NO ONE in the Steel City needs telling what tonight means.
Win and Sheffield will be a great place to be in the coming days and weeks. Lose, however, and the need to avoid anyone from the enemy camp – and the gloating that will inevitably follow a chance meeting –will be such that heading out in hat and sunglasses may well be in order.
Everton fans have pretty much had that sort of week following their FA Cup exit at Anfield. But, where the rest of the country understands the importance of bragging rights on Merseyside and can empathise with the vanquished, the Sheffield derby is rarely afforded the same respect outside a postcode beginning with ‘S’.
Manchester, North London, Birmingham, even Portsmouth-Southampton will all dominate when talk turns to the great rivalries of English football, leaving the 125-year-old tussle between United and Wednesday as something of an after-thought.
It is a similar story in East Lancashire, where such is the hatred between Burnley and Blackburn Rovers that the police insist all away fans must travel under escort on an army of buses. George Boyd, hoping to sample his first taste of the Sheffield derby tonight, was twice on the winning side for the Clarets against their hated rivals in the 2015-16 season and remembers the occasions well.
“The game at Ewood Park, in terms of atmosphere, was the biggest one I have played in,” said the 32-year-old to The Yorkshire Post. “We took about 6,000 that day and it created a massive atmosphere in the away end.
“I remember driving in, we went past a Blackburn pub and they started throwing things at the bus. People don’t realise how big it is, and it is the same here. I came from the outside (when signing from Burnley last summer) and didn’t realise until amongst it.
“We will see that (at Bramall Lane). It is great the game is on TV, as that means people can see it for themselves.”
If Boyd can be one of those to shine in front of the live Sky cameras, it will help make up for the most frustrating period of his career. A shoulder injury that required two operations to repair means the former Hull City man has just five Owls appearances to his name in as many months.
The most recent of those came last weekend at Carlisle United in the FA Cup, the first game watched by newly appointed manager Jos Luhukay.
Boyd is hoping the Dutchman can inspire a big turnaround in not only his own fortunes, but also those of Wednesday. The early signs, he says, are positive.
“Training has been a lot harder, which we needed,” added Boyd. “We weren’t fit enough. The training has been different, a lot more high intensity. Even when Bully (Lee Bullen) came in (as caretaker manager following Carlos Carvalhal’s departure), the intensity went up a lot.
“We know as a team we need to be fitter and we will be from now on. He (Luhukay) is also in-depth and there has been a lot of meetings for him to implement his ideas, which include little things like meetings or the times we eat.
“Or, when we have to be in for and then having double (training) sessions most days. Discipline has definitely been a big change in these last few days. Being in for certain times, we hadn’t had that before. It was quite laid back under Carlos.
“Now, it is very regimented. No one has been late. He (Luhukay) is quite softly spoken, but I can imagine him being firm and strict when needed.
“It will take time to implement, but he has good ideas that will improve everyone here. It has been a good week.”
As for his own frustrations since leaving Turf Moor, Boyd added: “Even when fit (at the start of the season), I wasn’t playing. I was on the bench for home games and things like that. I felt I should have been playing.
“But the new manager is here now. The whole team has a fresh slate and a chance to get in the XI. Now if you want to stay in the team you have to perform.
“The injury was hard to get my head around. I did it first against Rangers (in last summer’s friendly), someone fell on the back of me. I continued playing, but it (shoulder) was causing me problems. Then I fell on it again in the Forest game and the bone popped out. I needed two operations. Fully healed now, but very frustrating.
“It was horrible, and I got sick of (watching) Jeff Stelling and Soccer Saturday (on Sky). The team hasn’t done well, either, and that hasn’t helped. But I feel good now and am ready to kick on after what has been a good week under the new manager, who has fresh ideas that will hopefully benefit us.”
September’s defeat to the Blades did lasting damage in S6, as a return of just four victories from 19 league outings since losing the Steel City bragging rights vividly illustrates.
”It will be a proper derby,” added Boyd. “I was impressed with Sheffield United at our place. There are no massive names in the team, but they all work hard and fight for each other. They will be confident after the last game, but we won’t let that happen again.
“We have trained all week with a plan. A win can galvanise our whole season, we can still get play-offs.
“Three or four wins and you are right back in it. Play-offs have to be the aim.”
Last six games: Sheffield United LDWLDW Sheffield Wednesday LLWLLD.
Referee: D Coote (West Yorkshire).
Last time: Sheffield United 2 Sheffield Wednesday 2; October 16, 2011; League One.