Bassett's Blades in need of sharpening

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Sheffield United 0 Derby County 2

The exhibits had pointed that way in any case, but by Saturday evening the evidence was conclusive. Mike McDonald, the new owner of Sheffield United, was exposed as a man who is either an eternal optimist or a masochist.

You would think ploughing in pounds 3m to buy a club that has not exactly been on an upward spiral in recent years would be enough, but some dark secret had still to come out. McDonald has suffered in a way that is open to very few. He is a Manchester City supporter.

So the self-made millionaire would have been more acquainted than most with the inadequacies revealed by the home team in this match. Imagine City in a garish red change kit and Bramall Lane could have been Maine Road. Certainly the poor marking, lack of invention and dwindling confidence had all the trademarks of 35 miles over the Pennines.

Consequently, what should have been an even match between two sides with high ambition and low achievement this season became a comfortable afternoon for Derby, who look like a team in a false position. The same could be said about United, but not in the same complimentary way.

Their manager, Dave Bassett, who had described their performance against Bury in midweek as the worst in 20 years, clearly had not been handing out the plaudits. "After a bad defeat you are meant to come back and show character, and we didn't in the first half," he said. "We were nervous. We didn't pass enough and by the time we started to play we were out of it."

Bassett did not see Derby's second, which is probably as well because his blood pressure might not have withstood it. To lose a goal nine seconds after the interval is bad enough, but to succumb when you kicked off and had posession almost defies belief. The ball went backwards, Marco Gabbiadini intercepted and passed to Ron Willems whose shot sailed past Alan Kelly, who looked as astounded by his team-mates' incompetence as the crowd.

The goal contained a substantial comic element, although very few at Bramall Lane saw the joke and the match concluded to the sound of boos. There were even the first hints of the unthinkable, a muted and shouted- down chant of "Bassett out". Fresh from the troubles at Manchester City, McDonald must have felt he had found a home from home.

Bassett blazed on regardless. "You can't expect the new owner to come in and throw money around so that Bassett can buy some players," he said. "It's obvious we need to do some work in the transfer market, but Mike McDonald has to get his feet under the table.

"Sheffield United have floundered for 20 years. In my time they haven't spent a penny and the club is probably where it deserves to be. But I have to be realistic. I don't do my shopping at Harrods, so the players I get here need educating. They can only perform at a certain level until they learn their trade."

A cold winter of learning lies ahead.

Goals: Gabbiadini (28) 0-1; Willems (45) 0-2.

Sheffield United (4-4-2): Kelly; Davidson (Battersby, 75), Foran, Tuttle, Nilsen; Hawes (Ward, 59), Holland, Hodges, Whitehouse; Flo (Veart, 68), Blake.

Derby County (4-4-2): Sutton (Hoult, h-t); Carsley, Rowett, Yates, Nicholson; Flynn (Wrack, h-t), Van der Laan, Powell, Preece; Gabbiadini (Simpson, 75), Willems.

Referee: E Lomas (Manchester).