However unfair it may seem, the general feeling around Hillsborough is that Gary Megson must bring the dizzying heights of Championship football back to Hillsborough this season or he risks condemning Sheffield Wednesday to the lower leagues once and for all.
It’s a huge ask, and his path could well be decided by the time the 126th Steel City derby takes place at Bramall Lane on October 16th. During August and September Wednesday go up against Bournemouth, Notts County, Scunthorpe, Charlton, MK Dons and Exeter. If Wednesday do not convincingly beat at least four out of the aforementioned six teams, then it will be a struggle to make the playoffs.
However, if they arrive at the Lane with at least nine victories from the thirteen preceding games then they arrive with a confidence that they carry into the rest of the season. A run of form and a victory over United then other teams will start to flounder and fear the Owls. Without that kind of form, momentum will be hard to find, confidence will drop and, as much as it saddens me to say, Wednesday have never been famous for making that final surge towards the finishing line.
Pre-season friendlies haven’t been inspiring but it rarely is given the level of opponents and squad rotation. To date we have beaten Worksop Town and Rotherham United and drawn with FC Volga Novgorod of Russia. With six pre-season games left, the Owls still have tough tests against Leeds United,Barnsley and Stoke City to overcome.
Newcomers Rob Jones and Julian Bennett will hopefully reinforce a reasonably strong backline and help keep the ‘goals against’ tally low. The main worry for the Owls is up front, after the seemingly negligible decision to sell Marcus Tudgay last year and Neil Mellor returning to Preston, this has left Wednesday with currently only two recognised strikers. Clinton Morrison appears to be a shadow of his former self despite the continuous pledge that his time is coming and it is doubtful as to whether Gary Madine will ever reach the 20 goal a season benchmark that Mellor left behind.
Wednesday have been linked with a succession of players that are about as unaffordable to us as Messi would be. These players have predominantly been attackers and the rumours have varied from the ridiculous, Jason Scotland, to the even more ridiculous, Benni McCarthy! Call me old fashioned but consistency must be the key and I fervently hope that Mellor is soon back in blue and white stripes.
For Owls, Blades and neutrals, the Steel City derbies will be the highlights of League One. If a disappointing start to the season is made by either side, the pressure will be unbearable, if not intolerable, and has the potential to crush either side into oblivion. So far there have been 125 steel city derbies with Wednesday winning 41, United winning 45 leaving 39 draws. People may suggest that there is something inherently wrong with both Sheffield sides being in League One, but ultimately, both have been masters of their own destiny and do not deserve any better for the time being. Neither side has a right to Championship and Premiership football, although Gary Megson will be working his heart out to make the Owls feel like they deserve it. They don’t call him ‘The ginger Mourinho’ for nothing.
Sheffield Wednesday are the last of the fallen giants remaining in League one, with nine league titles, three FA cups and a league cup versus Sheffield United, with three league titles and four FA Cups. Only League one’s Preston North End come close to matching Wednesday’s trophy cabinet with eight league titles, two FA Cups and the Football League War Cup.
At this point though, history means nothing and this year, in addition to the usual excitement, there is the added spice of Danny Wilson, former Wednesday player and manager, now managing Sheffield United. In the eyes of many, this displayed a combination of betrayal on the part of Danny Wilson and downright stupidity on the part of the United board. Whatever the circumstances, it only provides Wednesday with extra ammunition when October 16th comes around. One must wonder as to what Wilson’s reaction will be if United win one or both of the derby matches, but that is a story for a different day.
However obvious it may be, my favourite Steel City derby took place far away from Sheffield. 3 April 1993 saw Wednesday play United in the FA cup semi final, beneath the twin towers of Wembley stadium. It was my first ever trip to Wembley and Chris Waddle scored a goal of almost divine quality to help Wednesday reach the final. For a seven year old, there was nothing like it, the stadium erupted and we all screamed and shouted as the heroes in blue and white marched to victory.
Ok, so it may not come close to that game, but when I watch this years derby, I’m looking for an Owls side ready to re-write their own history with a manager at the helm who can lead them back to the glories of old.
Written by Dom Stevenson, We Are Going Up’s Sheffield Wednesday Blogger
Dom tweets at @dom_stevenson