Derby day pitched the runaway winners of League One in 2016/17 against the club that finished well adrift at the bottom of the Championship.
Only one place separated Sheffield United and Rotherham United in May and there wasn’t a deal between them in an entertaining pre-season friendly at AESSEAL New York Stadium.
The Blades had more of the better moments, particularly in the second half, getting in behind the home side with some slick football at times, yet the Millers also had much to be encouraged about, showing a willingness to move the ball forward quickly that bodes well for the new era under Paul Warne.
Both sides entered the match with 100 per cent summer records, and it was Rotherham who said goodbye to theirs as home centre-half Michael Ihiekwe, who had been one of the best players on the pitch, deflected in Chris Basham’s 67th-minute shot and Enda Stevens nicked the ball past substitute goalkeeper Lewis Price after a horrible Darnell Fisher misjudgement 13 minutes later.
As pre-season games go, this was good, competitive stuff, and a controlled finish from young Millers striker Jerry Yates with four minutes left made the final score an accurate reflection of events.
The only setback for the Blades was an early knee injury to Simon Moore which saw the keeper stretchered off.
“There were some good signs from us,” said Blade boss Chris Wilder. “I was happy with the workout, but there are things we need to tighten up on at both ends of the pitch.
“Tonight was a competitive challenge against a side I expect to do well next season.
“That’s two tough games in four days. Perhaps the players are tired but they will have benefited from it.”
The game was lively from the off and, six minutes in, Rotherham winger Jon Taylor whipped in a free-kick from the left which evaded everybody and almost went in at the far post. Three minutes later Leon Clarke should have put the Blades ahead, but he lifted his effort over the bar with only goalkeeper Richard O’Donnell to beat.
Moore departed after appearing to land awkwardly in the 15th minute and was replaced by Jake Eastwood who pulled of a good save to to keep out David Ball’s crisp 18-yard effort in the 21st minute and a superb one to claw away Joe Mattock’s looping header close to half-time.
O’Donnell had needed to be sharp to keep out a Daniel Lafferty shot just before Ball tried his luck and, with both teams looking to attack, the Millers broke out and went the length of the field in the 31st minute only for Taylor’s shot to be deflected just wide.
Millers manager Warne said: “I was disappointed to lose, but it was a good performance. The fans would have gone away having seen an energetic, positive side.
“The Blades are a good side, have been together for a while and they caused us problem, but we caused them problems too.
“It was competitive, end to end. It felt like a league game. It was a good workout for the lads.”
As the second half continued in the same vein as the first, Jack O’Connell’s header was stopped at point-blank range by O’Donnell and Chris Basham blazed wastefully over in front of the away supporters after 52 minutes.
Kieffer Moore was inches away from connecting with David Ball’s low, curling supply for the home side and Eastwood was in good form again to deny Will Vaulks and then Moore on the hour mark after the 6ft 5in striker had been played in by David Ball.
The play was going from end to end and Samir Carruthers was close with a fierce 20-yarder for the visitors before the goals started coming.
At the final whistle, Wilder, such an astute and authoritative leader of the Blades, embraced rookie boss Warne, who would love to emulate his Bramall Lane counterpart.
There were smiles from both men.
With just two weeks until the action begins for real, both had plenty to be pleased about.
Goals: Ihiekwe og 67, Stevens 80 (Sheffield United); Yates 86 (Rotherham United).
Rotherham United (4-2-3-1): O’Donnell (Price H-T); Emmanuel, Ihiekwe, Ajayi, Mattock; Vaulks, Potter; Frecklington, David Ball, Taylor; Moore.
Rotherham United from 69 minutes (4-4-2): Price; Fisher, Wood, Belaid, Purrington; Forde, Dominic Ball, Newell, Bray; Clarke-Harris, Yates.
Sheffield United (3-5-2): Moore (Eastwood 15); Basham, Stearman (Wright 65), O’Connell; Freeman, Coutts, Carruthers (Brooks 65), Fleck, Lafferty (Stevens 65); Sharp (Lavery H-T), Clarke (Duffy 77). Subs not used: Thomas, Slater.
Referee: Jonathan Moss (West Yorkshire).
Attendance: 7,396 (3,674).