Sheffield Wednesday v Lincoln City: Darren Moore keen to embrace benefits of Hillsborough

This afternoon Penistone Road will see another off-field show of force from Sheffield Wednesday. If only we could be so sure of one on it.

Hillsborough will host one of today’s biggest Football League attendances as well as Lincoln City, even though the game is being played in the third tier.

It will be another reminder that this is a big club.

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It has pluses and minuses. If attendances equalled results, the Owls would be second in League One, not ninth, trailing a Plymouth Argyle who get half their gates. A big name, big ground, big budget and big fanbase brings big expectations and big pressures.

Sheffield Wednesday manager Darren Moore Picture: Steve Ellis

It is in manager Darren Moore’s nature, though, to relish the power of Hillsborough, which will host five of his team’s next six matches, and embrace what has gone before. Being a big club cannot drag a team to greatness, but it can give one heading in the right direction a hefty shove.

“I really am happily retired but there is just one little thought that I’d love to put my boots on and play at Hillsborough in front of that packed-out support because it gives you fire in your belly,” says the former centre-back who played for Doncaster Rovers, Bradford City and Barnsley amongst others.

“Every Wednesdayite would do anything to be on that turf playing for their team. I played over 600 games but I’d like to just have one more in a blue-and-white shirt at Hillsborough. The next best thing is to be a manager at Hillsborough.

“Playing in front of big crowds on a wonderful football pitch in a wonderful arena with great noise, winning games... that’s what I wanted as an eight- or nine-year-old.”

Owls midfielder Sam Hutchinson. Picture: Steve Ellis

It is far from unique to the Owls, but Moore believes the absence of over a year of behind-closed-doors football has made the heart grow fonder.

“There’s been a real thirst from the fans,” he says. “To have football taken away from them, it’s part of their life and has been for generations. For the players as well, playing in front of empty stadiums just wasn’t real.

“We got the first (league) game of the season and all of a sudden we’re at Charlton and bang the fans are back and you’re live on TV. We had a taste of it because we had Huddersfield in the (League) Cup at home (first).

“Once we got that, football was really back, never more so than at Sheff Wednesday when the fans really are the 12th man for us. I’m so grateful to have experienced that wonderful support base and seen the travelling army.

“I spoke to the management team at Cambridge (after Tuesday’s draw there) and they said the atmosphere was electric and that was largely down to over 2,500 that travelled down to get behind our team. Every game we’ve been away this season they’ve had record attendances.”

Harnessing that support is something Moore tries to do.

“We just want to try and play front-foot football, get goals and get after it,” he says. “We’ve seen it in patches this season.”

That it has only been patches has been the other side of a big club. When you have been reared on the likes of Chris Waddle and David Hirst – sadly few remember the real glory days – mediocrity is never likely to sit easily. If 22,000 excited fans are powerful, 22,000 disgruntled ones can be too. It takes tough characters to represent a fallen giant.

“The experienced players have seen it but the younger players have that fearless approach,” argues Moore.

“They want that adulation and that atmosphere and they’re hungry to get out there.”

What they must also be, though, is proud to play for a club with an evocative name and special history.

“We spoke a couple of days ago to the players abut the nostalgia and history of the football club and how it’s looked upon beyond Sheffield,” reveals Birmingham-born Moore.

“Never forget the work that’s gone on before. You’re part of that history so I’m all for legends of the club coming back on a matchday, seeing the fans before kick-off and at half-time and it’s something we’ll probably look to do even more here.

“It’s wonderful memories and moments that shouldn’t be lost. It’s important to pass that on from generation to generation.”

Moore will test Sam Hutchinson’s fitness but George Byers is not match-fit despite being back in training after a groin injury.

Centre-back Lewis Gibson, on loan from Everton, has been ruled out for “some considerable time” after a muscular injury on his Championship debut, at home to Bolton Wanderers.