Brian Deane, the former Sheffield United centre-forward, believes the number of Yorkshire derbies in the Championship next season will bring the best out of Chris Wilder’s team.
United make their long-awaited return to the second tier of English football when Brentford visit Bramall Lane.
But it was matches against Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds, who complete what Deane describes as the county’s ‘Big Three’, which caused most excitement among the League One champions’ supporters when the fixture schedule was released yesterday.
“Sheffield United, Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds are, as far as I’m concerned, the biggest three sides in Yorkshire and all being in the same division will spur them on,” he said. “If one gets ahead, they’ll drag the others along in their slipstream with them because nobody will want to get outdone.”
The first Steel City derby since February 2012 is set to take place at Hillsborough on September 23; 49 days after United host Dean Smith’s squad on the opening weekend of the new campaign. United travel to Elland Road, where Deane spent two spells as a player, a month later before hosting the return in February. Exactly four weeks earlier, on January 13, Wednesday are scheduled to make their first trip to Bramall Lane for six years. Barnsley, Hull City and Middlesbrough complete the Broad Acres’ representation in a division some dub ‘the casino league.’
“For the lads involved, the mindset is always getting a result,” Deane, who made over 220 appearances for United, said. “First and foremost, you don’t want to lose but, in situations like that, if you get your noses in front then you definitely go for the kill.”
Of course, although beating the neighbours is important, establishing themselves at Championship level is United’s primary objective next term. Momentum - they finished the previous campaign on 100 points and unbeaten in 17 outings - could prove crucial as Wilder’s charges face Middlesbrough, Derby County, Sunderland and Cardiff City, now managed by his predecessor Neil Warnock, before meeting another newly promoted side, Bolton Wanderers, on September 12.
If survival is in doubt, or a second successive promotion is within reach, United complete their season with games against Millwall, Birmingham City, Preston North End and Bristol City. They boast a better head to head record against all of those clubs, with the exception of Birmingham.
“First off, the target is going to be to get to 50 points,” Deane, who retired 11 years ago, said. “Try and do that as quickly as possible and then take things from there. The lads will want to build on what happened last season.”
n Sheffield United’s full fixture list, P36.