Derby duels add extra dimension to Blades’ challenge for promotion

Nigel Clough with two of his summer signings Marc McNulty and Jamal Campbell Ryce.
Nigel Clough with two of his summer signings Marc McNulty and Jamal Campbell Ryce.
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WITH three of his side’s closest neighbours freshly arrived in League One this summer, Sheffield United manager Nigel Clough admits an increased number of derby tussles is likely to make next season a hard-fought affair.

The relegation of Barnsley and Doncaster Rovers from the Championship along with Chesterfield’s promotion from League Two means there will be a wealth of local derbies for the Blades.

Sheffield United's manager Nigel Clough. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe.

Sheffield United's manager Nigel Clough. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe.

Throw in the presence of Bradford City in the third tier and that means plenty of bragging rights will be at stake along with precious points, as Clough readily acknowledges.

The first of those all-Yorkshire clashes for Blades will be against Phil Parkinson’s Bantams, while, intriguingly, Easter will bring a derby double-header against the Reds at Oakwell and Doncaster at Bramall Lane.

“Having so many local games can bring an extra dimension to a season,” Clough told The Yorkshire Post. “Even before we had signed anyone, we had been made favourites (to win League One). I am not sure how that works, to be honest. It must be based on the final few months of last season.

“But anything can happen between now and then. The local games do make it difficult, though, especially with everyone wanting to play at Bramall Lane.

“It is the biggest ground and the biggest crowd opposition teams will play in front of. We have to turn that to our advantage, especially with the way our fans back us.

“Then, we have to go away for the local derbies and battle for everything. It promises to be fascinating.”

United’s season begins at home to Bristol City on August 9, while Doncaster make the long trip to Yeovil Town, Barnsley host Crawley and Bradford face Coventry City at Valley Parade.

With so many teams from the area in League One, derbies abound but it is the Easter encounters over the weekend of April 4-6 involving not only the Blades but also Bradford’s trip to the Keepmoat that stand out.

One new arrival at the Lane who knows all about how passionate those encounters will be is Jamal Campbell-Ryce.

The 31-year-old, who joined the Blades from Notts County in May, numbers both Barnsley and Rotherham United among his former clubs.

Campbell-Ryce, a Jamaican international, said: “There will be some cracking derby games next season. I enjoy them, even though I usually get a lot of abuse.

“I thrive on games like that so it is going to be really good to have so many massive games against local teams. Every professional thrives on that.

“There will be so much passion with most games played in front of full houses. We are a big club in this division so people want to beat us anyway. I know that from being at other clubs.

“Opposition teams come here and park the bus. I have been here with teams whose managers have been so cautious. When the fixtures come out, everyone looks for when they play Sheffield United. Everyone wants to beat the biggest team. But to get promoted you have to be able to deal with that.”

Barnsley will face former manager Keith Hill for the first time since his sacking 18 months ago at Rochdale on October 4.

Paul Dickov returns to old club Oldham on January 10 as he looks to lead Rovers straight back up.

In the Championship, Leeds United head to Millwall, whose attack will be led by former FC Halifax Town striker Lee Gregory, on the opening day of what is likely to be David Hockaday’s reign at the helm of the Elland Road club.

The 56-year-old has been out of work since being dismissed by Conference side Forest Green Rovers in October and his appointment is expected imminently by Massimo Cellino.

Middlesbrough will be United’s first home opponents on August 16, and Hockaday’s first derby action will come when Huddersfield visit on September 20.

Sheffield Wednesday make the same trip a fortnight later, two weeks before Leeds head to Rotherham United’s New York Stadium for the first time.

The host of former Elland Road heroes at Norwich City will face their former club at Carrow Road on October 21.

Promoted Millers have been handed a tough start with a trip to Derby, losing play-off finalists in May, on the opening day being followed by a home game with League One title winners Wolves.

Huddersfield Town head to Rotherham on Boxing Day for what is likely to be a Christmas cracker, while Steve Evans will round off his first season of management in the second tier with a trip to Leeds on May 2.

Sheffield Wednesday face a tough start at Brighton, a team who reached the play-offs in 
2013-14, on August 9.

In common with all Yorkshire’s teams in the second tier, the Owls are blessed with a Christmas that will not involve any long distance travel with a home game against Fulham on December 26 followed two days later by a trip to Wigan.

There are no Football League games on January 1 due to the FA Cup third round taking place just two days later.

In League Two, York City begin at Tranmere and end at Portsmouth.