The Thursday Preview: Sheffield Wednesday Vs Crystal Palace
From my experience, football fans tend to enjoy hypothetical conversations. Whether it’s conjecturing which lower league strikers would look good a level up, compiling themed-XIs, or arguing the toss over club versus country scenarios (for the record, The Two Unfortunates advocates the “I’d rather see my team win a corner kick in the 90th minute when they’re 3-0 down than England win the World Cup” stance), us supporters are more than partial to a bit of football fancy.
Another such whimsy is whether you’d prefer your team to sort its status out with time to spare, or whether you’d opt in to keeping your nails short right through to the final day of the season. The safe option means a stale and potentially disappointing conclusion to 9 months of putting your mental well being on the line, whereas the alternative keeps things tasty to the very end. With this in mind, I wonder how many onlookers would trade places with those in attendance at Hillsborough on Sunday?
Unless you follow Plymouth or Peterborough, then the answer is likely to be ‘not many’, but on Sunday one set of supporters will take an experience from Owlerton that will stay with them for the rest of their days. Bloomfield Road and the Liberty aside, you’ll be lucky to see a Mexican wave across most Championship grounds on Sunday as fans put their feet up for the summer, but the atmosphere at Hillsborough will be something to savour. Since Monday, demand for tickets has surged to the extent that the game has sold out, leaving some fans ticketless.
The game’s appeal might have a bearing on attendances in the rest of the division, since the match is being shown live on the beeb. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who sighed at the sight of Jake Humphrey’s inoffensive air-filler on MOTD2 last Sunday but even his presence won’t dampen the mood as, in what must be some kind of first for the century, a genuinely intriguing English football match is beamed live to the nation on terrestrial.
Tension is high, and most readers will have read or heard about Wednesday Chairman Lee Strafford’s rant by now. Mud has been slung from all directions in the aftermath but, as another preview of the match writes, Strafford’s words will only serve to shoot Palace in the arm.
Such a boost is more than timely for the Eagles. Our eye-witness at Selhurst Park on Monday spoke of demoralised home ends upon the final whistle, and one of the few players to have really caught the eye for them this season, Neil Danns, will be suspended after butting the increasingly sure-of-himself Graham Dorrans.
Palace were maybe a little lucky to come away with a point on Monday after West Brom peppered their goal, but with only five away defeats to their name all season the Eagles, who have previous experience of final-day survival shenanigans, are a tough proposition for a Owls side short on confidence. The stakes couldn’t be higher for the South Norwood club, and they are my favourites for survival.
On the other hand, my fellow blogger Lanterne Rouge can’t see past a home win, and it’s certainly not beyond the realms of possibility. The Owls’ last five wins have all come at Hillsborough, and they pushed aside Watford in a similarly meaningful match a month ago. There’s also a kind of devil-may-care attitude about the club at the moment, which could be dangerous. This season has been so poor that the fans have fallen out of love with the players, and this unease has only been compounded by the lingering question mark over the proposed investment in the club. A read of this offbeat report of the trip to South Wales last week will capture the mood.
The BBC blogger Paul Fletcher alludes to how the match will rival that at Anfield on Sunday, echoing Mike Holden’s argument in his When Saturday Comes article this month that the Championship is knocking on the Premiership’s door in terms of its competitiveness and appeal. I wonder whether the viewing figures will bear out his words?