It was - said Neil Warnock - “the best night of my life - footballing wise.”
The 220th Sheffield derby ended with victory for a rampant United and Warnock revelling in the celebrations on Friday 17 January 2003.
They had had to come from behind, though, after Alan Quinn gave the Owls a shock lead before Steve Kabba poked home to level.
A stunning volley from Michael Brown then set the Blades on their way with Wayne Allison slotting home and but for Kevin Pressman - who always seemed to save his best for United - the margin of victory could have been far wider.
Off the pitch there had been simmering tension in the build-up to the match. Blades fan Lester Divers had been shot in the head outside his Walkley home on New Year’s Day with some vowing to give him “a good send-off” while Owls fans were searched for banners taunting his killing before kick-off.
Police leave was cancelled across the force with with officers descending on various pubs in the city before and after the match as violence threatened to break out between the rival fans’ factions.
During the match a young Owls fan Emma Jayne Barker was injured by a flare fired into the Bramall Lane end which hit the 13-year-old on the forehead as disorder dominated the front pages.
Warnock’s side were clear favourites going into the match. Their previous outing had seen them grab a late 2-1 win in a thoroughly entertaining match at leaders Portsmouth which extended their unbeaten run to 14 games in which they scored 26 goals and conceded just five as they threatened to dislodge Leicester from the automatic promotion places.
They had beaten a string of top-flight sides in the Worthington Cup and were going to Liverpool the following week for the second leg of their semi-final with United 2-1 up.
Wednesday in contrast were struggling, five points from safety at the bottom of the Championship although Chris Turner’s side had picked up slightly with three wins in five matches going into the Bramall Lane clash, a vast improvement on a run of just two points from 10 matches.
Despite the apparent gulf both sides punched their weight with crunching tackles. Dean Windass went close for the Blades on three occasions, his first attempt coming back off the woodwork with Pressman tipping over Peter Ndlovu’s follow-up as the keeper threatened to thwart United single-handedly.
The second half was then just 75 seconds old when Quinn gaave the Owls a shock lead, running through to drive the ball under Paddy Kenny in front of a distinctly unimpressed Kop who were happy to share their feelings with the Wednesday man.
United though were made of stern stuff and they hauled themselves level 15 minutes later thanks to the persistence of Stuart McCall. The former Scotland midfielder stretched out a leg to direct the ball to Kabba who toe-poked the ball home.
Shefki Kuqi then fluffed a chance for Wednesday and within minutes United were in front with what is surely one of the best goals witnessed in history of the Steel City derby. There seemed little danger when Garry Monk’s clearance looped towards the edge of the area but the ball fell for Brown who unleashed an unstoppable 25-yard volley that left Pressman grasping at fresh air.
Allison scored from close-range with 12 minutes to go and Michael Tonge was within inches of adding a fourth as United produced the class which had propelled them to the fringes of automatic promotion.
It was a lesson in finishing for Turner’s team for whom Kuqi had squandered opportunities while Michele Di Piedi was enthusiastic but ineffective.
The final whistle probably brought some relief for Wednesday and signalled a party in S2, Warnock himself enjoying the celebrations.
The lifelong Blades fan described victory as the proudest moment of his career. “It beats Liverpool and the win over them (Wednesday) last season at their place.
“To see the ground full of red and white, to get kicked in the teeth with the goal, listening to people on the local radio all doom and gloom and how we were going to get beat. But we rolled our sleeves up and showed tremendous character and great spirit.”