James Shield’s Sheffield Derby Column: Sheffield United are the dominant force in the Steel City, for now

The Star's Sheffield United writer James Shield
The Star's Sheffield United writer James Shield
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On Friday morning, eleven hours before his team were set for the biggest match of its season so far, Chris Wilder was sat inside Bramall Lane's 1889 Suite listening to members of Sheffield United's Community Foundation outline the purpose, and highlight some success stories, of their work.

It was a measure, given that most other managers in a similar situation would have issued an apology and given the seminar the widest of berths, of the importance he places on being a club for the whole city, for all its people, rather than simply the streets and alleyways of Sharrow.

Later that evening, after emerging as the dominant force in the draw against Sheffield Wednesday but failing to apply the killer blow, United missed an opportunity to plant their flag in the Peace Gardens, Graeme Souness style. Still, the way the two teams set-up to play confirms there has been a shift in the balance of power.

Analyse their past three meetings and several patterns emerge. It is also worth reflecting how United were perceived during the build-up to the first 14 months ago.

Back then, having just finished a long stint in the 'Pub League', United travelled to Hillsborough supposedly without their best centre-forward (the injured Billy Sharp) and any sort of hope. Wednesday, then under Carlos Carvalhal's stewardship, had qualified for the play-offs earlier that year but were beaten 4-2. Playing, it must be remembered, a very different brand of football to the one they have employed on their previous two visits to United's stadium.

Carvalhal's successor Jos Luhukay has returned on both occasions celebrating a stalemate. Given the circumstances Wednesday found themselves in, those results represented victories of sorts. But the tactics Luhukay employed for that two match series, culminating in last week's derby, revealed United now command Wednesday's respect. And some. Indeed, they betrayed the fact Luhukay accepts they possess greater creativity and technical prowess than his own squad. Which is some turnaround. Approach sometimes tells you more than final outcomes.

The most obvious difference between United and Wednesday, though, concerns strategy. Those of a blue and white persuasion will argue, with some justification, that the starting eleven which frustrated United most recently cost a fraction of the "numbers" Wilder mentioned beforehand. Yet it is indisputable that Wednesday's financial outlay since 2016 leaves their neighbours’  own spend in the shade. If the options at Luhukay's disposal are affected so badly by injuries, given Wednesday's sheer weight of investment that suggests poor planning behind the scenes.

Which is precisely why United, who do think coherently, are now in the ascendancy. Although, as we know, things can quickly change. Until it does, Wilder's side are Sheffield's premier team.