SHEFFIELD Wednesday manager Dave Jones wants Steel City rivals Sheffield United to join his club in the Championship next season.
With four games of the season to play, the Owls and the Blades are still locked in a thrilling battle for automatic promotion from League One.
The Blades, who host Leyton Orient tomorrow, are second in the table and two points clear of the third-placed Owls, who visit mid-table Colchester United.
Jones feels there would be ‘nothing better’ than a ‘double promotion’ in the city although, with only two automatic spots up for grabs and leaders Charlton Athletic six points clear, that is likely to hinge on the outcome of the play-offs.
The Owls manager’s view is unlikely to be shared by all supporters, many of whom wish nothing but failure on their arch-rivals.
But Jones – who grew up in another two-club city, Liverpool – believes the two Sheffield clubs have a supporter base that belongs in a higher level of the game.
Jones also regards Blades manager Danny Wilson as a ‘friend’ but says he has not spoken to his rival since arriving at Hillsborough six weeks ago.
“I hope nothing better than for both clubs to be in the Championship next season,” said Jones yesterday. “That would be absolutely superb because they are two big clubs with fantastic support,
“We are still chasing and they don’t look like faltering, just like we don’t,” he added. “You are where you deserve to be – but we are now trying to deserve the right to get back in the Championship.”
Over the course of the last four games, both Sheffield clubs have picked up maximum points – keeping pressure on Charlton and pulling clear of fourth-placed Huddersfield Town.
The Owls are unbeaten in 10 games with 26 points from a possible 30. The Blades, meanwhile, are unbeaten in eight with 20 points from a possible 24.
Jones insist that he has ‘lost no sleep’ over the Blades’ consistency and prefers to focus on his own team’s performances and results.
“I can’t do anything about Sheffield United,” he shrugged. “I look at their results but I can’t have any influence except on what we are doing.
“I am not losing any sleep over it and I am sure Danny isn’t either. If they are going to slip up, they will slip up, but you can only get on with your own job in hand.”
Asked whether both clubs will win all four of their remaining fixtures, Jones said: “I hope they don’t – but I hope we do. If someone wants to help us, great.”
Of course, unless the Blades slip up between now and the end of the season, the Owls will have to rely on the play-offs to win promotion.
Jones has been a play-off final loser for the last two seasons at former club Cardiff City but enjoyed play-off final success, ironically against Sheffield United, in 2003 with Wolverhampton Wanderers.
On the possibility of a third consecutive play-off campaign, Jones said: “If you are in the play-offs, it is like a Cup competition. A round robin knock-out where anything can happen. Teams have been 20 points adrift of third spot and gone up. It’s all about the day.
“I have won promotion that way and lost promotion that way. It’s a great way of going up but it is also a bad way of missing out. It’s probably the best way to go up, too. Even better than automatic promotion because you get an opportunity to play at Wembley and everything that goes with it.
“Do I want to go up that way? No,” he stressed. “But if it’s put to me that I’m going to go up that way, I will take it. Obviously, I would rather go up automatically but for the fans, a trip to Wembley, and everything is awesome.
“It is one of the richest Cup finals a club will ever be involved in because of what is at stake. But there are still four games to go and we are still fighting and scrapping with the two clubs above us to try and make it automatically.”
The Owls’ preparations for tomorrow’s game at Colchester United have been boosted by the news that right-back Lewis Buxton is fit after limping off against Oldham Athletic on Easter Monday.
Centre-back Rob Jones is also available after serving a two-game ban but left-back Reda Johnson has been ruled out with a thigh strain.
Manager Jones was unclear whether Johnson will miss the rest of the season but says a scan has uncovered ‘damage’ to the muscle.
“We will just have to wait and see how it settles down,” said Jones, who also revealed that winger Keith Treacy is a doubt due to illness.