Steel City Derby Retro: Sheffield Wednesday 1 Sheffield United 0 - February 26, 2012 | The day the gap began to close

Sheffield Wednesday v Sheffield Utd.....Owls pair of Batth and Semedo stop Blades Ched Evans
Sheffield Wednesday v Sheffield Utd.....Owls pair of Batth and Semedo stop Blades Ched Evans
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Mind The Gap was the cry beforehand.

By the end of it, the cries were a little quieter.

And by the conclusion of an incredible about-turn, partly set in motion by the last Steel City derby, it was the other side with Mind The Gap bellowing from their mouths.

Derby matches in Sheffield are always huge. But the second meeting during the 2011/12 campaign was bigger than most.

Wednesday and United were both chasing automatic promotion from League One.

And with Charlton Athletic blazing a trail at the top of the table, it looked highly likely that one of the two Sheffield rivals would have to make do with the play-offs.

In February 2012, as the two prepared to meet at Hillsborough, United looked like taking some stopping in their bid for automatic promotion.

The Blades travelled across the city with a five point cushion over their neighbours and had the luxury of two games in hand.

United came in having won three on the trot. Wednesday had lost their last four.

Win at Hillsborough and the most intense and bitter of battles would surely be over, with United bouncing back to the Championship at the first time of asking.

But, in front of more than 36,000 in S2, the landscape of the League One promotion race would be altered over 90 nerve-wracking and tense minutes of football.

The teams were bossed by two men that had been legends at Hillsborough as players - Gary Megson and Danny Wilson.

United started the brighter and could have been in front when former Owl Richard Cresswell back-heeled a Matthew Lowton cross only to see it saved by Stephen Bywater.

And Stephen Quinn hit the bar with a free kick with Bywater again denying Cresswell off the follow-up.

Tensions are always likely to boil over in such an atmosphere and it took just 18 minutes to do so when Owls skipper Rob Jones squared up to Harry Maguire and pushed the then 18-year-old.

The first of two penalty shouts for United was turned down after Lee Williamson tumbled in a challenge with Jose Semedo.

And then, with half time approaching, Danny Batth tangled with Ched Evans in an incident Blades boss Wilson described as ‘a blatant penalty.’ Referee Mark Halsey did not agree.

Megson, knowing Wednesday needed the win, sent on top scorer Gary Madine and winger Mike Jones around the hour mark, sparking waves of pressure from the home side.

And the breakthrough finally came on 73 minutes.

Michail Antonio - remarkably making his Wednesday debut in the game after joining on loan from Reading - fed Lewis Buxton who produced a beauty of a cross which Chris O’Grady guided past Steve Simonsen with an excellent header in front of Unitedites in the Leppings Lane end.

O’Grady did not stay there for long, sprinting half the length of the pitch to embrace Megson.

It took until the dying embers of the game for United to truly push for the equaliser. Substitute Ryan Flynn fired straight at Bywater while the Wednesday keeper tipped over a header from James Beattie.

The game was then over, with Wednesday taking the win, and the season’s head-to-head honours after a dramatic 2-2 draw at Bramall Lane. Boyhood Owl Megson was held aloft by another Wednesdayite, his captain Jones as three sides of Hillsborough celebrated.

And Wednesday would take the more important honours by the end of the season following an incredible final three months.

Speculation had been rife about Megson’s future before the derby. And even a win could not save him from the axe.

Three days after guiding his beloved Owls to victory over their fiercest rivals, Megson was sacked and soon replaced by Dave Jones.

Though a head-scratching decision at the time, it soon looked like a masterstroke from chairman Milan Mandaric. Under Jones, Wednesday did not lose again that season, winning ten of 13 matches.

United struggled to hold onto their advantage, stuttering towards the finishing line, with Ched Evans’ legal woes playing a major factor in knocking them off course.

The two rivals exchanged positions several times, though the Blades went into the final two games with a one-point advantage in second spot.

United stuttered again however, drawing their final two games while Wednesday won both theirs, sending the blue half of the city into the Championship.

The Blades would lose the play-off final and would not follow the Owls until five years later.

There were plenty of factors over the final three months of the season which determined which Sheffield club won promotion back to the Championship.

But the events of the 127th Steel City derby were certainly a catalyst for Wednesday clawing back the gap and taking the spot for themselves.

Wednesday: Bywater, Buxton, Batth, R Jones, R Johnson, Prutton (M Jones 63), Semedo, Lines, Antonio (Llera 90), O’Grady, Lowe (Madine 59). Subs not used: Weaver, Morrison.

United: Simonsen, Lowton, Collins, Maguire, Jean-Francois, Williamson, Montgomery (Flynn 79), Doyle, Quinn (Beattie 86), Evans, Cresswell (Hoskins 84). Subs not used: Howard, Ertl.

See Saturday’s edition of The Star for your free 16-page Steel City Derby pull-out, featuring interviews with Owls and Blades players and managers, past and present