Rotherham United v Sheffield Wednesday - Steve Bruce eyeing Owls’ future as Millers look to pounce

SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY manager Steve Bruce has warned his players that he will not tolerate any slacking off between now and the end of the season with his Owls squad having to earn the right to be in his plans for 2019-20.

Bruce will sample his first experience of a derby in charge of Wednesday today at third-from-bottom Rotherham United (kick-off 1pm) and the Owls’ chief is expecting a “difficult afternoon” against direct and physically strong hosts.

While not yet giving up on his lower mid-table side mounting a surprise late charge for the play-offs, the pragmatist in Bruce sees him starting to plan for next season. He has revealed his desire to cut down his number of senior professionals from what he currently believes is an unmanageable number.

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The likes of Keiren Westwood, Marco Matias, Liam Palmer, Daniel Pudil and David Jones will all be out of contract alongside the injury-hit duo of Kieran Lee and Gary Hooper and all have plenty of work to do to secure new deals.

Those already under contract for longer must also impress to play their part in Bruce’s plans going forward and, while he has been pleased with his squad’s attitude and work ethic in the first few weeks of his tenure, he is demanding no let-up.

Bruce, whose side are currently 11 points behind sixth-placed Middlesbrough, said: “It is really up to them to impress me to say have they got a future here. Do they want to be part of a team going forward who has to be at the top end of the Championship, which is what this club demands and that is why I am sitting here.

“There is a lot to play for. They cannot just go on easy street as I will be after them and I think they know that. To be fair to them their response has been very good and they are trying to tune into what we want.”

Wednesday boast a formidable derby record in Rotherham, who have not beaten them in 11 league matches in the town since Dick Habbin’s goal gave the Millers a 1-0 victory in March 1976.

Paul Warne v Steve Bruce as Rotherham meet Wednesday

Rotherham have suffered nine defeats along the way, including four successive losses.

Despite some game performances against several Yorkshire rivals including Sheffield United, Hull City, Leeds United and Middlesbrough so far this season, the Millers have not won a game against a White Rose rival at this level in 17 attempts – since a 2-1 home win over Leeds in April 2016. An end to that run today would not just secure bragging rights, but three valuable points in the club’s battle against relegation – after they slipped into the bottom three after Reading’s win over Blackburn on Wednesday.

Previewing today’s sell-out occasion, manager Paul Warne, whose side visit the Royals next Saturday, said: “As a player these are the games you want to play in.

“I look back and there are only certain games I remember because I am useless at remembering. But I can remember the last Sheffield Wednesday (home) game as it was regrettably around the time that our Championship status ended.

Steve Bruce: Sheffield Wednesday manager takes charge of his first South Yorkshire derby. (Picture: Steve Ellis)

“Hopefully we will have better memories in this one. It is a local derby, which means a lot to many people.

“If someone could score the winner against Wednesday they will definitely get a statue outside the stadium before me.”

Wednesday also have some derby ghosts to exorcise today, having been outclassed and outfought on their last meeting with a Yorkshire rival last month when they were well beaten in a 3-0 reverse at Bruce’s old club Hull City.

Despite the fact that the Owls face a side who have won just once since early November, Bruce says that his side must survive a character examination today.

Bruce added: “We do not want a repeat of that (Hull) performance. But I can only speak of the last couple of weeks since I have been in and we have been to two tough places where teams are fighting for their lives in Ipswich and Millwall. We could have won them both. We now have another tough one.”

Match preview: Page 2