It can often be hard to judge a team’s progress from viewing pre-season friendlies, particularly those against Football League sides.
But on the evidence of the last week, Ilkeston’s young squad are providing plenty of cause for optimism as the season edges ever closer.
As with the match against Sheffield Wednesday three days earlier, Ilkeston didn’t get the chance to show off too much of their attacking prowess as their more illustrious visitors saw most of the ball and had the bigger threat in the final third, but there were plenty of moments to suggest games against sides from similar levels to themselves could prove more fruitful.
United had the lion’s share of possession in the first-half but as with the match with Wednesday, Ilkeston worked hard and defended their goal well, whilst also producing some encouraging passages of play themselves.
Michael Higdon was an aerial threat throughout the first-half and he saw a header cleared off the line by Curtis Burrows two minutes in following a corner from the left.
Higdon then headed wide from close range and Mark McNulty forced goakeeper Evandro Rachoni into a good save midway through the half. Indeed, the goalkeeper would once again be the shining light for Ilkeston as he looked confident throughout.
McNulty was denied again as his low shot was pushed away by Rachoni and Burrows was again on hand to deny Higdon on the line following another corner, but aside from a header from James Wallace straight at Rachoni, United would thereafter struggle to create anything much more before the break.
The second-half saw the Blades introduce an entirely different team, including former Robins Kieran Wallace and Che Adams, and it was the latter who nearly opened the scoring on 55 minutes when put through on goal but Rachoni saved well with his legs.
A flurry of home changes then saw most of the Ilkeston side replaced by trialists, along with Eli Bako and Jordan Wheatley.
Adams fired low at Rachoni again after cutting inside on 67, but it would be Ilkeston who would go close next as one of their trialists got up to head a left-wing corner just wide of George Long’s post.
Adams was, as he had been so many times in an Ilkeston shirt, the main threat for United and he twice went close when first he shot wide with Rachoni closing in on him and then saw a low shot pushed away by the Brazilian keeper.
The winner finally came on 85 minutes when Dominic Calvert-Lewin beat Rachoni to a cross and slid the ball into the corner of the net.
That would be that, but Ilkeston could once again take plenty of encouragement from a match against much stronger opposition.
Ilkeston head coach Gavin Strachan said: “Once again we’ve shown real promise against a good side. If you take the first halves of each of the Wednesday and United games, where we featured mostly players who are already signed up, we didn’t lose either.
“If anything a few of the lads are disappointed they didn’t get a result today as some of our attacking play was quite good. They’re probably a bit frustrated too because I’ve actually been asking more of them at times, even though they’re up against such good players.
“The games we’ve got coming up against Rossington and Bedworth will give us much more chance to get the attacking side of our game into action and our training will reflect that this week. I’m also hoping to tie up some deals for one or two of the trialists who have done really well.”
Sheffield United star Che Adams said: “It was great to come back and see so many familiar faces and even a bit strange to be playing here but not in an Ilkeston shirt!
“I’m hoping to get more football next season as I had a big taste of it last year, including in some big games. The new manager (Nigel Adkins) wants to give me a chance to show what I can do so hopefully I can make an impact and help get the club into the Championship, which is where we’re good enough to be.”