NEW Sheffield Wednesday manager Steve Bruce’s repeated assertion that the fates of football seasons only begin to unravel “when the daffodils come out” held a particular resonance ahead of last night’s 131st Steel City derby.
A high-voltage occasion was afforded added weight by the collision of Wednesday and Sheffield United with the business end nigh in the Championship.
Storm Freya may have made a headline appearance in the past few days, but Bruce’s Owls were more concerned that their late push for the play-offs would not be gone with the wind by the final whistle, while Chris Wilder’s Blades were intent upon ensuring that their top-two push was not blown off course either.
It was a hugely significant convergence of arch rivals, just as it was at the end of February 2012 when both were ferociously jousting for automatic promotion from League One and met at Hillsborough.
That seminal meeting went the way of Wednesday thanks to a solitary second-half goal from Chris O’Grady, but there was no separating these city neighbours last night as derby day ended goalless for the third successive occasion.
It was the first time since the period between 1992 and 1993 that three successive draws have been registered in this particular derby and replicated the scoreline when these sides last met on a Monday in April 1971, also at Hillsborough.
A draw was the right outcome with neither side displaying conviction or doing enough to secure a memorable victory in the course of their campaign.
Bruce’s pre-match belief that the game could be settled by a moment of magic or a mistake was given credence by the vast majority of the evening, which was classic cagey derby fare.
It was an evening when Billy Sharp’s run without a goal in this fixture extended to six matches and an occasion when most of the attackers were kept under lock and key and both sets of centre-halves were particularly dominant.
That the big chance of the evening arrived midway through the second half to a wholly unlikely source in the shape of Sam Hutchinson summed up a pretty scrappy occasion.
Wednesday had the consolation of extending their unbeaten run to eight league matches, while United – despite spurning the chance to move above second-placed Leeds United with victory – picked up a point, which might yet be important at season’s end.Leon Wobschall
Hutchinson was found unattended in the box by Rolando Aarons’s fine left-wing centre, but he fired straight at Dean Henderson with the goal at his mercy.
Ultimately it was a game as uneventful as last season’s meeting at S6 was pulsating.
Wednesday had the consolation of extending their unbeaten run to eight league matches, while United – despite spurning the chance to move above second-placed Leeds United with victory – picked up a point, which might yet be important at season’s end.
Quality can be a prized commodity on derby day, and an early moment was delivered from the Blades, courtesy of the impeccable Oliver Norwood.
His peach of a delivery on the right picked out the unmarked Gary Madine, whose powerful back-post header was blocked by the alert Keiren Westwood.
Wednesday’s opening salvo also carried encouragement with Adam Reach’s tidy pullback finding Steven Fletcher, whose goalbound header was blocked by the recalled Chris Basham.
But itunfortunately, these episodes proved a bit of a false dawn amid worsening conditions.
The stakes were high, the tempo was frenetic and the commitment total on a slick, wet surface, but after the initial burst of activity the play became fragmented amid driving rain.
Set-pieces looked the most obvious route to salvation with one half-threatening moment seeing John Egan head powerfully over following Norwood’s free-kick.
Wednesday palpably struggled to get the forward-thinking trio of Aarons, Fernando Forestieri and Reach into the game.
At the other end Sharp and Madine were policed well with Kieran Dowell, so effective at The Hawthorns in a roaming brief, much more subdued.
It was Bruce who played the first hand at the interval, with Forestieri’s first experience of a Steel City derby lasting just 45 minutes, George Boyd thrown on.
Boyd soon set up a rare chance with his centre met by Fletcher, whose acrobatic overhead kick flew straight into the Kop.
Sharp then agonisingly just failed to divert Norwood’s cross-shot towards goal with the breakthrough stubbornly refusing to transpire.
Play also began to take on a fractious edge as the free-kick count started to stack up somewhat and frustrations grew deeper.
As far as Wednesdayites were concerned these were magnified by Hutchinson’s miss, a huge moment in the context of the game.
As time elapsed it became clear that one goal would settle the issue, with Wednesday afforded a scare with Michael Hector making an important clearance following David McGoldrick’s dangerous low cross.
Despite late pressure a hero did not come calling with the most threatening moment seeing Aarons fire over in stoppage-time.
Sheffield Wednesday: Westwood; Iorfa (Fox 79), Lees, Hector, Palmer; Bannan, Hutchinson, Reach, Forestieri (Boyd 45), Aarons, Fletcher (Nuhiu 90). Unused substitutes: Dawson, Pudil, Pelupessy, Matias.
Sheffield United: Henderson; Basham, Egan, O’Connell; Freeman, Norwood, Fleck, Dowell (Cranie 62), Stevens, Madine (McGoldrick 68), Sharp. Unused substitutes: Hogan, Coutts, Stearman, Duffy, Moore.
Referee: P Bankes (Merseyside).