The Thursday Preview: Sheffield Wednesday Vs Sheffield United
Like my Preview of a couple of weeks ago, I’m looking ahead tonight towards another high-stakes end-of-season derby. With just three games to go until we reach 46, plenty of fans are now firmly ensconced in that period of squeakiness where hearts and minds are dominated by as yet unrealized permutations and eventualities, and, other than our own team’s fixture this weekend, it’s Sunday’s Steel City Derby which probably holds the most interest for us fans.
That’s because in all likelihood it (a) represents the opportunity for Wednesday to avoid joining Peterborough and Plymouth in the League One cull, and (b) that fate has decreed they should come up against their biggest rivals. Indeed, the only ingredient missing is the lack of genuine meaning in the fixture for the Blades, who will be causing anxiety to only the most pessimistic of Swansea fans at present, lying as they do 7 points away from the Mumbles men in sixth place.
Manager Kevin Blackwell, who always struck me as a tad too short for a goalkeeper, has vowed that Wednesday’s fate doesn’t concern him but he surely knows that his popularity could do with the kind of boost boost that sprinkling a little Sunday salt on the Owls would bring about. He goes into the game without the services of Jamie Ward, who scored the opener in a pulsating 3-2 win for the Reds in the reverse fixture at Bramall Lane in September, and Henri Camara, so will continue with the brutal partnership of Darius Henderson and Richard Cresswell up top. The ever steady Nick Montgomery is likely to be partnered by James “the mouth” Harper in the centre, leaving Glen Little, Stephen Quinn, Mark Yeates and Lee Williamson to fight it out for the two wing-berths. At the back, Derek Geary and Gary Naysmith, both back from injury, stand a chance of forcing their way into the full-back slots.
Like Elbow, whose “Mirrorball” backs this sombre BBC Late Kick Off video, Wednesday enjoyed relative success across 2008 and 2009, finishing bang in the middle of the division last year, but it’s gone a little quiet since. This post of three weeks ago documents the whys and wherefores of this particular chapter in the great old club’s demise, and their predicament has only worsened in the short time since. Creditable 1-1 draws were recorded at the Ricoh and Loftus Road but these were undermined by a sapping 1-0 defeats to mid-tablers Bristol City and Middlesbrough, and they now occupy 22nd place.
Despite a pervading sense of doom at Hillsborough, a big crowd is expected on Sunday and Owls fans will for once need little reason to back their team. Johnson, Tudgay, Varney and Tom Soares are to a man capable of creating, as well as putting away, chances, and one would urge Irvine to adopt an uncharacteristically free-spirited game-plan. It’s perhaps more likely, though, that he will go about his task with a cagey tactic that keeps the game competitive, leaves a Plan B on the bench and stops the potential for the sizeable away support to take over the atmosphere. Either way, it kicks off at 1pm on Sunday, but somewhat unbelievably it’s not on television and armchair viewers will instead be treated to Wigan Vs Arsenal and Pompey Vs Villa. For once, I can be smug that I don’t have Sky.