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Derby County ended their pre-season games programme with a 3-1 defeat against Premier League Sheffield United at Pride Park Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

With a week to go until the start of the 2023/24 Sky Bet League One season, Paul Warne’s side faced off against the Blades as their final workout before the opening day visit of Wigan Athletic next weekend.

Tunisia international midfielder Anis Slimane thundered home the opening goal of the game after 18 minutes for the visitors, but Derby hit back in the second half to equalise through midfielder Korey Smith just before the hour mark.

George Baldock, the brother of former Rams striker Sam Baldock, and Iliman Ndiaye scored two late goals for Paul Heckingbottom’s side late on in what was a keenly contested friendly to inflict a first pre-season loss on the Rams.

It proved to be another valuable exercise for the Rams to round off their build-up to the start of the new season and the full focus will now turn to a productive week on the training ground at Moor Farm ahead of the visit of the Latics in a week’s time.

Key Moments

Summer signing Conor Washington was named in the squad for the first time as a substitute after having a full week of training, while out-of-contract former Rams forward Martyn Waghorn was also on the bench after Warne confirmed earlier this week that he has been training with the group.

Forward Tom Barkhuizen has recovered from a calf problem and is back in training but was not risked after only returning to the fold on Thursday, while left-back Callum Elder (hip) and attacking midfielder Louie Sibley (calf) were not fit enough to be involved in the matchday squad after being sidelined in recent weeks.

Goalkeeper Josh Vickers has a minor muscle injury and was not involved as a precaution, so the experienced Scott Loach acted as back-up for Joe Wildsmith.

Sheffield United's side included striker Will Osula, who spent the first half of last season on loan with the Rams, as well as Derby Academy graduate Max Lowe.

In the Derbyshire sunshine, as they did for the 3-0 home win over Stoke City a week ago in the driving summer rain, the Rams attacked towards the North Stand in the opening 45 minutes.

Opportunities were few and far between early on in what was low key start, but United had their noses in front after 18 minutes. Slimane, who missed a golden opportunity a minute beforehand from close range, thundered a right-foot strike into the net from 18 yards out after Sonny Bradley had initially cleared a shot from Ndiaye off the line.

United enjoyed a strong spell of pressure either side of the goal and, as expected ahead of the game, it resulted in Derby being tested from an off-the-ball and defensive aspect. While it meant spells out of possession, it was a challenge that asked different types of questions for Warne’s side compared to their other pre-season workouts in the last month.

After finding their way back into proceedings and higher up the pitch, Derby’s first chance came on the half-hour mark and almost brought with it a third pre-season goal for Nathaniel Mendez-Laing. He and Smith combined well before the Guatemalan international forced a fine save out of Wes Foderingham in the United goal with a curling effort from just outside the box.

Former Rams loanee Osula came close to adding a second late in the half but his dinked effort from around six yards out had a little too much weight on it and the ball rebounded off the crossbar and behind for a goal kick.

Derby made a change at the break with Craig Forsyth replacing Liam Thompson at left wing-back and they made a positive start to the second period. The Rams got themselves into some good attacking areas in the opening stages of the half but were just lacking a cutting edge to turn those moments into chances.

Bradley made a fine defensive block to thwart Osula inside the box to deflect his goalbound shot away for a corner in what was the Blades’ first chance of the half - and it proved to be a decisive moment as a few minutes later Derby got themselves back onto level terms.

Mendez-Laing delivered a delicious and inviting cross deep into the box from the right and Smith, making a late run from midfield, stretched to guide the ball into the far corner with a first-time finish. Although not a competitive game, it was his first goal in Rams colours since signing from Swansea City just over a year ago.

Osula’s pace and power asked questions of Derby at the back all afternoon and the Denmark youth international almost quickly restored United’s lead. He weaved his way into the box and shot low, but Joe Wildsmith was equal to his effort and the shot-stopper also followed that up with another smart save at his near post from Anel Ahmedhodzic two minutes later.

Washington, Waghorn and Kane Wilson came off the bench with 20 minutes to play as Warne shuffled his pack and Washington, with one of his first touches, almost put Derby ahead. The Northern Ireland international latched onto Max Bird’s pass to turn sharply in the box and get a shot away which Foderingham pushed away while defender Curtis Nelson headed a corner over the crossbar from around eight yards out.

United went on to hit Derby with a double blow in the final ten minutes to run out winners by a two-goal margin. First Baldock, a Greece international, thrashed a powerful strike into the roof of the net from inside the box to restore their lead before Ndiaye beat the offside trap to hammer the ball into the net in off the underside of the crossbar.

The Teams

Derby County: Wildsmith (GK), Hourihane (C), Bradley, Cashin, Bird, Collins (Washington 70), Mendez-Laing (Waghorn 70), Smith, Thompson (Forsyth 46), Ward (Wilson 70), Nelson.

Substitutes Not Used: Loach (GK), Robinson, Rooney.

Sheffield United: Foderingham (GK), Baldock, Lowe, Berge, Egan (C), Ahmedhodzic, Robinson, Osborn (Brooks 88), Slimane (Basham 76), Ndiaye, Osula.

Substitutes Not Used: Davies (GK), Freckleton, Marsh, Neal, Larouci.


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What’s Next?

Derby will host Wigan Athletic at Pride Park Stadium next Saturday (5th August, 3pm kick-off) to get their 2023/24 season started in Sky Bet League One.