Sheffield United have been warned to expect a much-improved Wednesday team in Monday night’s Steel City derby.
That is the message from Owls captain Tom Lees, who admits Wednesday were fortunate to escape with a 0-0 draw at Bramall Lane earlier in the season.
Having been thrashed 4-0 at home by Norwich City to stretch a losing run to four games, with angry fans demanding manager Jos Luhukay be sacked, the Owls headed to Bramall Lane on November 9 like lambs to the slaughter.
But, with the aid of Cameron Dawson’s penalty save to thwart David McGoldrick, Wednesday somehow emerged with an unlikely point.
Since then, Luhukay has departed, and new manager Steve Bruce has restored some missing pride, culminating in a seven-match unbeaten run.
“We are going there with a lot more confidence than the last time we went into the derby at the start of the season,” said Lees.
“I think we were probably at our lowest and were there for the taking. I think a lot of people were surprised we came away with a point.
“I think we will be a different team now going into Monday’s game. The players will be full of confidence so, hopefully, it should be a good game.
“If you look at the game at the start of the season at their place, it was very one-sided and they had all the ball. I don’t think we really got out of our own half.
“I think it will be different this time around. Hopefully, we can put them under a bit of pressure, like they have been putting us under with the way they play, with their energy and pressing.
“We will be looking to do that to them this time so, hopefully, it will be a different affair.”
The Owls team who line up on Monday will be much-changed from the one which started at Bramall Lane.
Just Lees, Michael Hector, Barry Bannan, Adam Reach and Steven Fletcher are likely to feature from that 0-0 draw.
“It is a big occasion,” said Lees. “It is intense. The build-up is intense and you can obviously tell there is an extra edge to the whole week building up to it. It’s a really big game for both sides now.
“Obviously, Sheffield United are wanting to stay at the top of the table, trying to secure promotion. Even if they weren’t, it would still be a huge game.
“We obviously have come into a bit of form. We have all got points to prove so there is stuff to play for both sides.
“These two fixtures home and away are the biggest games of the season. There is no doubting that. For the fans, it is the biggest game and for us as a whole club it is the biggest game.”
Owls defender Lees could come up against a familiar face on Monday, with former Wednesday striker Gary Madine having joined the Blades on loan.
The 28-year-old netted twice in United’s last game at Bramall Lane – a 4-0 win over Reading – and Lees expects a physical battle against his former team-mate.
“He’s a handful,” admitted Lees. “He’s a good, physical presence and is a danger in the air. He likes to hold the ball up well and it is never easy against him.
“They have got a lot of players who are threats and who we will be wanting to keep quiet.
“He is a threat. They have done well this season and you can’t deny that. They have some good players so we will have to be at our absolute best to get a result.
“Madine has obviously got his reasons for going there and fair play to him. It takes a lot of character to go and do that (having played for Wednesday).
“I’m sure he will expect to get a bit of stick for it on Monday.”