The 124th Steel City derby brought Sheffield United a first win in five, salving the discomfort of losing at home and away last season for the first time in 95 years. Yet it was celebrated in the end with relief after Wednesday, seemingly dead in the water at 3-0 down after 42 minutes, scored twice in the second half.
Still dining out on their double, Wednesday took the field with a hint of a swagger, but two goals inside the first 15 minutes had the home crowd anticipating vengeance. Three in front by half-time, they were sure it was theirs.
Andrew Davies, signed on loan from Stoke yesterday, almost opened the scoring, his header forcing Wednesday goalkeeper Lee Grant into a fingertip save. From the resulting corner, Chris Morgan's header was blocked but Jamie Ward spun on the loose ball to fire home.
Wednesday's defending, found wanting then, only got worse. Kyle Walker's throw from the right was only half cleared, Ched Evans drove the ball across goal and Darius Henderson, with a reflex flick, turned it in.
An injury to Ward, who will be sidelined for six weeks with a torn hamstring, dampened United's spirits but then another calamity befell the visitors. David Cotterill, who had replaced Ward, aimed a cross at Henderson which Lewis Buxton reached first – but only to head it into his own net.
"It is a monkey off my back to win my first derby as manager here," United's Kevin Blackwell said. "We had a great season last year but because we lost the derbies it didn't count for much with some supporters."
Wednesday hit back largely because of the impact made by substitute Etienne Esajas. The Dutch midfielder played a part in a goal for Marcus Tudgay within 53 seconds of the restart and scored one himself with 25 minutes remaining. It was his header that Walker cleared to the feet of Tudgay, who scored, and his free-kick, from 30 yards, that skimmed past a poorly-organised United wall to nestle in the bottom right-hand corner.
Inevitably there were more anxious moments to come for the home side. The impetus for a third goal eluded Wednesday, however, and United's Evans was twice denied by Grant.
"The second half showed what we are capable of," the Wednesday manager, Brian Laws, said. "But you have to make a good start and we didn't."
Sheffield United (4-4-2): Bunn; Walker, Morgan, Davies, Taylor; Ward (Cotterill, 33; France, 90), Montgomery, Harper, Treacy (Quinn, 87); Henderson, Evans. Substitutes not used: Bennett (gk), Reid, Stewart, Little.
Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Grant; Buxton, Purse, Wood, Spurr; Gray, Potter, O'Connor (Miller, 77), Johnson (Esajas, h-t); Varney (Clarke, 65), Tudgay. Substitutes not used: O'Donnell (gk), McAllister, Sodje, Simek.
Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).