THE IRONY of coming to Hillsborough as a visiting player with Neil Warnock as his manager is not lost upon Richard Wood.
The Rotherham United defender’s affiliations may be very much red and white as opposed to blue and white in today’s meeting of South Yorkshire near-neighbours from across the Tinsley Viaduct.
But not so long back it was a different story for someone who grew to be part of the fixtures and fittings at Sheffield Wednesday for a number of years. After first linking up with the club as a youngster and coming through the system, he progressed all the way to first-team captain.
Wood hails from the West Yorkshire town of Ossett, but it was south of the border with the Owls where his allegiances went on to lie – and even after leaving Hillsborough, getting Wednesday out of your system takes some doing.
Professionalism takes over, as it will for Wood on his second playing return to S6 since leaving in 2010 when he will be representing the side managed by the man Wednesdayites love to hate in lifelong Unitedite Warnock.
On lining up for Warnock and attempting to do a number on the Owls, Wood said: “It’s a weird one, isn’t it?
“Neil has lots of experiences of these derbies and knows what it is all about, and he will be telling all the lads what to expect and what will happen – and more than likely take the brunt of it as well.
“All teams, since I have been playing, don’t like Neil Warnock and how he is and how he has his teams. But the lads I have spoken to who have had him as a manager all love him.
“That’s how he wants it to be. That’s why he has had such a career and done well with his teams.”
In the past, Warnock has never been backwards in coming forwards in rubbing up Wednesdayites the wrong way even if, deep down, the footballing traditionalist in him fully respects a club who are a footballing institution like his own beloved Blades.
Not that he is likely to say so.
But giving out flak and taking it has never been a problem for the 67-year-old and the fact that he will more than likely be public enemy No 1 and mercilessly castigated on the touchline will not trouble him for one moment – or his former Blades sidekick and Millers deputy Kevin Blackwell.
Enough of Warnock’s opponents realise that donning the pantomime villain garb is done for a reason – namely to take the pressure away from his players, something that Wood acknowledges.
“He is more than happy to do that and that’s what he is good at,” added Wood.
“I think that helps us as a team as it lets all the fans concentrate on the touchline.
“Let them hammer Blackie and the manager and let us do our stuff on the pitch and sidetrack it.
“It will be funny and good to watch. But I have to blank that out and concentrate on the game. But I am sure they are looking forward to it.”
Wood will ensure that at least one person in the visiting camp will be afforded a warm welcome this afternoon, giving his sterling service to Wednesday over the years and feelings for the club.
But come game day, the centre-half will push sentiment firmly aside as the visitors seek to back up last weekend’s win against Brentford with the scalp that all Rotherham supporters crave more than any other.
Wood, outstanding in the heart of the Millers’ rearguard last Saturday, said: “I always look forward to going back to Hillsborough. My main part of my career was there and there’s a lot of people I still know at the club.
“There were good times and they have got a big place in my heart. That’s always going to be with me now.
“The fanbase is massive and they have been waiting for years for something like this to happen and now they have a good owner and plenty of money.
“That’s what you need to get up there and hopefully they will get to the Premier League.
“That’s what I am wanting them to do – but with this game out of the equation.”
Compared to the Owls, Rotherham’s aims are more modest, with retaining their Championship status being the sole objective.
But it is no less a prize for the Millers. who strove so manfully to return to the second tier in 2013-14 and then avoid relegation under Steve Evans last season.
Victory would mean plenty to both clubs this afternoon, but the pressure is most definitely on Wednesday’s shoulders, who head into the game on the back of a three-match run without a win and without talismanic striker Fernando Forestieri.
Preying on Wednesdayites’ nerves by keeping things tight for as long as possible is likely to come into the Millers game plan, with Wood and his team-mates not needing to make any apologies for that.
Certainly, a repeat of last season’s dour 0-0 draw would not be sniffed at by the pragmatists who take their seats in the West Stand today either.
Wood said: “The longer it stays 0-0, I’d say they will be getting more edgy.
“Probably Wednesday fans are expecting to beat us as we’re down at the bottom. But over the last few weeks, we have shown what we are about now and are getting there slowly, but steadily.
“Especially with the new manager coming in. If we repeat Brentford last week, I don’t see a problem (in staying up).”