UNITED 2 (Antenucci 43, 50), DERBY 0
United: Silvestri, Byram, Cooper, Bellusci, Warnock, Cook, Bianchi (Austin 68), Mowatt, Adryan (Tonge 90+4), Antenucci, Doukara. Subs. S Taylor, Berardi, Pearce, Dawson, Sharp.
Derby: Grant, Christie, Keogh, Shotton, Forsyth, Mascarell (Bryson 66), Hughes, Hendrick, Russell (Thomas 66), Ibe (Dawkins 66), Martin. Subs. Roos, Buxton, Eustace, Coutts.
Referee: M Russell
Booked: Bianchi, Doukara, Cooper, Bellusci (United), Christie, Mascarell, Martin, Russell, Shotton (Derby)
For the visit of league leaders Derby County, Neil Redfearn made just the one change from the side beaten at Blackburn a week earlier as Giuseppe Bellusci returned to defence in place of Jason Pearce.
Ahead of kick-off, Elland Road stood to a minute’s applause in memory of Blake Cairns, the younger brother of United goalkeeper Alex, who tragically passed away two weeks earlier.
It was the was the visitors who started on the front foot, with Jeff Hendrick and Chris Martin both threatening inside the first 10 minutes, but United soon started to enjoy good spells of possession inside the Derby half.
Both goalkeeper’s had relatively quiet opening 25 minutes, though, as both sides probed for ways through without truly testing Marco Silvestri or Lee Grant.
United's first real sight of goal came on 34 minutes as Mirco Antenucci skipped away from his marker on the edge of the area, only to fire way over Grant’s bar under the close watch of Richard Keogh.
Grant was then called into action moments later, getting down to his left to beat away Alex Mowatt’s dipping strike behind after a swift break up-field. Antenucci then blazed over the bar from the resulting corner as United began to apply some decent pressure.
Souleymane Doukara dragged a low effort wide after 39 minutes following another counter-attack but the deadlock was finally broken just two minutes before the half-time whistle thanks to Antenucci’s sixth of the season.
Some industrious work down the left saw Mowatt head towards the byline and cut a low ball back across goal where the Italian striker was lurking. He made no mistake from 12 yards out, steering beyond Grant with an emphatic finish to give Redfearn’s side the lead.
Buoyed by Antenucci’s opener, United looked to pick up where they left off after the restart and the 30-year-old was soon celebrating his second of the afternoon from a similar scenario to his first.
Stephen Warnock burst down the left and delivered a low cross which Doukara dummied and there was Antenucci to fire beyond Grant and into the bottom corner, lifting Elland Road to its feet once again.
Sam Byram then looked to make it three, skipping beyond two defenders before firing a low effort into the arms of Grant from outside the area.
United were continuing to dominate proceedings and Antenucci, going in search of his hat-trick, tested Grant once again as the Derby keeper pushed away his goal-bound strike. Redfearn was then prompted into his first change of the afternoon as Rodolph Austin replaced the tireless Tommaso Bianchi in midfield with just over 20 minutes remaining.
Derby boss Steve McClaren, who had watched the opening hour from up in the Elland Road press box, made his way down to the technical area to urge his side forward, making all three substitutions in one go, but it was the hosts who still looked the most likely to grab the game’s third.
Antenucci fizzed an effort inches over Grant’s bar and into the Kop after cutting inside, before Simon Dawkins threatened at the opposite end but could only find the South Stand as Silvestri remained untested.
Derby then passed up a glaring opportunity and their clearest sight of goal on 81 minutes as Warnock was forced into a heroic last-ditch tackle in front of goal before Kwame Thomas smashed over the loose ball from inside the area.
Derby were throwing men forward and gaps were inevitably appearing inside their half. Doukara spotted one as he looked to feed Antenucci, who had beaten the onrushing Grant to the ball, but the Derby keeper stood firm to block his effort from way outside his area.