Sheffield Derby: One city but two completely different clubs, that’s what makes the Steel City derby such a remarkable occasion

Sheffield United are all about the group, says manager Chris Wilder: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Sheffield United are all about the group, says manager Chris Wilder: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Less than four miles separate Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday who, after a week's worth of shadow boxing, will trade actual blows later tonight.

But what makes this contest so compelling, so utterly intriguing for those involved, is not geography or proximity. Rather the fact that, in terms of personality and process, the two clubs are worlds apart.

It was a subject Chris Wilder touched upon yesterday afternoon as his United squad, built on hard work and a budget, prepared to host its fiercest rivals. The visitors, despite spending much of the summer under a transfer embargo, have benefited hugely from their chairman's largesse.

"Yes, they've spent money," Wilder admitted. "We are on our path. But on derby day, we talk about the result only and a performance is key for us. 

"I'm not interested in what has gone off over there. But they have some tremendously powerful footballers who they've spent big fees and wages on. That doesn't take the pressure off us though. Because we still want it."

Casually dressed in trainers and tracksuit, Wilder exuded composure inside Bramall Lane's media suite. Jokes were shared. Anecdotes offered. But behind the smile, as he discussed one of England's most iconic fixtures, the 51-year-old will have been bristling with nervous energy . Born in the city, bred on the terraces of the club he now leads, meetings with Wednesday are not just professional for Wilder. They are acutely personal.

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder has worked to a strict budget

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder has worked to a strict budget

"It's the biggest one for everyone connected with our club," he said without a moment's hesitation. "I don't think any of my players are thinking 'I was involved in that one, that was bigger.' They know this is the big one.

"We all know people from Liverpool, Newcastle, Glasgow or wherever. But the history of the game is based in Sheffield. We've got two huge clubs from our huge historic city going toe to toe on a wet November night. I don't think anyone will be disappointed with the game."

Divorcing themselves from the maelstrom is vitally important for a United side managed, captained and co-owned by lifelong supporters. In once sense, their emotional investment is a strength. Wilder and his captain Billy Sharp, another dyed-in-the-wool Blade, will ensure every single one of their colleagues is aware of the game's significance.

But, given the importance on clear minds and focus, it also represents a potential weakness. Harnessing that passion, translating it into a ruthless performance, is a trick they performed to good effect at Hillsborough 14 months ago when goals from Leon Clarke (2), John Fleck and Mark Duffy propelled them to a 4-2 victory. But in the return, despite Glenn Loovens' dismissal  midway through the second-half, Wednesday kept them at bay before nearly snatching a winner in stoppage time. 

Leon Clarke scored twice at Hillsborough last season: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Leon Clarke scored twice at Hillsborough last season: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

The resulting stalemate suited Jos Luhukay better than it did Wilder.

"It's fire and ice isn't it," he continued. "Ice on the ball and fire when you need to get it back. That's one of the things that disappointed me a little bit, possibly, in the last derby because I thought, when we had it, we got sucked in a little bit."

"What's really pleased me though, is that our lads have really bought into our club," Wilder continued. "They know what it's about and they know what's required. The way we’ve gone about it, we’re really big on the collective here.”

United, third in the table after 16 matches, have spent the past season-and-a-half disproving the theory that money is an essential ingredient for footballing success. Wednesday, 14 places and 10 points behind them, might boast plenty. But, as their recent difficulties demonstrate, they lack United's cohesion and strategy. The fact both could learn so much from each other is another fascinating twist to the plot.

Still, despite entering the match on the back of four straight defeats, Wednesday remain dangerous opponents. To use Wilder's parlance, Luhukay's men will fancy their chances and definitely 'turn up'.

"It's eleven versus eleven, we want to win, we don't think 'they've got this and they've got that'," he said. "It's a challenge for us to try and overcome it. Our supporters, they understand. If expectation levels are high, it's because we're having a go."