FROM the moment they had to walk out to a mash-up of Guns N’ Roses’ Sweet Child O’ Mine and The Killers’ Mr Brightside you could sense things might not go right for Sheffield United.
That dubious mix, played over Derby County’s PA system, felt and sounded wrong in every possible way on Saturday evening.
Perhaps it was one reason why Blades – the early Championship leaders before the weekend’s fixtures – conceded after just 19 seconds; they were still readjusting after the assault on their ears.
In fairness, though, the early breakthrough from Frank Lampard’s Derby was the culmination of seven quality passes and an exquisite finish from their composed captain Craig Bryson.
United did not even get chance to touch the ball and it was the sort of slick execution you had come to expect from the Chelsea sides Lampard graced in his playing pomp.
Granted, the visitors replied positively, playing with all the verve and pace that had seen them crack so many opponents this term, and were fully deserving of Chris Basham’s equaliser before the break.
Yet they should have done more with all their possession, wasting numerous opportunities having worked their way in behind Derby, and, as the hosts grew in the second period, United were left pointless after Jack Marriott’s fine 77th-minute finish.
It ended their five-game unbeaten run and saw them finish the weekend second, just behind Middlesbrough on goal difference.
Admittedly, it was only a second defeat in a dozen games and Chris Wilder’s side played their part in a high-quality, fast-paced, thrilling match which proved a brilliant advert for the Championship competition.
However, the sense of disappointment was hard to avoid during the aftermath and tomorrow’s home game with Stoke City cannot come quickly enough.
It’s straightforward; if you do well, you get told. If you don’t, then you get told too. We tell each other as well. We’re a tight group. Whatever gets said, gets said and then we shake hands and forget about it.John Fleck
Wilder, for instance, was pained any time anyone mentioned just how good a contest the game actually was, many pundits deeming it the best this term.
John Fleck, United’s Scottish midfielder who was as classy as ever in the middle, explained: “He doesn’t like losing games.
“None of us do. We’re not used to losing as a group. Defeat doesn’t get dressed up and that comes from the manager.
“It’s straightforward; if you do well, you get told. If you don’t, then you get told too.
“We tell each other as well. We’re a tight group. Whatever gets said, gets said and then we shake hands and forget about it. That’s good to have.
“Even when we win, we’re honest with each other and things get said. But then we quickly forget about it and move on.
“That’s why we’re as tight as we are, because we’re honest with each other.
“It was disappointing. The start was sloppy and we did the complete opposite to what we talked about. That’s unlike us. Hopefully it was a one-off.
“You don’t win the league or win promotions at this time of the season.
“The table tells you we’ve had a decent enough start. We’ve got two big games coming up now and we want two big results.”
After Stoke, Wigan Athletic arrive in South Yorkshire on Saturday with United keen to swiftly reassert their promotion credentials and there is nothing to suggest this was anything other than a blip.
Basham’s goal was a quality effort, instigated by Fleck who, with his close left-footed control, looked like Diego Maradona the way he surged and then slalomed through defenders into the box, before finding the right cross.
“It was a good time to get back into the game,” recalled the 27-year-old. “I knew they wouldn’t make a tackle because there was a chance of giving away a penalty so I just tried to pull it back.
“I knew someone would be in the right position to tap it in.
“It’s nice to get an assist like that but it doesn’t mean much now because we lost,” added Fleck.
Too many promising situations were wasted beforehand with the final ball frustratingly poor.
The case in point was when United worked a clever free-kick routine to give Mark Duffy acres of room down the right only for him to send in a woeful delivery.
The same could not be said of Craig Forsyth’s cross when he curled in from the left for Beverley-born striker Marriott to nip in and nudge past Dean Henderson, the United goalkeeper who had made a number of quality saves as Derby grew in confidence.
Wilder was disappointed with his defenders’ marking although Lampard, understandably, praised his side’s execution as they moved up to fifth.
It was the difference in the end.
“We needed to take possession ourselves; first half we tried to go long when we shouldn’t have,” said the former England star.
“Sheffield United were top for a reason and if you allow possession they cause you problems.
“We had to fight every little bit to get the result today and we did that.”