He is too old and wise to get carried away just yet, but the victory on Saturday was Sheffield United's ninth in 10 games this season - their best-ever start - and the gap to third is already nine points. The formula to success at this level is not complex: solidity plus a lively forward and a measure of luck equals promotion, and United appeared to have all three facets against a Derby side who were as enterprising in the second half as they had been supine in the first.
First came the good fortune, as Morten Bisgaard distracted everybody with his efforts to clear David Unsworth's low corner, missed, and the ball scudded in at the far post.
"It was one of the worst corners I've taken in my life," Unsworth acknowledged. Half an hour later he threw in a better one, Neil Shipperley headed back across goal and Paul Ifill drove in off the base of the post.
In between there had been evidence of the attacking menace, Steven Kabba's pace and energy a persistent threat alongside the more yeomanly virtues of Shipperley.
As United dominated, Lee Camp made two excellent saves and Chris Morgan headed just over. Warnock suggested he was being "greedy" by wanting a third, but even a fourth would hardly have been unjustified on the balance of play. And then, against all expectations, United had to display their defensive resolve as Derby, switching from 4-1-4-1 to 4-4-2, were transformed.
Paul Peschisolido converted a Peter Whittingham cross with a deft flick of the outside of his right foot after 53 minutes but United, despite the odd wobble, weathered an awkward period and finished the stronger. Unsworth, in particular, stood out for his steadiness. "He still believes he should be a left-back in the Premiership," Warnock said. "Mind, there's half of them think that."
Warnock pronounced himself delighted that his side had been tested, apparently reasoning, like Milton, that a fugitive and cloistered virtue is barely a virtue at all. Whether he would have maintained such detachment had Paddy Kenny not made a sharp reflex stop from Mounir El Hamdaoui with 12 minutes remaining is another matter.
Nonetheless, the reasons for optimism are evident, particularly as the feeling is that United, for all the impressiveness of their start, have not quite clicked yet. "I don't think we're playing anywhere near what we're capable of," Unsworth said. "We've a big squad with power, pace and experience." For now, though, patches of form are proving enough.
Goals: Unsworth (7) 1-0; Ifill (37) 2-0; Peschisolido (53) 2-1.
Sheffield United (4-4-2): Kenny; Kozluk, Bromby, Morgan, Unsworth; Ifill (Gillespie, 77), Montgomery, Jagielka, Quinn; Kabba (Webber, 84), Shipperley (Péricard, 76). Substitutes not used: Geary, Tonge.
Derby County (4-1-4-1): Camp; Kenna, Davies, M Johnson, Whittingham; Idiakez; Bisgaard (Fadiga, 73), Bolder (El Hamdaoui, 46), S Johnson, Smith; John (Peschisolido, 46). Subtitutes not used: Poole (gk), Holdsworth.
Referee: M Pike (Cumbria).
Booked: Sheffield United Unsworth; Derby El Hamdaoui.
Man of the match: Unsworth.
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