Match Analysis: Sheffield United prove their character and calibre during a 3-1 win over Derby County

Two months ago, when Sheffield United and Derby County last faced one another in footballing combat, Frank Lampard expressed his admiration for the way Chris Wilder's team plays.

Wednesday, 26th December 2018, 5:01 pm
Updated Tuesday, 8th January 2019, 4:13 pm
Sheffield United v Derby County

"I love watching them," the former Chelsea, England and Manchester City midfielder was overheard telling a member of his backroom staff afterwards. "I really enjoy their set-up, approach and shape."

Coming from one of the most decorated professionals of the modern era, it was high praise indeed although, as Wilder acknowledged following October's defeat at Pride Park, the visitors would have preferred the points to plaudits.

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After an hour-and-a-half of breathless action, which showcased the best of United and, when the fixture began to ebb away from them, County's petulant streak, the United manager had no such cause for complaint. Coming against a promotion rival, both the result and the manner in which it was achieved meant this felt like a potentially pivotal afternoon in both the Championship season as a whole and race for the Premier League.

"It was a great game between two sides with no fear," Wilder said, after goals from Billy Sharp, David McGoldrick and Leon Clarke lifted United to fourth in the table. "We've talked about winning tight games before and we've done that out there. W have a way of playing and, when it comes off, that's what happens. You get outcomes like that."

Although Jack O'Connell's part in Sharp's 14th of the season will have elicited a begrudging nod of approval from Lampard - the 40-year-old is a confirmed admirer of United's over-lapping centre-halves - he will have been less than impressed by Scott Carson's delayed reaction. But, it was Wilder and United who had reason to feel truly aggrieved when, moments after David McGoldrick had a clear cut penalty waved away by referee Geoff Eltringham and his assistants, Harry Wilson drew County level with a delightful free-kick in stark contrast to the dreadful officiating which preceded it.

As Wilder and Lampard exchanged views in front of the dug-outs, United found themselves facing a huge test of character. They passed with flying colours thanks to some gutsy work at the back and, once the previously influential Mason Mount and Wilson had been subdued, genuinely inventive attacking. Indeed, before McGoldrick and Clarke had pounced, Sharp could have twice added to his total.  

"We needed to own the game at that point," Lampard said. "Sheffield United are one of the best teams in the league, one of the best teams we've played against, but we made mistakes that cost us the game."

With a rousing rendition of the Greasy Chip Butty song blowing away the Boxing Day cobwebs, it quickly became apparent that neither of these two forward thinking sides were bothered about feeling their way into the contest.

McGoldrick, who later set in the motion the chain of events which led to Sharp's opener, had Scott Carson scrambling across his line with a curling shot from the edge of the penalty area which drifted inches wide of the far post before the County goalkeeper denied Sharp with a faint but ultimately decisive touch as they contested a loose ball. In between, Mount, one of two players the visitors have signed on loan from Stamford Bridge, forced Dean Henderson to parry.

"We were a little bit tentative first-half but the goal just before the break gave us belief," Wilder said. "Then we came roaring out.'

With United naming an unchanged starting eleven, it was not surprise they shaded the opening exchanges before County, drafting in Andre Wisdom, Jack Marriott and Craig Bryson, began to find their rhythm.

But with both sets of players defending tenaciously, they were always one pass away from making the best of their approach play until Tom Huddlestone sent Wilson racing through midway through the first half.

Even then George Baldock, who had spotted the danger unfolding, raced back to clear the youngster's shot off the line after he had skipped past the onrushing Henderson. It proved a crucial intervention when, five minutes before the interval, Sharp headed home his 14th of the season from O'Connell's cross after McGoldrick had released the centre-half. 

Although the captain's intervention came at one of those pivotal moments of a game Wilder feels United are yet to properly master, County's threat beforehand confirmed there was still plenty of work ahead for his men.

Wilson's equaliser, which flew into the top corner of Henderson's net, sparked a melee in the six yard box and fury inside the technical area as Wilder and Lampard gesticulated furiously at each other. Hence the explosion of noise from three-quarters of the stadium and exuberant celebration on the touchline when McGoldrick, lobbing Carson, restored United's advantage. The centre-forward kept his head when all about him were losing theirs. Likewise Clarke who, after coming on as a substitute, settled this pulsating encounter at the far post.

"Everybody contributed," Wilder said. "I always felt we could get the third."