped out with a thigh injury and is due to have a scan today. Yesterday crocked Lewis Buxton was substituted at half-time.
But Jones could not mask his delight at a maximum points haul over Easter.
“I have nothing but admiration for the players, they were absolutely magnificent,” he said. “They have certainly earned their corn today.
“We have had two really hard games in three days and those lads have given absolutely everything until they have dropped.
“One game was a tough derby against a promotion rival.
“We’ve picked up a few knocks and strains because of that. Lewis Buxton felt the back of his leg so we brought him off straight away so it could be three days out rather than three weeks.
“A lot of the players had nothing left in the tank, they were out on their feet. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.
“It wasn’t the most fluent performance but getting the three points was all that mattered and that’s what we did.”
Julian Bennett came in yesterday to replace Reda Johnson at left-back, but finished the game at right-back after Buxton’s departure.
Visiting captain Dean Furman nearly delivered an early shock to the Owls, but his 20-yard shot whistled past Stephen Bywater’s right-hand post, then Robbie Simpson headed over at the far post.
At the other end Michail Antonio’s pace was causing plenty of problems on the right flank, while Nile Ranger’s 30-yard effort was easily picked up by Oldham goalkeeper Dean Bouzanis.
Wednesday had not settled in the first 20 minutes, and spurned a glorious chance to open the scoring.
Antonio picked up a loose ball on the halfway line, raced away but with only Bouzanis to beat the goalkeeper guessed correctly, diving low to his left to thwart the on-loan winger.
Wednesday were inviting pressure from Oldham, looking to utilise the pace of Johnson and Antonio to catch them on the counter-attack.
Bywater delivered a succession of swift clearances upfield which had the Lancashire club back-pedalling but the Owls could not deliver a clinical finish.
A storming run from Buxton ended with a cross which just evaded the head of Ranger, before Chris Lines sent a curling shot just wide of goal as half-time approached.
Simpson was unlucky to see his close-range effort prodded wide of the post from Bradley Diallo’s cross but the Owls finally broke the deadlock two minutes before the interval.
Llera, whose free-kick opened the scoring at Huddersfield on Saturday, this time turned provider. The centre-half popped up on the left wing and delivered a beautiful cross which was perfect for Madine to head home for his 18th goal of the season.
Buxton stayed off at half-time, replaced by Mark Beevers, the centre-half moving over to left-back, and the change nearly gifted former Owl Shefki Kuqi an equaliser.
Three Wednesday defenders went for the ball, ended up colliding, and Kuqi raced away but could not beat Bywater after being forced wide.
Lines then produced a superb tackle following a free-kick for Oldham – conceded by a clumsy challenge from Bennett – to deny Furman in the penalty area.
Johnson was replaced by Keith Treacy on the hour-mark as Jones looked to up the tempo. The Jamaican winger looked to be feeling the strain after playing twice in 48 hours having only recently returned from injury.
Former Sheffield United winger Treacy made an immediate impact. Madine won a free-kick on the right, and Treacy’s floated setpiece was met by the head of Llera at the near post to score in front of the Kop.
Treacy then had a glorious chance to score himself but pulled his shot wide, and Madine chose the wrong option when he tried to find a colleague instead of shooting as the Owls piled on the pressure.
The impressive Llera – only playing because captain Rob Jones was suspended - blasted over the crossbar before substitute Ryan Lowe scored with his first touch of the game.
And it was the third headed goal of the match, the former Bury striker tucking the ball home at the far post to the delight of the 22,232 lunchtime crowd.
Sheffield Wednesday: Bywater, Buxton (Beevers 45), Batth, Llera, Bennett, Johnson (Treacy 60), Lines, Semedo, Antonio, Madine, Ranger (Lowe 78). Unused substitutes: Weaver, Prutton.
Oldham Athletic: Bouzanis, Lee, Brown, Tarkowski (Belezika 85), Diallo, Morais (Marsh-Brown 69), Adeyemi, Furman, Simpson, Bunn, Kuqi (Tounkara 78). Unused substitutes: Gerrard, M’changama.
Referee: K Stroud.