Danny Hall’s Sheffield United Column: Sheffield Derby should be one to relish if Owls’ tactical tweak plays into Blades’ hands

Away from the social media sniping about ticket allocations and endless debates about 4-0s and 7-3s of yesteryear, it's sometimes easy to forget that there's actually a game of football to be played on Monday evening when Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United lock horns for the 131st competitive time in the proud history of both these Steel City clubs.

Thursday, 28th February 2019, 14:53 pm
Updated Thursday, 28th February 2019, 14:57 pm

As ever, the derby is an intriguing prospect; Chris Wilder's Blades will hope to continue their push for the Premier League with victory in the most emotive match of them all, while Steve Bruce's Owls have given their season just a flicker of a revival with a good run that sees them just six points off the play-offs, albeit with a clutch of clubs to overcome if they are to gatecrash the top six.

Add in all number of subplots - Wilder v Bruce, once teammates at Bramall Lane; Fernando Forestieri's first derby; Billy Sharp's as-yet-unfilled dream of scoring in one - and it appears, on the face of it, one to relish.

Chris Wilder leads his Sheffield United players into battle at Hillsborough on Monday: James Wilson/Sportimage

The reality, in these occasions, is often somewhat different though, and not many of the 30,000-plus crowd inside Hillsborough and the many more watching worldwide would be surprised in the slightest if it unfolded in a tight, cagey fashion.

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Sometimes the fear of losing, rather than the pursuit of victory, can involuntarily creep into players' psyche as well as that of supporters.

But actually, having given it some thought, I can see the opposite unfolding. Crucially, there must surely be a shift in the mindset of the Owls, especially from their tactics at Bramall Lane in November when they defended resolutely and took home a well-earned point.

It wasn't pretty but it was damned effective, even if they owed much of it to the heroics of Cameron Dawson in goal, but at home this time the Owls have to be more adventurous - especially now they've essentially put themselves in a position to have a 'free-hit' at a play-off push.

That, for me, should play exactly into United's hands and, either way, will likely make the spectacle better regardless of the outcome.

It guarantees nothing, of course. One of the beauties - or the pitfalls, depending on your love-em-or-hate-em view - of derby games is that they are, despite any talk of budgets or points or pounds, decided on what Wilder calls 'that green bit in the middle'.

Who forecast that his free-scoring Blades, with central defenders becoming wingers and a system midfielder Oli Norwood describes as 'chaos' at times, would be blunted in successive home games by Wednesday, with the confidence squeezed out of them by then-boss Jos Luhukay?

United's 4-2 win at Hillsborough last season, even though I tipped it publically beforehand, could be seen as an upset too. United were just starting to hit their straps in the Championship after six years in League One, but were still visiting their rivals who were virtually unrecognisable since their last meeting thanks to Dejphon Chansiri's millions.

Although a piece by stats guru Antony Adshead elsewhere on this website disproves that most tiresome of cliches about formbooks and windows, the most memorable derby wins over the years have been those that come against the odds - United's double against the Owls team that finished third in Division One springs to mind, as does the Boxing Day game that derailed United's promotion push and proved a springboard for Wednesday's own.

For that reason alone, United would be wise to look at Wednesday's threats objectively and pay them the respect that they deserve. Adam Reach has the ability to turn a game with one waft of that left foot; Forestieri, despite his troubles, remains a serious player.

That respect, though, should stop some way short of fear. United, as they've shown so many times this season, have so many serious players in their own squad and under Wilder and his staff, they've certainly 'turned up' more times than they haven't.

Do that again on Monday and they'll take some stopping.