Defender John Brayford believes Sheffield United secured an important psychological boost in the League One promotion race when they beat Scunthorpe 4-0 at Bramall Lane on Tuesday evening.
Brayford, partnering Chris Basham at the heart of the defence for the second consecutive game, helped secure another clean sheet as Jason Holt, Jamie Murphy and two Jose Baxter penalties saw United register their biggest win of the campaign to date.
And the 27-year-old, who returned to United earlier this year after a successful loan spell last season , said: “Scunthorpe was our game in hand and I think teams around us would have been looking at our results, hoping that we would slip up.
“But I think we have put a marker down with that win. We aren’t the ones going to be slipping up here and we’ll leave that to somebody else.
“We’ve more or less always been in the play-offs so our destiny has always been in our own hands, but we’ve picked up valuable points here and there and got some good results recently.
“We’ve got another big game this weekend [at home to Crewe] and we’ve got to look to build on that. But we can take a lot of confidence from the way we performed against Scunthorpe.
“We’re ticking games off now and if we win one, then another one, that will cement our place in the play-offs. Then, we will see where we are come May.”
Not that Brayford is taking United’s top-six qualification for granted.
“We can’t rest on our laurels now,” the former Cardiff man, who helped United reach the semi-finals of the FA Cup last season before watching his team-mates repeat the feat this term in the Capital One Cup, added.
“We have a lot of games to go and we’ve still got to play a couple of teams around us.
“But if we can pick up points from those, then the play offs can be anyone’s game. We’re a big-game team, too, and the experience from the two cup runs will stand us in good stead.
“The cup wins are no guarantee of play-off glory, of course, but I know what the atmosphere can be like at Bramall Lane when the crowd is behind you.
“And I don’t think many teams will be snatching your hand off to come here in the play-offs.
“There are big games before then, like Barnsley and Doncaster Rovers, and we’ve got to make them count. If we can beat teams in and around us, then the gap will only increase.”
Brayford, a right-back by trade, has excelled since slotting in at centre-half in the absence of first Basham, and latterly Jay McEveley. His form has enabled United boss Nigel Clough to give McEveley extra time to rest his damaged shoulder - but with replacement right-back Kieron Freeman also performing admirably since his own return to Bramall Lane, McEveley’s eventual return to full fitness will present Clough with an interesting selection poser.
“Bash was excellent again against Scunthorpe,” Clough said.
“He doesn’t give anything away and he and John were excellent again. It’s no coincidence that we’ve kept two clean sheets with those two at centre-half, and it’s enabled us to give Jay’s shoulder a rest.
“We also gave Matty Done a rest, too, as he’s been crying out for it.”