FREE-scoring is not a term that could have been levelled at Burton Albion much last season, but they put on a show at the Pirelli Stadium on Saturday to win the Bass Charity Vase for the third time in succession.
Goals from Alex MacDonald – another rare sight – Lucas Akins and Dominic Knowles put the Brewers 3-0 up on visitors Sheffield United at the break, and after weathering a second-half fightback, they snatched a fourth through trialist Louis Cutajar in the dying minutes.
Aside from the goals, there were plenty more positives for boss Gary Rowett, principally in the way his new signings – especially Akins and striker Stuart Beavon – added an attacking threat.
It is foolish to draw too many conclusions from a friendly match against a team – even a League One team – playing their first game of pre-season, but Burton looked comfortable all over the pitch.
Even ten changes after the break did not disrupt them as much as it might have done, with the second-half team looking keen to impress themselves upon the manager.
Rowett named a stronger starting line-up to face the Blades than against Ilkeston in midweek, with trialist goalkeeper Joe Anyon the only one of the XI not a first-team player.
New signing George Taft and skipper Ian Sharps formed the centre-half partnership, flanked by Callum McFadzean on the left and Phil Edwards on the right.
Robbie Weir and Matty Palmer formed a familiar central midfield, with MacDonald and Akins in the wide positions.
Beavon and Knowles were up front.
Among the substitutes were two new faces in wide players Jordan Cranston and Wales international Christian Ribeiro, formerly of Wolverhampton Wanderers and Scunthorpe United respectively. Also on trial again were Cutajar and Thomas Verheydt, while youth-teamers Mark Shelton, Jack O'Brien and Sam Austin were included again.
Lee Bell, Billy Kee and George Mousinho sat out with slight knocks.
Burton started brightly, and took the lead only five minutes in.
Akins, in typical style, battled down the right, receiving the ball back from Beavon to swing in a low cross which Palmer scuffed goalwards, but MacDonald collected the loose ball and, from a tight position on the left flank, fired powerfully home into the far corner.
The winger, while clearly talented, did not have the best luck in front of goal last campaign, when he failed to trouble the scorers once.
Eight minutes later, it was two.
Beavon and Akins combined again, the former doing the hard work on the left this time, muscling into the area and clipping the ball into the centre, from where Akins struck home a great first-time volley.
Albion were showing an incisiveness not often seen last term, and should have made it three shortly after.
Blades keeper Mark Howard came a long way to try to claim the ball, and failed to do so. Beavon did however, and rounded the keeper before playing in Knowles.
The young striker is best when he runs on instinct, but with had an open goal, he dallied and was forced out of a shot by a covering defender who had got back.
In the 35th minute, Burton should have had a penalty when Beavon, after more good work holding the ball up, was bundled over in the area.
Sunderland referee Jon Moss was having none of it, but could not deny the Brewers for long, as they made it three two minutes before the break.
Akins was involved again, winning the corner which McFadzean swung in, and Knowles rose highest to glance beyond Howard.
There were a raft of changes at the break, which saw trialists Ribiero and Crantson come on at right-back and left-wing respectively, while Verheydt went up top.
The away side immediately looked stronger, with in-demand prodigy Harry Maguire – reportedly on his way to Hull City this week – an imposing presence, while another Blades academy graduate, Diego De Girolamo, set off on a tricky run through the heart of Albion's defence before being stopped by Ribiero's well-timed tackle.
The Chesterfield-born Italy Under-19 international then had second-half stopper Dean Lyness scrambling, but his long-range shot curled just wide.
Ribiero, meanwhile, proved himself able at both ends of the pitch with an eye-catching run down the right which earned his side a corner, before Moss evened up the not-given penalty count, gesturing for a goal-kick after De Girolamo went down under Liam Slade's challenge.
The Steel City visitors were on top now, but Albion were doing a good job of holding them at bay, Dean Lyness denying Stefan Scougall with his feet before Cansdell-Sherriff cleared Maguire's goal-bound header off the line.
And after drawing United forward, they sprung the trap with six minutes to play, as Marcus Harness, who looks to have made famous progress over the summer, dribbled his way down the right with no little skill.
It looked like he might score a wonder goal, but he instead unselfishly squared across the six-yard box to where Cutajar, driving in from the left wing, thumped home.
In the final minute, De Girolamo tried to spoil the Albion clean sheet with a stinging shot from distance, but it flew wide.
BURTON ALBION 4
SHEFFIELD UNITED 0
BREWERS (4-4-2): Anyon (Lyness 46); Edwards (Ribiero 46), Taft (Cutajar 69), Sharps (Slade 61) (c), McFadzean (Cansdell-Sherriff 46); MacDonald (Cranston 46), Weir (Shelton 69), Palmer, Akins (Harness 46); Beavon (McGurk 46), Knowles (Verheydt 46); subs not used: O'Brien, Austin.
BLADES (first half): Howard, Butler, Dimaio, Doyle (c), Murphy, Collins, Davies, Porter, Campbell-Ryce, Pailing, Reed.
(second half): Long, Alcock, Maguire, McGahey, Harris, Crawford, Basham, McGinn, Scougall, Baxter, De Girolamo.
REFEREE: Jon Moss (Tyne and Wear).