'A bit of a turning point' - How an on-field melee against Derby County helped propel Sheffield United to the Premier League

When it kicks off in front of an empty Pride Park, tomorrow's friendly between Derby County and Sheffield United will have a rather different feel to the last few league meetings between the two sides.

By Danny Hall
Monday, 31st August 2020, 5:00 pm
David McGoldrick of Sheffield Utd appeals for a penalty against Derby: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
David McGoldrick of Sheffield Utd appeals for a penalty against Derby: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Each game since United's promotion back to the Championship has had at least a bit of spice to it, but none more so than the last - a 3-1 victory for the Blades on Boxing Day in 2018.

Billy Sharp's customary goal against the Rams put the Blades ahead, before United were denied a stonewall penalty. Their frustration was compounded when Harry Wilson went up the other end and netted a stunning free-kick to level for Derby, before goals from David McGoldrick and Leon Clarke sealed victory for the Blades on their way to promotion to the Premier League.

If the action on the pitch was not enough, there was also a touchline spat between Chris Wilder and Frank Lampard for fans to feast on.

But the flashpoint came when on-loan Chelsea defender Fikayo Tomori made a complete mess of his attempted header back to his goalkeeper and then absolutely flattened McGoldrick inside the penalty area.

McGoldrick was about to tap the ball into an empty net and a clearer penalty and red card had not been seen all season. But referee Geoff Eltringham inexplicably waved away the appeals before Wilson’s moment of magic moments later.

Bramall Lane exploded in fury, and a melee began in United’s goalmouth.

“Their players came steaming in and tried to kick off, so we kicked off,” defender John Egan recalled.

“Something switched in our heads, I think, and we just became more aggressive and angry and simply blew them away. I remember a few of their lads complaining to the referee, saying: ‘We just want to play football’. They were getting bullied.

"A few lads started on me in the goalmouth and Didzy ran from the halfway line to back me up, so fair play to him. Not that I needed him!

"But seriously, that day we really switched and it was a bit of a turning point for us. Little did we know at the time how important that little scramble would turn out to be.”

David McGoldrick of Sheffield Utd is brought down by Fikayo Tomori of Derby County: Simon Bellis/Sportimage