Match Analysis: Sheffield United’s reaction to events at Derby County revealed what really motivates Chris Wilder’s squad

John Fleck in action against Derby County
John Fleck in action against Derby County

When the final whistle blew, Frank Lampard thrust a well-heeled foot forward, unbuttoned his designer jacket and waved a clenched fist in the air.

It was an indication of just how hard he felt Derby County had to work in order to beat Sheffield United who, judging by the opposition manager's reaction, are now one of the Championship's most coveted scalps.

John Fleck sais his brilliant assist counted for nothing

John Fleck sais his brilliant assist counted for nothing

But across the technical area, after watching his team slip to a rare and perhaps avoidable defeat, Chris Wilder was stewing. At both the scoreline and, as he later made abundantly clear, the manner in which it had come about.

John Fleck, whose mesmerising run to create United's equaliser was torn straight from Eden Hazard's playbook, also delivered a brutally honest assessment of events inside Pride Park. His demeanor failed to reflect their contribution to an absorbing first-half. But, combined with Wilder's refusal to entertain the notion that anything positive ever comes from a loss, the Scot's reaction provided a revealing insight into both the psychology and personality of this United squad.

"Defeat doesn't get dressed up here," Fleck, after Jack Marriott late strike, said. "That comes from the manager. It really straight-forward. If you do well, you get told. If you don't, then you get told that as well."

The Post-Match Conversation:

Sheffield United are now second in the Championship table

Sheffield United are now second in the Championship table

In truth, the visitors were neither as bad as Wilder's mood suggested or as brilliant, particularly before the interval, as some observers later made out. However, after falling behind inside the opening 20 seconds, they were resilient and, until Derby wrestled back the momentum after the interval, fluid, dynamic and delightfully inventive. The trouble was, as Fleck and Wilder later acknowledged, there were moments of carelessness too. Craig Bryson's opener was expertly crafted yet, from United's perspective, wholly preventable. Likewise the finish, produced by a Chelsea fan from Yorkshire whose family are all Blades, which ended their four match winning run and saw them slip to second, behind Middlesbrough on goal difference, in the table.

"He doesn't like losing games," Fleck continued, explaining Wilder's post-match comments. "None of us do because we're not used to losing as a group. We tell each other what we've done and where we've gone wrong, then shake hands and move on. We're a tight knit group and that's a good quality to have. Even when we win, we're honest with each other and, if you ask me, that's why we're as tight as we are."

The post-game conversation in United's dressing room revolved around two familiar topics; putting fixtures to bed when the opportunity arises and making the most of what Wilder likes to call "big moments." Goalkeeper Dean Henderson rose to the challenge when faced with two, denying Tom Lawrence with an excellent fingertip save having earlier thwarted Marriott. So did Chris Basham, converting Fleck's memorable assist, and his fellow defender Enda Stevens with a couple of vital interceptions. 

But United's failure to translate their dominance before the interval into a healthy lead eventually proved costly. As did, moments after the Irishman had prevented Florian Jozefzoon from darting through, the careless marking which allowed Craig Forsyth to cross and Marriott to showcase what Lampard described as "wonderful technique."

"It was disappointing," Fleck said. "The start was sloppy and we did the complete opposite to what we'd talked about. That's unlike us so, hopefully, it was a one-off. We got into some really good positions after that though. We just needed to be a little bit better on the final ball, perhaps sometimes taking another touch rather than just crossing it. We've probably not created enough for our strikers."

The Pride Park Post-Script:

United have set themselves high-standards under Wilder so, despite coming from a three time Premier League title winner and former European champion, Lampard's eulogy about their system and credentials will not mean much. But they did, against a side Wilder suspects will also challenge, demonstrate their belong among the division's elite.

Fleck's part in Basham's goal highlighted why Lampard, the former Chelsea midfielder, labelled United "brilliant to watch." With the ball and Derby's rearguard both bending to his will, he danced into the penalty area with balletic grace before the brutal coup-de-grace. It was, like Marriott's conversion, attacking play of the very highest order. But, as Fleck later lamented, the only time United made pressure pay in a contest of microscopically fine margins.

"It was a good time to get back in the game and it's nice to get an assist but, to be fair, it doesn't mean much now because we lost," he said. "The table tells you we've had a decent enough start. We've got big matches coming up and we want big results."

Derby County: Carson, Forsyth, Bryson (Lawrence 35), Tomori, Keigh, Wilson, Mount, Waghorn (Jozefoon 70), Marriott (Davies 86), Bogle, Huddlestone. Not used: Roos, B Johnson, Nugent, Malone.
Sheffield United: Henderson, Basham (Washington 80), Egan, O'Connell, Stevens, Freeman, Norwood, Fleck, Duffy (Coutts 65), Sharp (Clarke 65), McGoldrick. Not used: Moore, Stearman, M Johnson, Cranie.
Referee: Oliver Langford (West Midlands)
Attendance: 27,797