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A slender 1-0 defeat away at Coventry City saw Derby knocked out in the third round of the FA Cup last weekend, though Wayne Rooney may feel that this result could be a blessing in disguise as they bid to avoid relegation from the Championship.

The Rams can now focus solely on reducing the 11-point gap to safety with 23 league games remaining, and given their recent upturn in form, Rooney and co will be confident of pulling off the great escape.

Derby have accumulated 10 points from their last 12 available, with three successive wins against Blackpool, West Bromwich Albion and Stoke City followed by a dramatic 2-2 draw away at Reading, a game which they were trailing by two goals before strikes in the 86th minute and 91st minute helped salvage a point.

There is only one Championship team who have claimed more points than the Rams in the last four league matches and it just so happens to be Saturday’s opponents Sheffield United, who have secured maximum points in this period.

Despite sitting at the foot of the table, the Rams have only conceded 24 goals in 25 league matches this term and they are the only team in the second tier yet to concede more than two goals in a single game this season.

However, the Rams have struggled defensively against Sheffield United in recent years, conceding in each of their last six meetings, including August’s 2-1 EFL Cup loss and the 1-0 league defeat in September. The last time that Derby lost three successive games against the Blades was between 1991 and 1995.

Derby are still without midfielder Krystian Bielik and left-back Lee Buchanan, who remain sidelined with knee injuries, while striker Sam Baldock has seen his contract with the club expire.

Experienced centre-backs Phil Jagielka and Curtis Davies will likely see their partnership in defence continue, with Nathan Burne and Craig Forsyth operating as full-backs.

Goalkeeper Kelle Roos will be hoping to return between the sticks ahead of Ryan Allsop, while Graeme Shinnie could start in centre-midfield at the expense of Liam Thompson.

As for Sheffield United, Jack O’ConnellRobin OlsenJohn Fleck and George Baldock are all set to miss out due to injury, while Enda StevensOli McBurnie and John Egan are all doubtful.

Midfielder Sander Berge started his first game since August last Saturday, after a lengthy spell on the sidelines with a hamstring injury, but Heckingbottom may look to manage his minutes, so a place on the bench to begin with seems more likely for the Norwegian this weekend.

Morgan Gibbs-White was unable to face his parent club last weekend but the Wolves loanee will be in contention to start against Derby and could be joined in midfield by Oliver Norwood and Conor Hourihane.

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Nineteen-year-old defender Kyron Gordon was handed just his third senior start against Wolves, but he is expected to drop out for Egan if the Irishman is fit to start.

Derby County possible starting lineup:
Roos; Byrne, Jagielka, Davies, Forsyth; Bird, Shinnie; Morrison, Lawrence, Knight; Kazim-Richards

Sheffield United possible starting lineup:
Foderingham; Bogle, Basham, Egan, Robinson, Norrington-Davies; Hourihane, Norwood; Gibbs-White; McGoldrick, Brewster

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