Despite moving them eight points clear at the top of the table, Sheffield United arrived back from Oxford during the early hours of Wednesday morning still far from satisfied with their previous night’s work.
Chris Wilder, the League One leaders’ manager, might have bounded across the pitch at the final whistle before celebrating wildly in front of the visiting fans. But, only 45 minutes earlier, he had been dissecting a first-half performance which, assistant Alan Knill acknowledged, left much to be desired.
“We made some poor decisions which we don’t usually make,” he said. “We were lucky to get them in at half time and have a chat to them.
“We believe in them and, talking to them, I think they believe in what we are trying to do. It’s a group thing. We weren’t organised properly when they scored and we have to say that was down to us.”
Knill’s mea culpa should not raise too many eyebrows given that Wilder’s regime is based on “total honesty.” Nor, following Michael Appleton’s comments in the wake of Oxford’s promotion last season - “We have been the best team in the division,” he claimed, despite finishing 13 points behind Wilder’s Northampton Town - will the 49-year-old’s ‘Graeme Souness does Istanbul’ style celebrations after winning 3-2 at the Kassam Stadium.
But, amid the half-time inquests and thinly disguised acrimony, two United players did their chances of starting against Swindon Town on Tuesday no harm at all.
Midfielder Samir Carruthers, a January signing from MK Dons, impressed after coming on for the injured Jake Wright while fellow substitute Caolan Lavery, previously of Sheffield Wednesday, caught the eye in attack.
“When we played at home (against the Dons), Samir was outstanding against us,” Knill said. “He can play a number of positions which is massive for us. We needed to stretch them (Oxford) a little more than we had been doing.
“Billy (Sharp) and Hans (James Hanson), it wasn’t that they weren’t running behind but the balls to them weren’t that good. We were trying to be too precise. So it was nice to have Caolan with his pace.”
Wright (nose) will be assessed before United finalise their plans for next week’s visit to the County Ground while Harry Chapman, on-loan from Middlesbrough, could return to action after proving his fitness in the under-23’s.
“It’s hard to think ahead,” Knill said. “We’ve got a week off, a week to prepare. If we can pick up another three points there, from another tough away game, then that will stand us in good stead.”
Meanwhile, Steelphalt Academy graduates Sam Graham and Tyler Smith have signed professional contracts with United.
Graham, aged 16, has committed his future to the club until 2020. Smith, who like the defender is also a United supporter, will turn professional when his scholarship concludes in July.
Graham’s new deal will also be triggered when he completes his scholarship. Regan Slater also agreed professional terms after progressing through United’s youth system recently.
Academy manager Travis Binnion said: “Sam and Tyler have both enjoyed excellent campaigns for both the under-23’s and under-18’s and this is the reward for their efforts. They’ve got to keep on working hard though and they understand that.”