WHAT can Sheffield United really expect when the 128th league meeting with city rivals Wednesday kicks-off at Hillsborough? Amid all the usual soundbites and cliches, better ask a seasoned supporter from the other place.
Hugh Wragg, editor of website OwlsAlive.com, has been passing through the turnstiles in S6 for 19 years. Here he offers a comprehensive analysis of where the Owls are right now, their strengths and weaknesses. And oh yes, his thoughts on that band!
Are you happy with how things are progressing under Carlos Carvalhal?
To a degree, yes. Carvalhal announced himself as an entertainer in his first season, both with his attitude and playing style. There were moments of an almost Mourinho-level pragmatism, but the team scored a lot of goals and matches were often enthralling. Over 46 games in his second term, we achieved a better points total and a higher finish by utilising a different, totally uninspiring 'brand' of football.
The start of this season has seen a slight return to the former. His expensively assembled but mostly settled squad still turns out wildly inconsistent performances, which is biggest blot on his managerial copy book. Wednesday have a tendency to start poorly at Hillsborough, while away from home we have on many occasions – including last Saturday at Cardiff – failed to kill off games which we are in control of.
How do Wednesday look going into the derby?
Largely injury free and in good form. Key players that are missing include Sam Hutchinson and Fernando Forestieri, whose replacements David Jones and Adam Reach are enjoying good runs of form. Skipper Glenn Loovens has missed most of the season but his replacement, fellow Dutchman Joost van Aken, has been outstanding.
Gary Hooper has four goals in four games: his importance cannot be understated, Wednesday are unbeaten with him in the side this calendar year. Steven Fletcher has been an able partner, although his knee injury means he will likely play for around one hour. Our 'flagship' summer signing, George Boyd, has barely featured.
Who has stood out in a blue and white shirt so far?
Sheffield Wednesday's Barry Bannon has a controlling influence from deep in midfield.
Barry Bannan, pictured, has enjoyed a renaissance this term: gliding around the midfield, controlling games from deep. He is tenacious out of possession, too, but has lost the puppy-dog attitude that formerly left his teammates exposed as he harried opponents unnecessarily.
Joost van Aken looks a steal: the 23-year-old has signed from Hereenveen and has started his Wednesday career brilliantly. Excellent in the air, no slouch across the turf, good in the tackle; he has all the defensive attributes to be a success in this division. But where he comes alive is with possession, making some energetic bursts forward or spraying pin-point crossfield balls. He has quickly become a crowd favourite.
Who should United fans be aware of? Which player has gone under the radar and will be a big threat?
Adam Reach has come under a lot of unfair criticism in his time with the club. With his price tag seemingly weighinghim down last term, he sometimes struggled to bring anything new to a team that lacked spark. He has become the necessary scapegoat for some fans when things start to go wrong. This term he has been excellent at both full back and on the wing. His driving runs and bottomless petrol tank ensure whoever plays at right-back for United will be in for a tough afternoon.
What are your hopes for the game? Can Carvalhal trump Chris Wilder or will it be a more straightforward 'blood and guts' affair? How do you expect Carvalhal will approach it?
Carlos has a handy knack of figuring out the opposing boss before a big game. That said, the derby is likely to be a tempestuous affair that relies a little more on composure and mindset than minute tactical details. Wednesday will be tight at the back and expect United to come out of the traps quickly. Wednesday are regular poor starters, especially at Hillsborough.
Hillsborough has seen some special occasions during his term as Head Coach, but I think he might just be a little surprised at the ferocity of the atmosphere here. It's all relative though for a man who has managed in Turkey!
What do you expect to see from this United side? What worries you about the visitors?
I worry that Wilder and co will have United better prepared for the game. Wednesday have a lot of experienced players, players who've played in the biggest derbies on this island, but Wilder knows exactly what to expect on Sunday and has that added motivation of being a fan. As far as the team goes, Billy Sharp loves a goal against Wednesday; and Wilder's tough-tackling high-pressure game is well suited to derby affairs. I'm worried that my team will get caught out by United's approach.
Will you be there and any good or bad memories of Hillsborough as a fan in the past?
Oh yes. Nineteen years a season ticket holder through thin and thin. I have plenty of good and bad memories of visiting my own ground so I'll keep this limited to United games. The bad naturally comes from United successes: your wins in 2001 and your promotion season, watching vast banks of red and white celebrating in the Leppings Lane stand and North West Corner is never an easy sight to behold.
Wednesday defenders look on in horror as Lee Williamson (out of picture) equalises for the Blades at Hillsborough in April 2010, leaving the Owls in the Championship drop zone.
The 1-1 draw in 2010 too, Wednesday went ahead as we tried to stave off relegation but a poxy free-kick from Lee Williamson floated over everyone, pictured, and into the net. We had so many chances to avoid the drop that season and this was yet another.
As for the good: Efan Ekoku's double in the League Cup was my first derby but I have very little memory of it. I was eight at the time and more interested in what pies were left and what scarf I was wearing. Steve Watson's lob over Paddy Kenny in the first of the 'double' wins was excellent.
Of course, the 2012 victory is part of a story in which football can be the only author. That season was far and away the most enjoyable I've had as a Wednesday fan. There are so many reasons to look back with pride, but the fact that we pipped United to the post, aided by the swing in power from that victory, made it all the sweeter.
Are Wednesday promotion material and if so, automatic or play-offs?
Yes. Play-offs. Not again. Please.
What do you think of United's promotion chances?
League One to Championship is quite a significant jump in quality, but United have done the first thing all promoted sides should do: keep the side together. I don't see too many players throughout the squad who have enjoyed promotion from this division, so I'll have to put a rain check on those aspirations for now. As alluded to elsewhere, should the Prince [co-owner Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud] deliver the 'game-changing' investment, there is no reason why United cannot challenge for promotion next season.
How do you put up with that damned band?
Do. Not. Go. There.
There is a reason I sit on the North Stand, almost as far away from the band as it is possible for a home fan to sit in Hillsborough. Take them away though, and it must be said the atmosphere suffers. On the odd occasion they've been absent in recent years the ground becomes eerily quiet.
Click the following link to read ViewFromTheJohnStreet.com's appraisal of the Blades which features on OwlsAlive.com