Sheffield United and Fulham have both used the January transfer window to reinforce their striking options and while Vincenzo Montella has made an immediate impact he was comprehensively outshone by Jon Stead last night.
Stead's first goal for United following his £750,000 move helped his new team to move to within two points of their opponents following a comfortable win at Bramall Lane - and it was enough to equal his Premiership tally from the whole of last season for Sunderland.
By contrast, it was a miserable evening for Fulham and Montella. The loan signing from Roma, who has already scored four times for the West London club, was at fault for United's opening goal and barely had a kick before being taken off before half-time with a groin injury.
Michael Tonge then added his first of the campaign - with Stephen Quinn the provider - as Fulham's run of six consecutive draws ended with a tame defeat. It was United's first victory of the season by more than a single goal and, allied to defeats for West Ham and Wigan, gives them a seven-point cushion from the relegation places.
"We had a lot of good chances and didn't give them any opportunities," the United manager Neil Warnock said. "It was thoroughly professional. They were 10 games without a defeat and Paddy Kenny didn't have a save to make."
Warnock, who has used more players in the Premiership than any other manager this season, resisted the temptation to select a 30th with the recent signing Ahmed Fathi an unused substitute.
Two goals to the good by the interval, his judgement was vindicated. The first goal came when Nick Montgomery exchanged passes with Stead before crossing to find the same player. The forward showed quick feet to negotiate Zat Knight's challenge before beating Niemi at the near post with a close-range shot.
"There was some relief when it went in," admitted Stead. "I want to show people I can succeed at this level."
If that was a sloppy goal to concede from Fulham's perspective against a side who had scored just six times in their previous eight games, worse was to come.
Tonge headed Colin Kazim-Richards' centre across goal and when Quinn retrieved it there was Tonge, unmarked, to finish from inside the six-yard box.
The rejuvenated Stead continued to give Knight and Ian Pearce a torrid evening until the game petered out, with Rob Hulse's overhead kick against the crossbar the only second-half chance of note. By then, United had done enough.
"From start to finish they dominated the game in every area of the pitch," said Chris Coleman, the Fulham manager. "It would have been a travesty if we hadn't got hammered - and we did. It was probably our poorest performance of the season."
Goals: Stead 23 (1-0); Tonge 28 (2-0).
Sheffield United (4-4-2): Kenny; Geary, Jagielka, Lucketti, Armstrong; Kazim-Richards, Montgomery, Tonge, S Quinn; Hulse, Stead. Substitutes not used: Bromby, Webber, A Quinn, Fathi, Nade.
Fulham (4-4-2): Niemi; Rosenior, Pearce, Knight, Queudrue; Davies, Volz (Dempsey, 82), Brown, Radzinski (Routledge, 74); McBride, Montella (Helguson, 31). Substitutes not used: Lastuvka (gk), Omozusi.
Referee: L Mason (Lancashire).
Booked: Fulham Pearce.
Man of the match: Stead.
Attendance: 27,540.Reuse content