U21s extend their lead at the top with a 1-0 win at Sheffield United.

U21s extend their lead at the top with a 1-0 win at Sheffield United.

Derby County’s Under 21s continued their fine start to the U21 PDL 2 North season by recording a 1-0 win at Sheffield United on Wednesday afternoon.

An own goal by United defender Chris Salt in the first-half proved to be the only goal of the game, from Michael Hoganson’s left-wing cross.

The Under 21s, who sit top of the table, have now picked up five wins from their opening seven games of the season - and are yet to taste defeat having drawn their other two matches.

It was a dominant display from the visitors, who almost took an early lead through former Mansfield Town defender Tom Naylor, but the 21-year-old's close-range header was expertly clawed away by young goalkeeper George Willis. 

The Rams continued to press in the opening half-an-hour and came within inches of the elusive opener when Kieron Freeman latched onto Saul Deeney's long goal kick. Unfortunately for the former Notts County loanee, his deft flick towards goal rebounded off the inside of the post.

Then Freeman turned provider as he centered for England youth international Kwame Thomas, but the 17-year-old's near post effort nestled into the side netting.

However, the Rams' frustration in front of goal soon resided, as Hoganson's cross from the left was swept into his own net by the unfortunate Salt.

And in the 44th minute, Derby came close to doubling their advantage. Mark O'Brien's header from Ben Davies' right wing corner was blocked on its way to goal. As a goal mouth scramble ensued, Thomas took initiative, and fired straight at the sprawling Willis, before Dales blazed over from eight-yards out.

The second half started with the Rams on top again, as Mason Bennett cut inside only to see his 20-yard strike turned behind by Willis.

Left-back Gareth Roberts was withdrawn in the 59th minute for Adam Wixted, as the 34-year-old got his first taste of match action since the side's 2-2 draw with Middlesbrough earlier this month, a game in which the veteran defender was taken off with a hamstring complaint.

As the match progressed the Rams got even stronger and the Under-21s were almost rewarded with a second goal after a determined run from Bennett. The England Under-17 international turned instinctively past three Sheffield United defenders following Andy Dales' clever pass. Bennett rode his like as he raced forward in attack, before opening his body up and sending a terrific curling effort against the outside of the post.

Substitute Wixted had one final effort at goal in the 80th minute for the Rams, as his mazy run culminated in the Irish midfielder lashing the ball narrowly wide of the mark. 

In the final two minutes of the game, the Blades mustered their first real opportunity of the half, as left-back Callum McFadzean sent a 25-yard free-kick into the arms of Saul Deeney, who was largely untested throughout the 90 minutes.

The game marked Irish defender O'Brien's first full 90 minutes of match action since he suffered a cruciate ligament injury in December last year. The 19-year-old is yet to make his first-team comeback, however O'Brien has featured on the substitutes' bench in the Rams' last two fixtures at home to Blackburn Rovers and away at Ipswich Town respectively.

Derby County U21: Deeney, Gjokaj, Roberts (Wixted 59), Dales (Adams 85), Naylor, O’Brien, Freeman, Davies, Thomas, Bennett, Hoganson.

Subs Not Used: Morch, Berry, Dawkins.