THE key for Marcelo Bielsa and Chris Wilder amid the pressure-cooker atmosphere of a race for the Premier League that has pitted Leeds United against Sheffield United is to remain calm and collected, according to four-time promotion winner Steve Bruce.
Just a point separates Leeds in the final automatic berth from the Blades with five games to play.
Wilder’s United have an opportunity to leapfrog their rivals today due to kicking off at home to Millwall two-and-a-half hours before the West Riding outfit host Sheffield Wednesday at Elland Road.
With possession of second place having changed hands after each of the last five rounds of matches, a couple more twists and turns no doubt lay ahead before the final whistle blows tonight.
Bruce, with that record number of promotions to the Premier League on his CV, knows all about the mixture of emotions being experienced by both Bielsa and Wilder right now.
“The big thing that all the managers involved will be feeling is excitement,” the 58-year-old told The Yorkshire Post ahead of what will be his 900th game in management.
“It is a great position to be in, and why we go into management in the first place. Times like this are special,” said the Sheffield Wednesday chief.
“Chris Wilder and (Marcelo) Bielsa are experienced enough to know what to expect. They have been there and done it in their careers.
“What they can both expect are twists and turns. Nothing is plain-sailing at this stage of a season. Or if it is, you are very lucky. I look back at my own promotions as proof of that.”
Leeds have the slight advantage after beating Preston in midweek, 24 hours before the Blades were held to a 1-1 draw at Birmingham City.
If the past few weeks are anything to by, however, then this is unlikely to last. It is why supporters from both camps have been scanning the respective run-ins of the two Yorkshire clubs in the hope of working out who will join Norwich City, six points clear at the top, in next season’s top flight.
Bruce knows all about such emotions after twice taking Birmingham City up from the second tier, before repeating the trick with Hull City in 2013 and 2016.
He looks to the first of those successes with the Tigers as proof that both Bielsa and Wilder will need to keep cool heads as the pressure mounts.
“I can’t imagine anything being as crazy as that first promotion with Hull,” he said about a dramatic final day that saw the Tigers forced to wait 15 minutes after their own game at home to Cardiff had finished to discover whether they were up or not.
“Nothing will replicate that drama. We needed to win and had a chance to make it 3-1 from the penalty spot in the last minute but (Nick Proschwitz) missed. Cardiff raced up the other end immediately and then made it 2-2.
“The final whistle blew and Watford were 15 minutes behind us at home to Leeds. It was 1-1 so a winner for Watford meant we were in the play-offs.
“No-one knew what to do. I tried to have a cup of tea, quietly away from everyone else. But it just was not possible, everywhere you looked there was an anxious face.
“Some were watching it in the tunnel. Others found a little room elsewhere with a TV. There was a big roar at one stage and I thought the final whistle had blown but it turned out (Ross) McCormack, of all people, had scored the winner for Leeds.
“I am not sure it will be as dramatic this time but I do know there will be twists and turns, and the key is to stay calm and relaxed.
“There will be butterflies in the stomach the closer the end comes, there always is. But you just need to stay calm. Everyone looks to you as manager. You have to look calm and collected to the players.
“Let them know how fortunate they are to be in such a position and how the opportunity must be embraced. Stress how the chance to win things was why they came into football all those years ago.”
Bruce’s second promotion at Hull was via the play-offs, as was his first with Birmingham in 2003 as Norwich were beaten on penalties in Cardiff.
Wednesday still harbour hopes of extending their own season beyond May 5, and potentially opening up a fifth chance of promotion for the club’s manager.
“We have a chance,” added Bruce. “It’s a slim chance but we have to go for it.”
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