Another game, another indication of how Sheffield United propose to approach the new League One campaign.
Last night’s match, the penultimate installment of their summer warm-up programme, might not have ended in victory.
But, when the disappointment of defeat subsides, manager Chris Wilder will be encouraged by his team’s performance which included a second-half cameo for Leon Clarke.
Nick Blackman’s penalty, which secured Derby County’s win, was expertly taken despite coming against the run of play. Indeed, despite showing glimpses of the class which should ensure they mount another challenge for promotion, Nigel Pearson’s side rarely had things their own way.
Blades boss Chris Wilder said: “Against an oustanding side, who you would expect to be there or there abouts, I thought it was really competitive. They caused us some problems but I thought we caused them some too. We’ve still got work to do but you’d expect that.”
“With a bit more belief in the final area of the pitch, we could have got something out of the game,” Wilder added. “But that will come as the lads work with each other more. I don’t like losing but I enjoyed our attitude and approach. I think we’re in a decent place.”
Clear cut opportunities were at a premium but there was plenty of aggression and positive intent while, at the back, United’s defence also went about its business in combative fashion.
Blackman, who spent five months at Bramall Lane earlier in his career, took advantage of a miscalculation from Chris Hussey although referee Darren Deadman’s reading of the situation provoked an angry reaction from United’s bench.
United’s challenge now is to become a little more clinical in and around the final third.
Wilder wants his players to start games on the front foot next season and, against Championship opposition, they obliged with Billy Sharp, Matt Done and Marc McNulty all trying to burrow through the visitors’ rearguard during the opening skirmishes.
John Fleck, one of seven new signings in United’s squad, missed the start of their preparations as he engineered a transfer to Bramall Lane. But the former Coventry City midfielder has grown in stature as his sharpness improves and, following a solid showing at Grimsby Town four days earlier, was instrumental in all of those moves.
With 12 minutes of the first-half remaining, Blackmen edged County ahead from the spot. If Deadman’s decision was dubious - Hussey adjudged to have deliberately handled Cyrus Christie’s cross - the conversion was anything but.
With Clarke named on the bench, Sharp and McNulty demonstrated they could forge an effective partnership should circumstances demand. Nevertheless, with several dangerous centres floating above Scott Carson’s area, it was also clear to see why Wilder believes the 31-year-old will prove a valuable addition to United’s ranks.
A chance presented itself for McNulty soon after the re-start but, under pressure from Derby’s rearguard, the Scot sliced his shot into The Kop.Sharp, who had created the opening with his chest, briefly lined-up alongside Clarke before being withdrawn as Wilder began to ring the changes.
With tomorrow’s game against Handsworth Parramore representing the final opportunity for the manager to assess the options at his disposal ahead of August 6th’s meeting with Bolton Wanderers, Stefan Scougall and Che Adams were among those to enter the fray although the latter remains the subject of interest from Birmingham City.
United pressed with John Brayford and substitute Louis Reed both trying to surge forward but to no avail.
Sheffield United: Long, Brayford, Hussey (K Wallace 66), Fleck (Coutts 79), O’Connell, Basham (Reed 79), McNulty (Clarke 60), Sharp (Scougall 74), Done (Adams 67), Wilson, Duffy. Not used: Ramsdale, Wright Snr, Freeman, Whiteman.
Derby County: Carson, Christie (Stabana 60), Olsson (Cover 70), Johnson, Shackell, Keogh, Butterfield, Blackman, Martin, Hughes (Elsnik 85), Ince. Not used: Camara, Grant, Babos, Vernon, Gordon, Rawson.
Referee: Darren Deadman