Skipper Tom Lawrence stole the show as he inspired Derby County to their fourth win in five, beating Sheffield United 2-0 at Pride Park Stadium to move the Rams off the foot of the Sky Bet Championship table.
The Rams leapfrogged Barnsley in 23rd spot with what turned out to be a comfortable afternoon on home soil as Lawrence’s brace secured a valuable three points for Wayne Rooney’s side.
Supporters had to wait 70 minutes for the deadlock to be broken, but it was worth the wait as Lawrence danced his way through the Blades defence to put the Rams ahead.
And, soon after, he unleashed an unstoppable curling effort from the edge of the box to seal all three points for Rooney’s side, ensuring the Rams remained unbeaten in their last five league fixtures.
Rooney made four changes to the side which faced Coventry City in the FA Cup as Richard Stearman replaced Phil Jagielka who departed the club during the week.
And the Rams started the game well in a ferocious atmosphere at Pride Park Stadium as they enjoyed early spells of possession.
John Egan had the game’s first opportunity as a long throw-in from Jack Robinson found the head of the defender but Ryan Allsop made the save.
Minutes later, Sheffield United goalkeeper Wes Foderingham appeared to carry the ball outside of his penalty area as his momentum took him over the line, however, the referee adjudged there to have been a foul in the process, much to the frustration of Rams supporters.
Curtis Davies was forced into some last ditch defending mid-way through the half as he denied former Ram Jayden Bogle at the back post, whilst soon after, Lawrence almost threaded a through-ball to Luke Plange but his pass was overhit.
Robinson’s long throw-ins caused Derby a few problems and the Blades should really have taken the lead on the half hour mark.
His near post throw-in was flicked on at the front post and found Billy Sharp lurking at the back stick. The striker got his head to the ball six yards from goal but he fired straight into the arms of Allsop in the Derby goal.
Lawrence was doing his best to try and make something happen as he twice burst from midfield forward but the chances came to nothing as the sides went into the break goalless.
Rooney made a change at the half time interval and replaced Kamil Jozwiak with Craig Forsyth, pushing Festy Ebosele further forward in a bid to use his pace effectively.
Sheffield United threw long balls, literally, into Derby’s box, but the combination of Curtis Davies and Stearman defended them well.
On the hour mark, Rooney made his second change of the afternoon as he introduced Colin Kazim-Richards into the action in place of Plange, who had worked hard throughout the afternoon.
And the Rams almost took the lead minutes later from a corner. Max Bird’s inswinging cross was half cleared to Forsyth but the defender looped his header inches wide of Wes Foderingham’s goal.
But that attacking intent was a sign of what was coming as Derby took the game to their visitors and were rewarded with the opening goal of the game on 70 minutes. And what a goal it was, too.
Lawrence picked up the ball with three players around him. He managed to evade those challenges before taking it beyond John Egan inside the penalty area. The skipper still had a lot to, but, on his weaker foot, he found the bottom corner as Pride Park exploded with noise.
And that noise was set to continue as the Rams doubled their lead eight minutes later, with Lawrence again the man on the scoresheet.
With the Blades attacking, the Rams countered through Ebosele. The winger used his incredible pace to good effect as he raced beyond two Sheffield United defenders who tackled each other, before he found Forsyth on the edge of the box.
The chance looked to have passed the Rams by, but Forsyth’s pass found Lawrence on the edge of the box and he curled expertly into the top corner, again with his weaker foot, to put the Rams in control of proceedings.
And they saw the game out professionally to register another valuable three points which moved them off the bottom of the Sky Bet Championship table as they leapfrogged Barnsley in 23rd position.
Derby County: Allsop, Byrne, Jozwiak (Forsyth 46’), Bird, Lawrence (Cashin 83’), Stearman, Davies, Ebosele, Knight, Thompson, Plange (Kazim-Richards 60’).
Substitutions: Roos, Morrison, Sibley, Robinson.
Sheffield United: Foderingham, Basham, Berge (Hourihane 68’), Sharp (C), Egan, Norwood, McGoldrick (Brewster 68’), Robinson (Osborn 83’), Bogle, Ndiaye, Norrington-Davies.
Substitutes: Eastwood, Stevens, Burke, Gordon.
Attendance: 24,597 (3,132 visiting supporters)