Neither side could find a winner as Derby County and Sheffield United played out a hard-fought 1-1 draw at Pride Park Stadium on New Year’s Day.
The Sky Bet Championship’s two top scorers were on target, with Matej Vydra’s first half penalty cancelled out by Leon Clarke’s superb header just before the hour.
Chris Wilder’s side started with wing-backs and they found joy down the flanks early on, with Curtis Davies just doing enough to deflect a right-sided cross into the side-netting with Clayton Donaldson lurking.
The visitors were dominating the ball but Derby found the breakthrough midway through the half, as Russell – who had just been hacked down inside his own half moments previously – won a spot kick when George Baldock handled in the area.
Vydra made no mistake to net his fifth penalty in the league this season, striking high into the roof of the net to give Simon Moore no chance.
Donaldson was proving a nuisance as United tried to find a way back into the game before half-time, turning inside Richard Keogh before forcing a good stop from Scott Carson.
Andreas Weimann then had a great chance to double the lead five minutes before the break, but with support lacking in the centre, he struck just wide from a tight angle.
The Blades looked like a different side in the second half, and John Fleck was inches away from equalising with 55 minutes gone, before the Championship’s top scorer bagged his 15th of the season to draw his side level.
Donaldson drifted wide and flighted a cross towards the back post, where Clarke was totally unmarked to nod past the helpless Carson with the hour mark approaching.
From that moment chances were at a premium, with both sides wary of opening up with the danger of conceding a potentially fatal second goal.
Neither team could find that winner and the point extends Derby’s unbeaten run in the league to seven games.
Derby County: Carson; Baird, Keogh, Davies, Forsyth; Huddlestone, Johnson (Winnall, 70’); Russell, Vydra (Thorne, 70’), Weimann; Nugent (Martin, 81’).
Substitutes not used: Mitchell, Wisdom, Pearce, Bennett.
Sheffield United: Moore; Basham, Stearman, O’Connell; Baldock, Lundstram (Lafferty, 92’), Fleck, Stevens; Duffy (Carruthers, 77’); Donaldson, Clarke.
Substitutes not used: Blackman, Sharp, Wright, Carter-Vickers, Lavery.
Vydra briefly overtook Clarke as the Championship top scorer with his penalty in the first half, but the Blades’ No.9 reclaimed the lead with the equaliser after the break.
United were patient out wide before Donaldson delivered the brilliant cross, but the Rams will look back and wonder why Clarke was allowed a free header inside the area.
Russell’s direct running midway through the first period forced Baldock into stopping the ball with his hand, as the winger would have been totally free in the box without the intervention.
As against Ipswich Town, the Scot’s ability to both cut inside and go down the line with pace caused constant problems for the opposition backline.
Derby travel to Old Trafford on Friday (5th January) to face Manchester United in the FA Cup Third Round, before returning to league action away at Birmingham City on Saturday 13th December.