Alan Biggs’ Sheffield Wednesday Column: Why most of the football world will laugh with Steve Bruce if Owls beat Aston Villa following his ‘shameful’ and ‘disgraceful’ treatment at Villa Park
Sometimes you can’t see past one man when looking ahead to a game. And sometimes, too, it’s fated that those who can’t see beyond the end of their nose will get it twisted out of joint.
If the craggy, battle-worn face of Sheffield Wednesday’s manager, distinguished by his permanently crooked conk, breaks into a smile come 5pm on Saturday then it won’t only be Owls fans laughing along with him.
For one day, S6 will surely have the best part of the football world behind it. There is very little neutrality about Sheffield Wednesday versus Aston Villa in the nation’s consciousness.
It’s because the majority of decent souls like to believe in the principles of “what goes around comes around” and the good guy winning in the end.
Steve Bruce IS a good guy, as anyone who knows him will tell you. Both as a man and a (highly successful) manager, he was wholly undeserving of the shameful abuse that saw him hounded out of Villa Park in October.
His “crime” was six weeks of moderate results in an otherwise impressive two-year turnaround of a club who were still competitively placed when the axe fell.
Of course, the bigger picture is this being a key match in the battle for the play-offs, with Wednesday just four points behind a sixth-placed Villa who have slipped into the groove of five straight wins under, yes, a good manager in Dean Smith.
It’s one the Owls really must win to blow the race open. Two momentous home games beckon with another big club rival, Nottingham Forest, in town on Tuesday - and Wednesday might have to win both to stay in it.
Four points would keep them just about in touch - providing they haul back Villa. If you had to pick the one to win that would be it and not entirely for emotional reasons.
But you can’t divorce the backdrop from this fixture. As a manager who naturally commands loyalty, Wednesday players have a powerful extra incentive to win it - for Bruce.
Beyond that comes a sentiment springing from the moral difference between right and wrong. And don’t believe those who tell you there is no sentiment in football - it is right at the core of the game, the hopes and dreams.
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This is the story of what happens when that sentiment, or passion if you like, goes too far.
Whether a former Birmingham boss or not, Bruce’s treatment by a section of Villa fans was disgraceful; rubbished and ridiculed across social media, climaxed by a cabbage being hurled at him by an irate supporter.
Now, some followers of all clubs aren’t exactly blameless here. Yes, the treatment of Bruce’s predecessor at Hillsborough, Jos Luhukay, was in a different context. You couldn’t escape judging that his record was sackable, actually before it occurred.
That said, Luhukay’s measurable CV should have eliminated some of the more extreme comments, even if the good things he tried, like blooding a raft of young players, were undone by bad selection and tactics.
But the baying for Bruce’s demise at Villa sounded way off the scale. Some of his detractors are chipping away at him to this day and will undoubtedly be represented in the away end on Saturday.
We’re talking of a man with broad shoulders here. He can shrug off most of what comes with the job.
Yet the level of disrespect and derision shocked even him. I don’t know how he will play it in the media pre-match but I do know he regarded his treatment as “brutal.”
As a professional, he’ll prefer to focus on a way to win, hoping to re-harness some of the pace that had previously transformed the Owls - after Rolando Aarons joined fellow Newcastle loanee Achraf Lazaar on the sidelines last week.
Injuries are a major concern. Without that zip, the Owls reverted to being predictably pedestrian in the 0-0 draw at Stoke. They need it back to have a realistic chance. Yet the unbeaten run stands strong at 12 games, 11 under Bruce.
Maybe we should not be so surprised. Nor should supporters of his previous club. All managers have bad spells - and that’s all it was at Villa.
This four-times promotion winner has nothing to prove. But you can bet he won’t be feeling that way on Saturday. The human dimension to this huge game is too highly charged to overlook.
Let’s see the good guy coming out on top. Roll credits.