For Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday, another Championship derby day is more about the rewards for success than the cost of failure staring Barnsley and Huddersfield Town in the face. Do not expect it to make their game any less fraught.
The Tykes and the Terriers are in a relegation dogfight but after 16 years in exile, Leeds’s desperation will be just as great as they look to return to the promised land of the Premier League. Twenty years since falling from grace, the Owls are in the promotion picture too, but their inconsistency makes the play-offs probably their only realistic route, and even that could be derailed by an investigation into off-field dealings.
The desperation might be more obvious in the football played by the away teams, as Wednesday’s Garry Monk and Huddersfield’s Danny Cowley take a hard-headed and occasionally heavy-handed approach while Leeds’s Marcelo Bielsa and Barnsley’s Gerhard Struber ask their teams to get the ball down and play.
There is no right way. The Whites have been praised to the rafters for Monday’s performance at Arsenal but unlike Sheffield Wednesday, they are out of the FA Cup.
You will certainly not find the managers bad-mouthing their opponents and their approaches. At least not before kick-off.
“Sheffield has good attackers in the centre and front,” was Bielsa’s rather clinical assessment of the Owls. “They have three good wingers. They also have three important midfielders and a solid defensive line.”
What they do not have, for the next eight to 10 weeks, is top-scorer Steven Fletcher, stretchered off at Brighton and Hove Albion last week. They do, though, have Monk, who beat Bielsa home and away as Birmingham City manager last season, and held Leeds to a 0-0 draw in October.
“We cannot ignore this,” concedes Bielsa, “but it doesn’t mark a tendency.”
So hoodoos may not come into it, but former Leeds boss Monk is a spiky manager – already at Hillsborough he has had run-ins with Birmingham’s Pep Clotet over his departure from St Andrew’s and Hull City’s Grant McCann over plugs and car park passes, of all things – who loves proving a point. He will be fuelled by facing a former club.
Monk trod a clever balance in the build-up between respecting a club he “loved” working for and cranking up the pressure which could be a bigger threat to Leeds’s promotion hopes than any Championship team.
“The ambition of that club is clear,” he says before setting out to dent it, “they have invested in the last couple of seasons.
“Last year, I said at the start, that was the year for them, now they have had another right go for it. They will expecting (promotion) this year.
“I think they would say themselves, they should have done it last year and probably learned from that experience.
“The crowd is a huge factor in why they are doing so well. It’s for the players to handle that, and while you can’t ever quieten that crowd, you can keep them frustrated.”
Like Wednesday, Huddersfield will look to get in the faces of a passing side. Struber calls them “a big team with a clear plan on the ball and very aggressive off the ball.”
They will want a battle.
“We have to go there with the right mentality and match them with regards to our energy and intensity,” argues Cowley. “We know what the derbies mean to supporters and it naturally brings a bit more energy and intensity.”
With only two defeats in his last nine matches, Austrian Struber has clearly improved Barnsley, the question is whether the head-start they gave the rest is insurmountable.
“It is a difficult task, but we also have a good self-confidence and know what we can do,” he says. “I think it is the right time to play Huddersfield. When we have a big focus, concentration and the right attitude, we can win at home and this is our aim. Our focus is on our game and not on the opponent.”
In the calm before the storm, there is perspective aplenty. “Any win in the Championship should be cherished,” argues Cowley. “Certainly for us, with what our objectives are, it would be another step (towards avoiding relegation).
“But I am not a guy who gets over-emotional when we win. I get very disappointed when we lose, for sure.
“For me, it is about staying balanced and keeping to try to move the method forward.”
It could be an afternoon which puts that to the test.