Sheffield Wednesday: A tale of two cities

The Star's Wednesday writer, Dom Howson, puts the questions to Nicky Weaver, left, and Lee Bullen who played against each other.
The Star's Wednesday writer, Dom Howson, puts the questions to Nicky Weaver, left, and Lee Bullen who played against each other.
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More than seven years have passed since Manchester City and Sheffield Wednesday last collided.

ity claimed a hard-fought 2-1 victory over the Owls in a third-round FA Cup replay after their first meeting at Hillsborough had finished all square. Wednesday coach Lee Bullen and newly-appointed Owls academy coach Nicky Weaver played on opposite sides, with Bullen glancing a header out of Weaver’s reach in the second meeting. Much has changed since then and the pair reflect on that tie and the up-and-coming tussle with The Star’s Wednesday reporter, Dom Howson.

Dom Howson (DH): How much are you both looking forward to tomorrow’s clash?

Nicky Weaver (NW): I think it’s got everybody buzzing. It’s been a while since the draw was made but it’s a great game for the club and the city as City are the champions of England and the holders of the competition.

Lee Bullen (LB): With any cup draw, you always want a winnable tie, preferably at home, but if you aren’t going to get that you want one of the big boys. It doesn’t come much bigger than the champions. I would have preferred it to have been at Hillsborough under the lights. That would have been perfect but it’s not a bad second best.

DH: What are your memories of the last time the two clubs went head-to-head?

NW: I remember when the draw was made and feeling very excited because I am a Wednesday fan. It was about a year after I had been at the club on loan so I was excited for myself, friends and family. It’s always special for me playing at Hillsborough.

I really enjoyed the game. I think we took the lead but Steve MacLean scored late on and I remember being under the cosh in the last 15 to 20 minutes, with Chris Brunt whipping corner after corner in.

We got out of there with a draw and once we got the tie back to our place we fancied ourselves.

LB: The first game took care of itself. The atmosphere carried the players through it. We gave them a scare.

I think in the second game, although we equalised, we were always second best. City had quite a few chances and we rode our luck a little bit and eventually they got the winner through Darius Vassell.

We hung on and pushed them all the way but when you knock on the door so many times eventually you are going to nick a goal.

NW: Mark Crossley pulled off two or three one-on-one saves against Vassell. He kept us at bay even though he was struggling with his back.

DH: What is your recollection of the Wednesday goal?

NW: To be fair, it was a good header by Bully.

LB: The pace was on the cross so you’ve got to give Chris Brunt credit for that. All I had to do was get a touch on it and Nicky had no chance.

It was one of them where 99 times out of a 100 it never goes in but that one time it worked a treat. I enjoyed the celebration.

I didn’t score many so you have to enjoy it when one goes in.

There’s not really been any banter in training. Nicky always reminds me that they won the game and got through to the next round of the competition. That’s part and parcel of it.

It’s a great memory for me on a personal note to have scored. I didn’t think I would be good enough to play at that level so to get the opportunity to play a side like City was great. That was just the start of City’s climb.

DH: What have you made, Nicky, of City’s transformation?

NW: It’s been unbelievable. When I left, I think we were just an average Premier League team. In my last season there, we finished 14th and were a mid-table team. Anything better than that was good.

Once the money started to come in, the expectation levels raised. They started to bring in world-class players and have gone from strength to strength.

It’s got a point now where if City don’t win the title, it’s a disappointing season. That tells you how far they come in such a short space of time. Even finishing in the Champions League positions is not good enough for them. They’ve got to win a trophy.

The only thing they probably would like to do better in is in Europe where they’ve struggled a bit over the last couple of years but I’m sure that will improve over the coming seasons.

LB: Is there anyone still there from your time?

NW: Joe Hart is the only one. There are some academy staff but it’s all been rejigged now. They are going into a new training ground soon. It has changed massively since I was there.

The fans stood by them through some tough times and I think they are now really appreciating all the success they are getting.

DH: What were the highs and lows from your days at City?

NW: I broke into the team as a 19-year-old and we had two promotions in my first two seasons. I could not have got off to a better start. If I could single one moment out of my career, playing at Wembley in the League One Play-off Final and saving the penalties in 1999 to help the team go up would be it. Every time I’m in Manchester, that’s all people want to talk to me about!

It was such a big day and almost a bit of a turning point for the club because we got promoted out of that division and have never really looked back since.

I had 10 fantastic years there. If I’m honest, I had the opportunity to stay at City but ended up leaving. It’s probably the biggest regret of my life. I should have stayed but I left because I thought it was the right thing to do at the time, but it obviously wasn’t!

DH: How confident are you that Wednesday can cause an upset?

LB: Our group of players are playing with a lot of confidence at the moment. I would think City will make a few changes. It doesn’t necessarily make them weaker as they will have players coming in with maybe points to prove. The atmosphere will be different because it’s a massive stadium. I can’t see City selling it out because it’s one of those games where they take it for granted where it’s the early rounds of the League Cup, but our fans will be out there in force. That might help give us a lift.

There is no reason why we can’t cause a shock but we are not stupid. We know we are total underdogs. Football is all about opportunities and it is a fantastic opportunity for individual players to pit themselves against international players and to play in a stadium where we ultimately, as a football club, want to play every week.

DH: More than 5,000 fans will be cheering the team on in Manchester. How much of a difference can that make in a one off cup tie?

LB: A lot of our away games almost feel like home matches because are fans are so loud. I remember when we played Derby on the opening day of the 2012/13 season and the following we took was unbelievable. At times against Birmingham last week, it felt like we were the home team because of the noise they create.

I don’t think it will be a sell-out from the City fans’ point of view. They’ve got bigger fish to fry in the Premier League and in the Champions League, so our fans will potentially make more noise than theirs.

NW: I remember the crowd last time because it was on television. It’s quite a big stadium but I recall it being quite empty and the Wednesday fans filling one stand. It was just chocker behind the goal and that’s probably what it will be like this time.

I don’t think the players will need any lifting but it’s a massive help when you’ve got five or 6,000 fans trying to suck the ball in. They will be right up for it because it’s a great place to play and the players will want to pit themselves against the best.