Sheffield United lack fight and quality as Derby County drop Barnsley FC to the bottom

"We're 23rd," sang the Derby County fans as their side took a first step towards the win that would lift them above Barnsley in the table despite giving the Reds a 21-point headstart.

If they could take great joy from what was happening at Pride Park, Sheffield United had caused to be a bit embarrassed.

A team embarking on mission impossible, who lost Phil Jagielka the day before the game because their financial problems prevented them from renewing his short-term contract, should not have had more fight and quality than a Blades squad made up mainly of players from last season's Premier League who ought to have been champing at the bit after just one league match and a cup game since December 4.

Yet the visitors were desperately poor and the Rams had Tom Lawrence, whose two goals were the only shining lights in an otherwise dismal game.

TAACKLE: Oliver Norwood contests for the ball

If the cup game had not been six days you would say they were rusty but that excuse was like much of the Blades' attacking play: non-existent.

Lawrence showed too much skill for them in the opening goal, Fetsy Ebosele too much desire for the second.

Derby did not manage a shot on target in the first half, the Blades could not produce one in the the second.

For much of the opening stages the Derby fans reeled off the many names in their bad books, with nothing on the field to distract them. Throughout the afternoon, digs at the Football League, who have docked them 21 points for financial issues this season were never far away.

Sheffield United played a 3-4-2-1, with David McGoldrick down the inside left channel and Illiman Ndiaye the right but it became clear the left-hand side was Derby's weak point,

Lawrence's narrow position in Derby's 4-3-3 leaving Ebosele to patrol the whole flank on his own, so they switched McGoldrick to that side to try to get advantage. The struggled, though, to get the ball to him.

Jayden Bogle saw plenty of it against his old team but apart from one run and lovely pass which came to nothing because of Ndiaye's poor touch, he was unable to make anything of it.

Not that a Derby team who knew victory would take them off the table with Barnsley at home with Covid-19 were much better.

Having nearly been punished for overplaying an early goalkick, the Rams looked most promising when they went long but generally there was a Blades defender sweeping up when they did.

Visiting goalkeeper Wes Fotheringham's most nervous moment of the first half was self-created, sliding outside of his penalty area. Referee Martin Atkinson was satisified he had let go of the ball before leaving it.

John Egan had looped a comfortably dealt-with header when he came up for an 11th-minute long throw. He picked out Billy Sharp when he won another header from Jack Robinson's latest delivery but the centre-forward put so much effort into powering the ball with his beck muscles he was unable to direct it wide of Ryan Allsop.

When promising situations were created, they were wasted, crosses overhit at Derby's end, Lawrence thumping a stoppage-time free-kick into a Blades wall which will not have been grateful for it on a bitterly cold east Midlands afternoon.

Half-time substitute Craig Forsyth gave the Blades a warning after 62 minutes, steering his header from deep in the penalty area without the worry of anyone marking him.

Instead it would Lawrence who broke the deadlock after 70 minutes, picking his way past Egan and poking hs shot past Foderingham.

The second saw Ebosele, switched to the right at the second, force his way through Egan and Rhys Norrington-Davies and tee up Lawrence for a lovely curling finish.

The Blades could not complain. Derby had not done much, but they had done more than them. They are still fighting.

Derby County: Allsop; Byrne, Stearman, Davies, Ebosele; Knight, Bird, Thompson; Plange (Kazim-Richards 60), Jozwiak (Forsyth 46), Lawrence (Cashin 83).

Unused substitutes: Morrison, Sibley, Roos, Robinson.

Sheffield United: Foderingham; Basham, Egan, Robinson (Osborn 83); Bogle, Berge (Hourihane 68), Norwood, Norrington-Davies; Ndiaye, McGoldrick (Brewster 68); Sharp.

Unused substitutes: Stevens, Burke, Eastwood, Gordon.

Referee: M Atkinson (Leeds).