The secrets behind the Blades’ amazing success: Sheffield United 3 Derby County 1

Goal delight for Billy Sharp. Pictures: Simon Bellis/Sport Image
Goal delight for Billy Sharp. Pictures: Simon Bellis/Sport Image
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Paul Coutts avoided providing the truthful answer with a feint so deft it would have wrong-footed the entire Derby County defence.

How do Sheffield United build the comradeship which, combined with some coruscating football, helped deliver such an impressive result?

“Team bonding, that’s the secret,” he said. “Whatever you want to read into that. Joking aside, we just stick together. The gaffer drills that into us every single day. We work hard, listen and look to take our rewards.”

As Coutts’ response to the question implied, there is something quaintly old-fashioned about the approach which sees Chris Wilder’s side enter the international break fifth in the table and unbeaten at home in league competition since the end of January.

But, as their performance against perennial promotion challengers Derby confirmed, this team is about more than hard work and the odd raucous night out.

Billy Sharp, scorer of 22 goals in his last 30 appearances, punished Scott Carson’s slip during the opening exchanges before converting again with almost the last kick of the game.

Caolan Lavery enjoys Derby's own goal

Caolan Lavery enjoys Derby's own goal

True, Rams manager Gary Rowett later acknowledged, the visitors’ defending left much to be desired, particularly throughout a suicidal first half which also saw Johnny Russell turn the ball into his own net before Craig Bryson reduced the deficit.

They were mistakes forced by periods of relentless pressure and intelligent movement.

What really made the difference, however, was United’s desire as John Fleck’s lung-bursting sprint to prevent Matej Vydra handing Derby a much earlier lifeline demonstrated.

“I guess a lot of that, the importance of spirit, gets lost these days,” Coutts said. “When they did push us back, you could see everybody fighting for each other, and that’s what got us across the line. That was a big test for us, a big gauge of where we might be at.”

Man of the match Paul Coutts

Man of the match Paul Coutts

A COMING-OF-AGE MOMENT

Although United have already beaten Brentford and Barnsley at Bramall Lane this term, Saturday’s triumph felt especially significant.

Derby, who entered the contest searching for a fourth straight win, boast one of the most expensively assembled squads in the division and, with the likes of Tom Huddlestone, Curtis Davies at their disposal, one of the most experienced too.

Wilder’s players were respectful but not deferential and seized control when Sharp pounced on Carson’s scuffed clearance and Russell panicked when Caolan Lavery prepared to shoot.

“The gaffer said this would be a marker,” Coutts revealed. “They are a top side and have invested a lot of money. There aren’t any big names here. We’re all about the group.”

Rowett is attempting to create something similar but, even though they enjoyed more possession after the break, Derby were unable punch a hole in United’s defence until Bryson headed past Jamal Blackman in added time.

With Carson charging upfield as Rowett’s men searched for an equaliser, Sharp claimed his fourth of the season on the counter-attack.

“We could have got more,” Coutts, the former Derby midfielder, said. “The first goals were gifts but that’s what happens when you put teams under pressure.”

ALL TOGETHER NOW

United have taken maximum points from each of their three outings at Bramall Lane since being promoted back to the Championship. Protecting that record, Coutts acknowledged, will be vitally important as they look to consolidate their place in the second tier.

Carson redeemed himself by producing a fine one-handed save to deny Sharp following Enda Stevens’ through ball midway through the second period. Fleck could also have stretched United’s lead before Bryson became only the fifth visiting player to score a league goal inside this stadium in nearly seven months.

With new signing Cameron Carter-Vickers watching from the bench, Jack O’Connell bullied Vydra while Jake Wright and Chris Basham nullified David Nugent.

“The support is massive for us, at home and when we travel because we take great numbers,” Coutts said. “They sensed it when Derby were creating a bit of pressure and sung us in. There’s a great buzz about the place at the moment.”

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