Dom Howson’s Sheffield Wednesday column: Don't expect the Owls to take a backward step in the Sheffield derby

Seventeen points.

Thursday, 28th February 2019, 17:11 pm
Updated Thursday, 28th February 2019, 17:17 pm

That is how big gap is between Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United in the Championship standings. 

That is a lot with 12 matches remaining.

Owls forward Fernando Forestieri

When you throw into the equation that the Blades finished five places and 12 points better off than the Owls last season, there has been a power shift to the red half of the city over the last 18 months to two years.

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These things, of course, are cyclical. At the moment Wednesday are lagging behind their neighbours but things have a habit of quickly changing in the Championship.

Two home wins on the bounce has nudged the Owls up into the top half of the table, just six points adrift of the play-off positions.

Steve Bruce, the Wednesday boss, said: "Two weeks ago we were 12 (points off the top six), was that the end after the Rotherham draw? But within two weeks we are talking about it again. That’s the beauty of the Championship.

"No disrespect to Sheffield United or Norwich, but would you have said would they be competing at the top end of the Championship? I don’t think they were the bookies’ favourites.

"There’s always a surprise and anybody can beat anybody. There’s not a gulf in class, like there is in the Premier League, it’s that consistency level you need to find in the Championship."

Wednesday have adopted a defensive outlook in the last two derbies. Twice they matched United up by playing a 3-5-2 formation to combat their overlapping centre-halves. Twice they recorded clean sheets. They set up in a three-man defence which became a back five in reality when United had the ball.

How will Bruce approach his first Sheffield derby? To paraphrase United chief Chris Wilder, I don't see the Owls taking a backward step.

There will be no defending deep, backs-to-the-wall malarkey.

It is clear Bruce wants Wednesday to play on the front foot and at a high tempo. Their aggressive pressing high up the pitch paid dividends in the wins over Swansea City and Brentford. Can they repeat the trick against a very good United side? It will be difficult but there is no reason why the Owls can’t trouble the Blades if they effectively execute their game plan.

Will Fernando Forestieri find pockets of space in between United’s midfield and defence to hurt the high-fliers? Can Steven Fletcher get the better of John Egan, Jack O’Connell and company in the aerial duels? We will know soon enough.

As the home team, the onus will be on Wednesday to attack and take the game to United. If Bruce’s troops are to keep their slender hopes of sneaking into the top six alive, only three points will do.