CHRIS WILDER says he has pushed the reset button as Sheffield United tonight aim to regain top spot in the Championship and reaffirm their city superiority over neighbours Sheffield Wednesday at a sold out Bramall Lane.
“I won’t need to say anything to those players, I won’t need to motivate any of them. No big speech, no Churchillian speech from me,” said the Blades manager.
He and Owls boss Jos Luhukay have a difference of opinion about the standing of the occasion, but they are in agreement that it is the performance of their respective teams, not the opposition, that counts. And that current form is not a reliable guide to the outcome.
United, third in the table and a fully fit squad, are exceeding expectation yet again. Wednesday, meanwhile, have fallen well below what is expected of them, lie 17th and have major injury problems.
“Maybe it’s a reset for us,” said Wilder still smarting from a 1-0 defeat at Nottingham Forest last weekend. A close encounter but one in which the manager felt his team played well below what is now expected.
“I know the opposition are saying it’s a fantastic game for them. But it’s a great game for us as well because we want to get back to the standards that we’ve set and put us in the position we’re in.”
Wilder informed his players yesterday who is playing with Mark Duffy, a hero last season at Hillsborough having restored United’s lead seconds after Wednesday had levelled after being 2-0 down, an almost certain starter.
“Everyone’s trained at full-tilt and I’ve had some difficult decisions to make,” said Wilder. “Hopefully our best team is enough to win. Duffy has been important player throughout my time here. We lost a bit of momentum while he’s been out so him coming back is great.”
Luhukay’s first match in charge of the Owls was the goalless draw at Bramall Lane in January with Wednesday playing most of the second half with 10 men following the dismissal of defender Glenn Loovens. United won 4-2 at Hillsborough in the first meeting when the Owls were managed by Carlos Carvalhal. Given Wednesday’s loss of form – four successive league defeats, the latest a 4-0 thrashing by visiting Norwich City – some observers close to the club are of the opinion this may be the Dutchman’s last should he suffer a heavy defeat.
Luhukay is concentrating on the positives. ”I remember the derby game in January and the players were given a standing ovation after the game. They played the last 30 minutes with 10 men and gave everything,” he said.
"We must not take a step back. We must go one step forward. We must only look to ourselves and must try to come to the best performance that we can.”
Wednesday captain Tom Lees said: "We have just got to approach it as the biggest game of our season so far. We are desperate for a win without it being a derby, but we have that added on top now.”
Wilder is ignoring all the talk surrounding the opposition’s injury woes. “We’ll totally respect the opposition, the talented individuals that they’ve got. I’m not getting sucked into what they’ve said about two or three not going to be ready for this,” he said. “We’ve prepared as if they’ve got all their big hitters, all their superstars out and ready to play full tilt.”
He added: “They’ve got some really good players, some big hitters, some big superstars of this division that possibly could get into a lot of the [top] teams. We’ve built our team on the collective.
“I fully expect them to come and approach it like they did last year [season]. So I’ll be surprised if they open the game up. That isn’t to say that they’ll want to win.”
While Sheffield football fans are reaching fever pitch, Luhukay played down the size of the occasion. Whilst admitting: “It’s a special game. Why? Because it is a derby. Form goes out of the window so the chances are 50-50,” he believes he has experience of bigger and better.
"I managed a blue team in Hertha Berlin and we played against a red team [Union Berlin] in the same city. We had a home game in front of 76,000 people and you know what sort of pressure that is. We picked up four points in that season.”
Wilder has a very different view and one that is shared by supporters of both Sheffield clubs. “It’s certainly the biggest derby I know,” he said. “I know they’re manager said summat today about it’s not his biggest derby but it is for me, my pals, my family and everybody connected with this football club.”
Asked what the approach tonight will be, he said: “Anybody who has watched us over the last 20-odd months will be expecting us to be on the front foot, play our game, go for it, take the handbrake off.”
As for the contrasting form going into the 130th meeting between the clubs, he added: “I’m not bothered about what curve they’re on, I’m really not. I’m bothered about our curve.”