Alan Biggs at Large: How I'm calling the Steel City Derby between Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday
Once more into the breach, dear friends. More pressure to predict the unpredictable. But if it's possible to compare a Shakespeare play to a football match, I'll give you a firm prediction '“ drama. Drama with a capital D.
One thing pushed aside amid the extremes of reaction to the events of Hillsborough in September was what a very good game it was. That, of course, depended on where you were positioned in the great city divide. But I think the safest bet for Bramall Lane tomorrow is that we’ll see more of the same in terms of entertainment.
There are many reasons for this, chief among them that a draw wouldn’t be much hailed in either camp. Sheffield United never play for one and, besides, they have the scent of a derby double in their flaring nostrils. Sheffield Wednesday know that their only way of settling the score after crashing 4-2 at Hillsborough is to win.
That first meeting turned out to be about more than just a single sore and sorry defeat for the Owls. Arguably it put their whole season into reverse. They have never really recovered.
And if there was any truth in accusations that Wednesday players didn’t realise the intensity of a Sheffield derby and what it meant to the fans, well, they do now. Added to which, regardless of major injuries, they need a big result to turn their season the other way.
For the Blades, too, it means boosting a renewed surge of momentum in their battle to maintain a top six challenge. You’d expect the Owls to go about it with the demand for greater defensive solidity uppermost, breaking from a more reliable base.
Realistically, a draw would be a decent opening for new Owls boss Jos Luhukay – but only a win could put him into Sheffield football folklore.
Wednesday’s notoriously slow start at Hillsborough was one of so many in the first half of the season. The lesson is glaring. United know no other way to start a game - or finish one. All of this is far, far removed from the first Sheffield derbies this column recalls in the 1960s and of many that have followed down the years.
This is 2018 and, for all the nostalgic yearnings for many things past, attacking is king these days, aided and abetted by the lamentable fact that defending has become a lost art.
But one thing unlikely ever to change is the feisty nature of these affairs and, for all the reasons above, I think this meeting will be more challenging for the referee (David Coote) than the last one was for Simon Hooper, who emerged with just three yellow cards and much credit from his peers.
Former referees chief Keith Hackett agrees, saying: “Hooper did well and this will be an even bigger test for a very good young referee in Coote.”
As for who wins it, you’d have to go along with United as favourites, even if the cost of the two squads (regardless of Wednesday’s injuries) is at either end of the scale. But said without too much conviction as logic tends not to be on the teamsheet for a derby and the visitors might enjoy being cast as “underdogs” this time.
The one result I’m not tipping is a draw. So now you know where to place your money, folks!