AN EXHILARATING four-star second-half helped extend Sheffield United’s unbeaten league streak to 12 matches following a handsome 4-1 derby victory at Danny Wilson’s Chesterfield.
After a low-key first half, the Blades improved demonstrably on the restart to run out emphatic winners, thanks to strikes from Kieron Freeman, John Fleck, top-scorer Billy Sharp and substitute Leon Clarke, his first league goal for the club.
It helped ensure that ex-Blades striker Ched Evans was afforded a disappointing afternoon against his former club, with the Welshman missing a good chance just before the visitors’ equaliser before leaving the fray due to injury.
Evans was afforded a warm ovation from all four sides of the ground when he left the field on 66 minutes.
The bottom-of-the-table Spireites, seeking their first league win in nine matches, were full value for their interval lead, which arrived courtesy of an unstoppable second-minute strike from Jon Nolan.
But it was a different story in the second period as the Blades up the ante irresistibly to move up to third, level on points with Bolton Wanderers and a point behind second-placed Bradford City.
Freeman stole in to head home a leveller on 54 minutes following Fleck’s centre and the latter then saw his name in light after firing the Blades in front with a sweet low shot after good work by Mark Duffy 18 minutes from time.
Almost immediately, Sharp was on hand to convert with a predatory header at the far post following after another Duffy assist and Clarke provided the gloss nine minutes from the time, rifling home following Paul Coutts’ throughball.
It was a dramatic transformation following first half proceedings, when the Spireites out-enthused the Blades, who were caught cold in the second minute and spent the rest of the half playing catch-up.
The hosts did not resemble a side who started the game at the foot of the League One table and reeling after a six-match losing league sequence and produced a vibrant showing against the underwhelming Blades.
Their moment to savour arrived when Evans, somewhat inevitably, expertly teed up Nolan down the left channel and his thunderbolt of a strike flew into the net in front of the massed ranks of Blades fans - with Simon Moore unable to stop the exorcet.
The visitors endured a tough opening, with Evans and Gboly Ariyibi prominent and while Chris Wilder’s created a couple of decent chances, Chesterfield were afforded a deserved interval advantage.
Daniel Lafferty saw an early side-footer saved by Ryan Fulton when he should have done better, with the Blades’ best moment coming on 16 minutes when Matt Done saw his first-time shot parried smartly by Fulton after Freeman’s cross from the right.
Content to get men behind the ball when out of possession and break at pace when the opportunity arose, the Spireites almost doubled their money just before the break.
Jay O’Shea’s corner found its way to big defender Ian Evatt and the veteran rose highest to plant his header against the woodwork.
Maybe cajoled by a few interval words from Wilder, the Blades were a side transformed in the second period and proceeded to dominate.
Evans was the first to threaten with a cross-shot before play switched to the other end and Sharp’s close-range shot was blocked.
Soon after, Freeman was on hand to head in the leveller, receiving a booking for his celebrations in the process.
A big moment then arrived on 64 minutes when Nolan slipped in Evans, whose goalbound shot was blocked by Moore, with Jake Wright clearing the loose ball on the line.
A hobbling Evans then left the fray before the Blades missed a glorious chance through Done.
But a powersurge then sealed victory with the Blades firing a quick-fire two-goal blast, courtesy of Fleck and Sharp.
Chesterfield wilted considerably and Clarke applied the coup de grace with the visitors running riot - a far cry from a tough first period.
Chesterfield: Fulton; Liddle, Evatt, Anderson; Aribiyi, Dimaio, O’Neil, Nolan (Humphreys 69); Donohue; O’Shea, Evans (Dennis 66). Substitutes unused: Mitchell, Allinson, Simons, Maguire, German.
Sheffield United: Moore; Basham, Ebanks-Landell, Wright (Clarke 68); Freeman, Coutts, Fleck, Duffy, Lafferty; Done (O’Connell 78), Sharp (Lavery 90): Substitutes unused: Long, Scougall, Brown, Whiteman.