A slender 1-0 defeat away at Coventry City saw Derby knocked out in the third round of the FA Cup last weekend, though Wayne Rooney may feel that this result could be a blessing in disguise as they bid to avoid relegation from the Championship.
The Rams can now focus solely on reducing the 11-point gap to safety with 23 league games remaining, and given their recent upturn in form, Rooney and co will be confident of pulling off the great escape.
Derby have accumulated 10 points from their last 12 available, with three successive wins against Blackpool, West Bromwich Albion and Stoke City followed by a dramatic 2-2 draw away at Reading, a game which they were trailing by two goals before strikes in the 86th minute and 91st minute helped salvage a point.
There is only one Championship team who have claimed more points than the Rams in the last four league matches and it just so happens to be Saturday’s opponents Sheffield United, who have secured maximum points in this period.
Despite sitting at the foot of the table, the Rams have only conceded 24 goals in 25 league matches this term and they are the only team in the second tier yet to concede more than two goals in a single game this season.
However, the Rams have struggled defensively against Sheffield United in recent years, conceding in each of their last six meetings, i
ncluding August’s 2-1 EFL Cup loss and the 1-0 league defeat in September. The last time that Derby lost three successive games against the Blades was between 1991 and 1995.
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After an unwanted 19-day break from competitive action, due to coronavirus-related postponements, Sheffield United began the new year with a 3-0 defeat away to Premier League outfit Wolverhampton Wanderers in the FA Cup third round last weekend.
Goals either side of half time from Daniel Podence as well as a strike from Nelson Semedo condemned the Blades to their first defeat since Paul Heckingbottom took charge on a permanent basis.
Hopes of reaching the quarter-finals for a third successive year are now over, but Heckingbottom can now concentrate on steering the South Yorkshire outfit up the Championship standings and into playoff contention