Sheffield United U23 0 Sheffield Wednesday U23 2: Chris Wilder and Steve Bruce watch tonight’s warm-up for next month’s ‘Real Thing'
It would be an exaggeration to describe this as a dress rehearsal for next month's Championship showdown at Hillsborough but there was still enough to command the attention of Chris Wilder and Steve Bruce, who witnessed the Professional Development League's version of the Steel City derby first hand.
From Chris Wilder and Sheffield United's perspective, last night’s match was an exercise in ensuring the likes of Paul Coutts, Conor Washington and Kean Bryan are ready for action if called upon during the closing stages of the campaign. Steve Bruce, still easing himself into Sheffield Wednesday's managerial hotseat, had similar plans for the likes of Sam Winnall, Dominic Iorfa and Daniel Pudil although the fixture, which finished 2-0 in the visitors' favour, also represented an opportunity to learn more about the squad he has inherited from Jos Luhukay.
Although the evening proved much more productive for Wednesday - goals from the dangerous Rolando Aarons and Connor Grant propelling them to victory - both Wilder and Bruce departed Bramall Lane with plenty to chew over.
With United battling for automatic promotion from the Championship, the sight of Washington limping-off with a suspected hamstring problem was untimely.
But Wilder's disappointment at seeing one of his senior players sustain an untimely injury will have been softened by Bryan's robust performance. Likewise the sight of Coutts accumulating some potential invaluable minutes as Oliver Norwood teeters on the brink of suspension.
Bruce, at least for the time being, has much more limited ambitions with Wednesday positioned in mid-table.
But Wilder's predecessor, now three weeks into his new job, left safe in the knowledge that Aarons, one of his first signings, appears an asture acquisition on loan from Newcastle while Grant also seized his chance well.
United did their best to crank-up the atmosphere by playing their usual pre-match anthems as the teams made their way onto the pitch. It was a ploy which seemed to inspire John Dungworth's men more than it did Wednesday, with George Broadbent and Harry Boyes both making inroads during the opening exchanges.
Wednesday, whose momentum was briefly stifled when Jack Stobbs hobbled-off the pitch, posed a threat on the break with the pace of Aarons forcing United to curb some of their own attacking instincts. The tenacious Ash Baker kept them on their toes along the opposite flank but it was Hobbs' replacement, Fraser Preston, who came closest to an early breakthrough with a shot Simon Moore did well to parry as Sam Winnall flung himself towards the far post.
It proved only a temporary reprieve, with Aarons breaking the deadlock with an angled drive which flew across the goalkeeper before nestling in the opposite corner of his net.
Despite initially finding themselves under pressure, Wednesday deserved their lead. There was plenty of industry
from United, with Reece York, Oliver Greaves and Harry Boyes all busting a gut to hunt down opponents. But the more cohesive football, barring the odd cameo from United, had been produced by those in blue and white. Indeed, as the first-half reached its conclusion, only a superb block from Keenan Ferguson, a graduate of United's pioneering 'Futures' programme, prevented Winnall from extending Wednesday's lead.
However, a forgettable piece of defending presented Grant with the opportunity to do exactly that moments after Washington's departure. It was not an invitation he was about t?o? turn down, smashing the ball home past the despairing Moore who had been left horribly exposed.
Only the width of a post stopped Achraf Lazaar from putting Wednesday beyond reach immediately after the restart.
Simeon Oure was inches away from reducing the deficit when he escaped his marker on the edge of the six yard box but saw a first time effort fly over the crossbar.
Sheffield United: Moore, Ferguson, Bryan, Broadbent, Wright, York (Neal 87), Sheppeard, Coutts, Washington (Oure 47), Greaves, Boyes. Not used: Dewhurst, Bennett, Belehouan.
Sheffield Wednesday: Wildsmith, Baker, Lazaar (Nielsen 74), Pudil, Iorfa, Lee, Aarons (Hunt 69), Kirby, Stobbs (Preston 6), Grant, Winnall. Not used: McCulloch, Borukov.
Referee: Aaron Bannister.