Paul Heckingbottom has warned Sheffield United have yet more to give after extending their lead at the top of the Sky Bet Championship table to three points with a 2-0 win at Preston.
Iliman Ndiaye and Oli McBurnie scored either side of half-time to clinch the Blades’ fourth win on the spin and help them clear two more points from Norwich, who were unable to draw 1-1 at home to West Brom.
Senegal star Ndiaye opened the deadlock in the 40th minute of a first half that saw hosts Ryan Lowe, who came into the game having conceded just two goals in nine league appearances, enjoy periods of sustained possession and getting closer several times.
Heckingbottom says he shook up his side at the break and insists they still have plenty to improve during the international break ahead of a busy October.
He said: “We wanted to be better in the second half than we were in the first. I think our goal woke us up, to be honest.
“We were lethargic in the first half and weren’t aggressive like we normally are. We were second and that’s what we needed to improve.
“Everyone will be disappointed with the first half, but they were better in the second half.
“There were people who pushed themselves all the way to the levels you expect and want, but it wasn’t a lack of effort, it was rather that we didn’t did not show the same intensity in the first half.
“The best part of the game for us in the first half was the last five minutes.
“We know we had to be better in the second half and we were. We were strong at the end, it was a strong away performance.
The Blades started the brighter of the two sides as Rhian Brewster and Scottish international McBurnie both closed in.
At the other end, midfielder Ben Whiteman launched a howitzer which flew over the crossbar before Ali McCann and Emil Riis Jakobsen also looked threatening.
Troy Parrott, on loan from Tottenham, had a wide deflected right-footed shot but it was the visitors who scored first against the run of play when Ndiaye robbed Whiteman and kept his composure to strike inside from the pole.
And it was McBurnie who picked up another welcome victory on the road when he tapped point-blank range directly in front of approximately 5,000 traveling Blades fans.
The defeat leaves Preston, who remain with just two wins despite their impressive defensive record, in 15th place and three points from the play-off places.
Boss Lowe said: “The result was tough to take, but I think we played some fantastic stuff.
“We got knocked off a long ball high up the pitch. We do not clear our lines and we leave it to a scorer, who finds a way to get him into the back of our nets.
“We are disappointed because we played a lot of good things against the leaders. Again, we couldn’t find that unforgiving edge.
“It’s a bit of a recurring theme when it comes to chances created.
“I believe, of course I do, that we will hit the back of the net, however that turns out.
“I think I need to instill a bit more confidence in the guys and help us find that ruthless advantage because, to be honest, I don’t think we have it yet.
“I’m not worried that we’re not going to score because we’re creating chances, but it’s worrying that we’re getting into good areas and not finding the back of the net.”
The result marked Sheffield United’s second away triumph, and a clean sheet, in a week after Reda Khadra’s spectacular late strike propelled them to a 1-0 victory at Swansea.
Dean Smith’s Norwich responded with a 3-2 win over Bristol City but, after being held at home by the Baggies, Heckingbottom’s scorching side are now three points clear at the top ahead of the two-week Championship break .
The Blades boss added: “At the end of the day, it was a strong display.
“We try to take risks, but Preston was getting behind us when we weren’t taking any risks.
“We know Ndiaye has those moments in him, but we were lucky the Preston player thought he had time for an extra touch and we managed to score. It was a great goal.”