SOUTH Yorkshire’s Gran Classico might be short on sophistication and style but, in terms of sheer excitement and endeavour, it is more than a match for its Spanish equivalent.
Honours remained even following a typically robust encounter played out in front of nearly 29,000 people at Bramall Lane. But, having seemingly been destined for defeat until Chris O’Grady and Gary Madine pounced at the death, it was Sheffield Wednesday who celebrated at the final whistle while Sheffield United reflected on what might - indeed should - have been, writes Blades reporter James Shield.
Although Wednesday can claim, with plenty of justification, to have deserved their draw, United manager Danny Wilson will still be wondering this morning how the spoils slipped from his side’s grasp.
The row about whether Madine’s 11th of the season should have been allowed to stand will rage for the rest of the week, with United goalkeeper Steve Simonsen claiming he had been impeded when he came to collect Jose Semedo’s centre.
But with Stephen Quinn and Ched Evans on target before the break, the decision-making of referee Michael Oliver and his assistant should have been reduced to a mere footnote rather than allowed to become the major talking point of a predictably emotional post-match inquest.
Wednesday, regarded by some as the “Real Madrid” of League One according to their manager, Gary Megson, arrived in majestic form having won four of their previous five outings.
Their manager’s comparison
predictably raised eyebrows on both sides of the Steel City divide.
Reda Johnson and Madine are fine players in their own right, but definitely no Marcelo or Cristiano Ronaldo.
However, just like Los Blancos, the visitors have undergone a dramatic transformation of late, with the former Bolton Wanderers and Norwich City chief adopting more industrious approach in an effort to recapture the golden days of yore.
United, with the ‘Ginger Messi’, Quinn, orchestrating their midfield, have moved in the opposite direction under the tutelage of Wilson.
Previously renowned for their physicality and route-one methodology, Wednesday’s bitter rivals now prefer to beguile rather than bludgeon opponents into submission. Both approaches were effective here, with Lee Williamson and Madine emerging as the pivotal figures in a contest which proved both teams are capable of thrilling and frustrating in equal measure.
Wilson, who represented Wednesday as both a manager and a player, watched as former Rotherham and Watford schemer Williamson tormented Reda Johnson, Megson’s makeshift left-back, during an influential display.
Madine, meanwhile, remained on the periphery of the drama until he exploded in to life with a late equaliser after O’Grady’s equally dramatic intervention.
Meetings between these two rivals are always shrouded in controversy and the first talking point of the afternoon came after just five minutes when Reda Johnson appeared to impede Williamson as they jostled to meet Evans’ cross.
But, as United continued to appeal, Wednesday responded with a fine move of their own which forced Harry Maguire to intervene as Madine waited to pounce.
There was, however, no debate about the legitimacy of the goal which sent waves of ecstasy flooding across three-quarters of the stadium six minutes later.
This time it was Evans’ turn to escape the midfield maelstrom by launching a raid down the right flank and when Rob Jones deflected his shot on to the post Quinn converted the rebound.
Only the width of an upright prevented O’Grady from restoring parity when Simonsen, who later redeemed himself by touching Ben Marshall’s fierce attempt on to the crossbar, spilled Madine’s header from Chris Lines’ set-piece.
Evans promptly doubled United’s advantage.
The introduction of Jermaine Johnson provided Wednesday with greater impetus but it was O’Grady and Madine who claimed the goals which broke United hearts.
Having waved away Williamson’s claims for a spot-kick, Oliver found himself under the spotlight again when, much to Wednesday’s disgust, he opted to only caution Evans for a challenge on Lines.
O’Grady was calmness personified when he set up a grandstand finish.
The Wednesday marksman was on hand to turn home his first goal for Megson’s charges before Madine pounced in controversial circumstances before the crowd had barely drawn breath.