FOR the second season running, the race to be crowned as Yorkshire’s unofficial Championship ‘derby kings’ has proved to be a neck-and-neck one.
Given the fact that both were jostling for play-off participation for much of the business end of the season, it is perhaps no surprise that Sheffield United and Middlesbrough were the ones fighting it out for top spot.
In the end, Boro, as with the top-six race, won the day with their resounding haul of 20 points from 10 matches against White Rose rivals being a point more than the Blades managed.
The statistics of both were remarkably similar in fact, with home form proving the bedrock of their respective totals.
Indeed, both Boro and the Blades would have registered a ‘full house’ of wins on their own soil against county rivals if it was not for the intervention of Sheffield Wednesday.
Resolute defensive performances early in the new year from Jos Luhukay’s men stymied both in goalless stalemates, with pride of place going to Wednesday’s on-message, regimented display in the Dutchman’s televised Championship baptism of fire at Bramall Lane on January 12.
The Blades may have been beaten to the punch by Boro at the top of the standings, but they did have the consolation of registering memorable victories against several rivals whom they renewed acquaintances with, in the likes of the Owls and Leeds United.
For Unitedites, the David Brooks-inspired, unforgettable 4-2 Steel City derby win at Hillsborough on September 24 was top of the tree – a moment which provided icing to Chris Wilder’s 50th birthday cake.
It was a historic occasion as the Blades scored four goals at Hillsborough for the first time since the fixture was first played in 1893.
Sharing the limelight with Brooks was unquestionably Yorkshire’s derby player of the season – Leon Clarke.
A magical four-goal haul inside 35 spellbinding second-half minutes saw Clarke feast upon the carcass of Hull’s ravaged defence to inspire the Blades to a 4-1 home success after trailing at the break in their November 4 meeting.Leon Wobschall
For starters, Clarke struck twice in that sweet win at S6, but his main course was spectacular.
A magical four-goal haul inside 35 spellbinding second-half minutes saw Clarke feast upon the carcass of Hull’s ravaged defence to inspire the Blades to a 4-1 home success after trailing at the break in their November 4 meeting.
In the process, Clarke became the first Blade to notch four goals in a game since the legendary Keith Edwards struck four unanswered strikes in a 4-0 win over Gillingham in August 1983.
Clarke also found the net in arguably the most dramatic derby of the season, but unfortunately for his sake, he was on the losing side in the Blades’ 3-2 reverse at Oakwell on April 7.
Tom Bradshaw’s late winner for the Reds not only boosted the hosts’ survival prospects at a priceless juncture, but also secured a first win in 11 meetings against a Yorkshire opponent as Barnsley claimed their first home victory since November 4 in the most pulsating of fashions.
It was the main derby highpoint for the Reds, whose haul of seven points from 10 matches against White Rose opponents saw them prop up the rest followed by Hull (nine), Leeds United (13) and Wednesday (14).
That said, Reds loanee Harvey Barnes’s spectacular autumnal equaliser at Hillsborough was a firm contender for derby goal of the season – alongside Lee Evans’s stunning volley in the Blades’ 2-1 win over Boro last month.
Barnsley drew both games against the Owls, who have now not lost to the Reds in 10 games.
For Leeds, a first double over Barnsley since 1997-98 was small beer in a season to forget, yet the mood was rather more upbeat when they saw off Boro in a vibrant televised showing on November 19 which yielded a 2-1 win – given added piquancy by the presence of ex-Whites chief Garry Monk in the visitors’ dug-out. Monk fared rather better in his next visit to Yorkshire in a 2-1 verdict at Hillsborough on December 23, but a helter-skelter day ultimately left a sour taste. Hours later, he was sacked by Boro chairman Steve Gibson, while Carlos Carvahal left the Owls the following morning, with it hard to think of many other occasions where both managers have left their respective clubs within 24 hours of a fixture.
Boro – under a new manager in Tony Pulis – did dish out revenge on Leeds in a 3-0 success in early March, with visiting Hull and Barnsley also dispatched during their successful play-off push.
A 3-1 Riverside win over the Tigers on February 20 earned Boro a first double over their east coast rivals since Jack Charlton’s legendary promotion season of 1973-74 and there was also a historic double elsewhere in Yorkshire.
It was registered by Wednesday, who delivered another Hillsborough occasion to forget for Leeds, in a consummate 3-0 televised triumph in the autumn before following up with an Atdhe Nuhiu-led 2-1 success amid a St Patrick’s Day snowstorm at Elland Road. It clinched a first double for the Owls against Leeds since April 1960 when Lonnie Donegan was at No 1 in the charts with ‘My Old Man’s a Dustman.’