‘KICK it to Brooks,’ came the cry from a lone Sheffield United voice in the main stand soon after the hosts had doubled their lead over Burton Albion.
As tactical instructions go, it was hardly Guardiola-esque. But the sentiment was understandable, David Brooks having underlined his potential importance to the Blades during the Championship run-in by finding the net just three minutes after coming off the bench.
It had been an accomplished finish, too, as the Welsh international, having been played clear by an exquisite pass from Mark Duffy, made light work of beating Brewers’ goalkeeper Stephen Bywater from the edge of the penalty area.
Later Brooks would show his ability to turn provider with a delightful pass that Lee Evans followed with a thunderous shot against the crossbar.
That both these came after an opening hour in which Burton had created the lion’s share of chances only to trail to Enda Stevens’s opener underlined why many see Brooks as the potential ace in the Blades’ pack during a race for the play-offs surely destined to go to the wire.
As it stands United sit one place and two points behind Middlesbrough in sixth place.
Fine margins are likely to decide which, if any, of the Yorkshire duo can extend their season beyond May 6.
Brooks, now fully recovered from his debilitating bout of glandular fever, may well be the man to make the difference.
He certainly eased the growing anxiety among the 24,832 crowd last night with the sweet 64th-minute finish that capped a sublime move involving Chris Basham, Billy Sharp and Duffy.
Up to that point Burton had been the better side. With Nigel Clough clearly instructing his players to drop deep whenever the hosts had the ball before then attempting to break at speed, the Blades struggled.
But for the opening goal from Stevens and a flurry of chances early in the second half, most of the goalmouth action had come in home territory.
Twice in the opening 45 minutes Jamal Blackman had to be at his best to keep out shots from Lloyd Dyer after the United backline had been opened up by the enterprising play of the visitors.
The Chelsea loanee also had to dive bravely at the feet of Darren Bent as the former England striker strained to reach a Tom Flanagan cross, and Hope Akpan was unfortunate to see his effort diverted just wide by the Jack O’Connell’s heel.
Going in at the break with nothing to show for their superior efforts was bad enough for Clough’s men. To be behind as well was just cruel.
Stevens’s first goal since his summer move from Portsmouth did the damage for United.
It came just before the half-hour mark, George Baldock creating the chance that was gleefully converted from ten yards by his fellow wing-back.
The visitors continued to create chances after the restart as Bent headed wide from three yards out and then a dangerous cross was flicked over his own crossbar by Richard Stearman with Blackman stranded.
To their credit the Blades had also carried a much more potent attacking threat of their own in those early stages of the second half.
No fewer than three chances went begging inside the opening five minutes.
First, John Fleck’s shot was bravely deflected behind by Damian McCrory. Then, after Burton had been opened up down their right flank, Billy Sharp had come agonisingly close to converting a James Wilson cross.
Mark Duffy completed the trio of chances with a snapshot that Stephen Bywater did brilliantly to keep out low to his right.
Even allowing for this increased United tempo, however, it took the introduction of Brooks from the bench to kill off the battling Brewers.
His third goal of the season did justice to what had been a slick move that started deep in home territory. It also settled any nerves on the part of the Blades, who were unfortunate not to add a third before the end when John Fleck thundered a shot goalwards that Bywater tipped over at full stretch.
Sheffield United: Blackman; Basham, Stearman, O’Connell; Baldock, Evans, Duffy (Lundstram 85), Fleck, Stevens; Sharp (Donaldson 90), Wilson (Brooks 61). Unused substitutes: Moore, Leonard, Lafferty, Holmes.
Burton Albion: Bywater; Flanagan (Buxton 82), Naylor, McFadzean, McCrory; Davenport, Sordell, Allen (Sbarra 12), Akpan, Dyer; Bent (Varney 82). Unused substitutes, Campbell, Barker, Boyce.
Referee: S Duncan (Northumberland).
Results and tables: Page 22.