The Premiership contenders of United prevailed over relegation-threatened Wednesday in the Sheffield derby but only after showing themselves to be a team with dual identities.
Two goals in front by half-time, any notion that United's challenge for automatic promotion was about to collapse looked to be no more than wishful thinking on the part of Watford and Leeds.
The three-game mini-wobble that had yielded only two points appeared to have been banished. Then came the second half, in which Neil Warnock's side were so much in charge they seemed sure to add handsomely to first-half goals from Michael Tonge and Ade Akinbiyi.
Instead they produced an exhibition of such abject finishing that Wednesday, given a lifeline through a penalty 12 minutes from time, ultimately forced them into a desperate rearguard to hang on to the spoils.
Akinbiyi, Warnock's £1.75m buy from Burnley, should have had a hat-trick but he and fellow striker Bruce Dyer appeared to be competing with each other for the most embarrassing howler. Given that Dyer's side-foot wide from five yards matched Akinbiyi's header over from three, that contest should probably be called a draw, although Akinbiyi missed another that was almost as easy.
As Wednesday subjected United to a barrage of belated pressure, Warnock did not appear to be smiling, although his sense of humour returned once the final whistle came. "I've just thanked Ade and Bruce for making it a bit more interesting," he said afterwards.
Such a frantic finale could not have been imagined earlier as United, steadily gaining the upper hand after a messy start, made a predictable breakthrough after 36 minutes. Chris Brunt fouled Chris Armstrong between the penalty area and the touchline on the left, which initially prompted fury from Warnock that the referee Nigel Miller had not waved advantage when the full-back continued his run.
On reflection, the United manager was pleased he did not as Tonge's attempt to whip the free-kick into the far corner of the net came off perfectly.
Wednesday, who had mustered no more than a couple of shots on target to that point, responded with more energy but no product and on the stroke of half-time the contest felt as good as over after Akinbiyi brought a deep cross from Armstrong under control and smashed the ball back past Chris Adamsom for United's second.
Injuries to Leigh Bromby and Craig Short had posed a problem in defence for Warnock, who revealed that his captain Chris Morgan had taken his place in the back four despite undergoing manipulative treatment on a hip injury under general anaesthetic on Thursday.
But until Steven MacLean, himself brought down, scored from the spot, Wednesday had not threatened a goal, leaving manager Paul Sturrock perplexed. "I don't think a lot of my players appreciated what a derby game is all about," he said. "We are a young team but United bullied us for much of the match. The commitment was not there until the horse had bolted."
Asked his view on claims for a second penalty, Sturrock said: "I didn't see it but if we had come out with a point, it would have been a travesty."Reuse content