Alan Biggs’ Derby Column: Some fans of Sheffield United and Wednesday would prefer a trip to the dentist than a Sheffield Derby – but I’m hoping for a game that does the city proud
There are fans in both camps - in numbers that would surprise outsiders - don’t like Sheffield derbies. Some would favour a visit to the dentist.
If truth be told, it can also be painful writing about them.
But how, as a supporter of either club, could you not relish this one? There’s so much cause for optimism, for varying reasons, on both sides of the city. Maybe excitement can - for once - conquer dread?
I don’t like previewing derbies any more than I’d walk a tightrope over the Niagara Falls. Do I like watching them, though? Yes, love the atmosphere. But do wish the enjoyment of the football was greater. They seldom match the build up.
But is that part of it? Maybe it’s typical of derbies generally. Or is there something in Sheffield’s football psyche - against a backdrop of modern day under-achievement - somehow preventing a seizing of the moment?
It’s not only the queasier supporters in both camps. On the field, too, dread of losing can outweigh anticipation of winning.
Take two of the three meetings since Steel City battle recommenced last season. Two largely sterile goalless draws, which both happened to be at Bramall Lane.
At the risk of upsetting the blue half of the city, the one exciting clash was at Hillsborough in September, 2017. From this neutral corner, United’s 4-2 victory was stirring stuff.
It could have gone either way, albeit briefly, at 2-2 and let’s hope Sheffield can show the watching world something similar - in terms of entertainment - from the same ground on Monday.
The backdrop - with United second and Wednesday dreaming not entirely improbably of the play-offs - suggests Steve Bruce could be right in tipping a classic. Both teams are bang in form.
Nobody is going to “win” a 0-0 draw this time. Let’s look at it this way. It would do nothing to claw back any bragging rights in S6. And it would likely be seen as a couple of promotion points dropped in S2.
I think - and not only for that reason - the signs are good for a more exciting spectacle this time. After all, it was blatant (and successful) stifling tactics from former manager Jos Luhukay that gave Wednesday the bigger cause to cheer in those stalemates at the Lane.
While I thought Chris Wilder, very uncharacteristically, didn’t quite go all out for the win in that first 0-0 two seasons ago, he certainly did in the second. And nothing is more certain than that he will order an assault at Hillsborough, having stormed the rival fortress two seasons ago.
Where the chemistry changes is in Bruce’s replacement of Luhukay. Now, Bruce gives goals away as grudgingly as a manager as he did as a centre half. But after his Manchester United schooling he has an essentially attacking mentality.
Something more. Bruce isn’t locked into the climate of fear that surrounds these games in this city. It’s his first one, an experience he didn’t get to sample when in charge of the Blades early in management.
And this time Wednesday are not in peril following a slump in form, as they were before both Lane games and which shaped tactics. A third successive home win is needed to stoke up that sudden prospect of storming into the top six.
Otherwise, the Owls’ season could hold little more than Bruce assessing his oversized squad and preparing for the next one. Here’s the one big chance of something to really savour - on two fronts.
As for how it’s going to go, well, you can’t predict a cup tie. And let’s hope this plays out as something of the kind.
You’d be surprised if there’s more than one goal in it. The Owls have tightened up while showing they still have players who can really hurt the opposition - Reach, Bannan, Fletcher, Forestieri.
The Blades, very much in the groove, have to be favourites. You can go one to 11, not a weak link.
Only a neutral is concerned with anything beyond the result. This one hopes for - and expects - a game that does the city proud.