Sheffield United claimed their most impressive victory of the season so far by beating Derby County at Bramall Lane this afternoon.
But they were forced to survive a nerve-wracking finale after Craig Bryson scored late on to leave the fixture balanced on a knife edge.
Billy Sharp edged Chris Wilder's side in front early on after a mistake by Scott Carson before Johnny Russell hammered the ball into his own net. Bryson reduced the deficit before, with almost the last kick of the game, Sharp netted his second to spark delerious scenes inside Bramall Lane.
Gary Rowett, the County manager, will rue his squad's errors. But this was a triumph of personality, persistence and sheer will to win.
United's first-half display was forceful, purposeful and everything else Wilder could have wished for. County showed flashes of their quality at times but, when they trooped down the tunnel at the break, could not have argued with the scoreline. Sharp took advantage of Scott Carson's catastrophic error to edge his team in front before Russell's equally disastrous error doubled their lead.
County's experience and depth of talent, however, ensured they continued to pose questions of United's rearguard. The closing stages saw the momentum, barring some incisive counter-attacks, swing back in the visitors' favour. But Wilder's players, demonstrating the team work and depth of character many believe are the biggest strengths, hung on before Sharp put the outcome beyond doubt.
Wilder believes County, under the guidance of his "pal" Rowett, are destined to mount a serious challenge for automatic promotion this season. His suspicions that this would prove among United's toughest assignments of the campaign, publicly expressed during Thursday's pre-match media conference, proved unfounded. But only to a degree.
United impressed but, after Bryson's late intervention, had to fight like tigers to see the task through.
Although a combination of suspension and concerns about his team's cutting edge prompted Wilder to make one change - Caolan Lavery replacing the banned Leon Clarke - Rowett the same starting eleven for the third game in a row.
The identity of United's opening scorer was also predictable; Sharp rolling the ball into an empty net after Carson had made a dreadful hash of a routine fifth minute clearance. Given how United had begun the contest, taking the lead was no less than they deserved. The manner in which the breakthrough came might have been fortuitous but, aggressive and attack-minded, Wilder's men had dominated the opening exchanges.
County provided a reminder of the threat they posed when Matej Vydra burst forward before, after being held up by Jake Wright, running into the brick wall that is Jack O'Connell. The Czech tried his luck again after Paul Coutts, like Kieron Freeman a former County player, had dragged wide from 20 yards out, with exactly the same result.
As the half progressed, however, United's opponents began to find their feet. Still, a well-constructed move involving Coutts, Sharp and Mark Duffy saw the hosts win a 22nd minute corner which was eventually cleared. It was a seemingly inconsequential moment but served to break County's rhythm until Andreas Weimann went close with an angled drive.
Six minutes before the interval, United doubled their lead. John Fleck had earlier made a superb tackle to prevent Vydra scoring an almost certain equaliser and the importance of that challenge was underlined when Russell hammered the ball into his own net as Caolan Lavery prepared to pull the trigger.
Russell attempted to make ammends early in the second period after sescaping the offside trap but Jamal Blackman used his height well to pluck the Scot's lob out of the air. In the 53rd minute, a sickening clash of heads between Lavery and Marcus Olsson forced Ched Evans to replace the Canadian. Duffy was the next United player to make way as Wilder, who introduced Carruthers, looked to inject a little more bite in their midfield. Duffy, however, had been excellent again.
Carruthers' first contribution could, probably should, have ended with United scoring for the third time but his superb ball across the six yard box was not turned home.
As the match entered its final 15 minutes, Wilder and Rowett became increasingly animated on the bench. Carruthers was forced off with an injury, less than 20 minutes after entering the fray, before Enda Stevens' pass presented Sharp with a chance to score United's third. The centre-forward did everything right but so, on this occasion, did Carson who produced an excellent one-handed save. Bryson set-up a dramatic finish when he headed home in the second of seven added minutes. But Sharp put the contest beyond County's reach when, with Carson still lurking on the edge of Blackman's box, he stroked home into an empty net again.
Sheffield United: Blackman, O'Connell, Wright, Basham, Freeman, Stevens, Coutts, Fleck, Duffy (Carruthers 65, Lundstram 81)), Lavery (Evans 54), Sharp. Not used: Carter-Vickers, Lafferty, Eastwood, Brooks.
Derby County: Carson, Wisdom, Keogh, Davies, Olsson, Huddlestone, Johnson, Weimann (Bryson 71), Russell (Martin 57), Vydra, Nugent (Lawrence 57). Not used: Baird, Pearce, Butterfield, Mitchell.
Referee: Andrew Madley (West Yorkshire).