Sheffield United put in a commanding away performance to claim a 4-2 win over Sheffield Wednesday in the 141st Steel City Derby.
You wait five-and-a-half years for the next instalment of the Steel City Derby and it serves up six goals. Two in the space of 12 minutes, even.
United were the beneficiaries of that as they raced into a two-goal lead to put their established Championship neighbours to the sword early on.
Hillsborough was silenced as strikes from John Fleck and Leon Clarke put Chris Wilder’s men ahead.
Gary Hooper then changed the complexion of the game with his strike before half-time and it forced United, who looked assured while sitting on their two-goal cushion, to dig deep and showcase their gritty defending.
It was then over to the substitutes.
Lucas Joao, brought on at a time where the Owls sensed they could push on, fired Wednesday level before United’s Mark Duffy restored their lead one minute later in a rapid change of events.
Clarke then wrapped it up with a tidy finish into the corner to give the Blades their first Steel City Derby win since 2009.
With a selection headache consuming Wilder before kick-off, Blades skipper, Billy Sharp, was forced to settle for a place on the bench while Kieron Freeman, withdrawn during the 1-0 defeat against Norwich last week, missed out altogether.
It was former Wednesday striker Clarke, then, tasked with leading the line as youngster David Brooks made his second successive League start, meaning Ched Evans – only 60-70% fit and awaiting an operation – dropped out of the first eleven and onto the substitutes’ bench.
Ross Wallace, who netted the winner at home to Brentford two games ago, returned to the starting line-up in place of Daniel Pudil in what was a raucous atmosphere.
The game took only three minutes to explode into life, although it sent the home supporters withering in their seats as Hillsborough fell silent.
A marauding run from Brooks led to a free-kick just outside of Wednesday’s area and, with great conviction, John Fleck, who signed a four-year contract extension at Bramall Lane earlier in the week, curled the set-piece past the stranded Kieren Westwood at his near post to send the travelling Unitedites into delirium.
It was well worth the five-and-a-half year wait.
Wednesday settled but only really threatened with a couple of half chances and soon found themselves 2-0 down, and from one of their former employees, too.
The Wednesday defence that’s kept one clean-sheet all season stood still as Clarke beat the offside trap, latching on to an up-field ball by Enda Stevens, to coolly slot a left-foot finish past the on-rushing Westwood. A dream start for the Blades who continued their fine start to Championship life.
The Owls, up against a team built on the framework of hard-work, determination and an at times unbreakable togetherness, couldn’t battle past the visitors and were largely camped inside their own half.
Their defence looked shaky against the pace of Brooks and the unpredictability of Clarke, and United were all well deserving of their two-goal advantage, with Jamal Blackman rarely tested in United’s net.
A rasping drive from Jack Hunt threatened to halve United’s lead on the stroke of half-time but a strong header from the Blades sent it over the bar.
Maybe that was the kick-start they needed as on the stroke of half-time they pulled one back.
Some tidy work by Wallace on the by-line allowed Gary Hooper to prod home his fifth goal in five games to open the game up going into the second-half.
Not only did the goal appear to give the players a bit of a boost but it rejuvenated the crowd as Wednesday ramped up the pressure early doors with a long-range effort from Reach deflecting into the gloves of Blackman.
The introduction of Joao in place of the ineffective David Jones showing Carlos Carvalhal’s intentions.
For all of the hosts’ possession, though, Clarke could’ve wrapped up the three points but lacked composure at the most crucial of times, ballooning an effort over the bar when unmarked inside the box.
To show just how far United have come under Wilder, a self-confessed Blades addict who watched his first United derby in 1980, the Blades sacrificed a defender for the tricky Duffy, an integral part in their title-winning season last term.
The bold move was momentarily outdone, though, when Joao thundered in an effort on 66 minutes that caused a sold-out Hillsborough to erupt.
Goals change games and it certainly made the stadium rock.
It didn’t last long.
Wilder witnessed his gamble pay off as Duffy arrowed a shot in front of the travelling Blades fans to dent the spirits of Wednesday again. 3-2 to the Blades. Their lead regained through a fine solo goal.
Clarke then added gloss to the win and put a result beyond Wednesday as he dinked a shot over Westwood, capping off a fine performance that tested every element of their squad.
It was, in some ways, the perfect away performance and, with all of the finances behind Wednesday, United refused to be fazed and put in a captivating and clinical display.
The bragging rights, for the time being, belong to Sheffield United.
Sheffield Wednesday: Westwood; Hunt, Lees (C), van Aken, Jones (Joao, 46’); Wallace (Butterfield, 78’), Lee, Bannan, Reach; Hooper, Fletcher (Rhodes, 68’). Subs not used: Wildsmith, Palmer, Nuhiu, Pudil.
Sheffield United: Blackman; Basham, O’Connell, Wright (Duffy, 62’); Baldock, Fleck, Coutts (C), Carter-Vickers, Stevens; Brooks (Lundstram, 84’); Clarke. Subs not used: Moore, Sharp, Lafferty, Evans, Carruthers.
Referee: Simon Hooper
Scorers: Sheffield Wednesday: Gary Hooper (45+2’), Lucas Joao (66’)
Sheffield United: John Fleck (3’), Leon Clarke (15’, 77’), Mark Duffy (67’)
Bookings: Sheffield Wednesday: Barry Bannan (12’, foul),
Sheffield United: Chris Basham (75’, foul)
HT Score: 1-2
FT Score: 2-4