NEW Sheffield Wednesday manager Steve Bruce believes the city needs two clubs competing in the Premier League.
Wednesday face United tonight at Hillsborough in the Steel City derby with a dozen Championship games remaining in the race to reach the top flight.
The Blades are third after the weekend’s games, while Bruce’s Owls are seven points off the top six after a seven-game unbeaten run.
Bruce was starting out on his managerial career the last time Wednesday played in the Premier League 19 years ago. United last graced the top flight in 2007.
Both clubs have had tough spells in League One, but the Sheffield rivals have come close to bringing Premier League football back to to the city in each of the last three seasons.
In 2016 Hull City, managed by Bruce, denied Wednesday in the play-off final at Wembley and 12 months later Huddersfield Town knocked out the Owls in the play-off semi-finals.
Last year United just missed out on the play-offs – after previously romping to the League One title – and are in the mix for a top-two finish this season.
“It’s a huge city, which, like the North-East, needs two clubs in the Premier League,” said Bruce. “The clubs would embrace the Premier League because they have a big, hard-core support.
“But, as both clubs have seen, it’s not easy. There’s some big clubs in the Championship, but it’s what we all have to aim for, that’s why I am sat here.
“Our neighbours have been doing really well of late. They mounted a challenge last year and just fell away.
“Over the last couple of years they have made big strides to be at the top end of the Championship where two or three years ago they were in League One.”
Bruce knows how dangerous the Blades are – the last time he faced Chris Wilder’s team he ended up getting sacked.
Bruce, then in charge at Aston Villa, saw his side thrashed 4-1 at Bramall Lane in September and his Villa Park days proved numbered.
With the painful memory of United’s 4-2 derby win the last time they visited Hillsborough still stinging Owls supporters, Bruce is under no illusions about the challenge facing his new club at S6 tonight in front of the television cameras.
“They gave us a hiding, that’s probably one of the reasons I got the sack at Aston Villa,” said Bruce, who only returned to management with the Owls last month.
“They are a good side, and I have huge respect for Chris and what he has achieved. It will be a really tough game, but it’s a derby. Let’s all behave ourselves, both sets of supporters; the whole country will be watching and let’s make it memorable. We don’t want any ugly scenes. We want to show what the Sheffield derby is.”
Bruce started out in management at Bramall Lane before moving on to Huddersfield.
He admits there were “many difficulties” at both clubs, which left him contemplating a career move into television.
“I will always be eternally grateful (to United) because they gave me the chance,” he said.
“I was a player-manager and that in itself was difficult.
“I played my last game of football for them, I retired after we lost to Sunderland (4-0). It was a difficult start, there were many difficulties at the club, but they gave me my first breakthrough.
“It made me learn very quickly about management, about what’s not written on the tin when you get in there. That’s all I am going to say about it because there were many difficulties. After I left Huddersfield I had a wonderful opportunity to go and work in TV. I thought long and hard about it and very nearly did it.
“When you have to sell your centre-forward on deadline day, and you are second top of the league at Huddersfield, to balance the books that gives you a wake-up call.
“I don’t think the Huddersfield fans have ever forgiven me, the manager always gets the wrath. In that time I was going to go into TV. (Wigan’s) Dave Whelan was the first real chairman where I thought, ‘yeah, I quite enjoy it’. Before that it was difficult, let’s put it that way.”
Victory tonight for the hosts would mean three successive Owls wins in 10 days to keep them in play-off contention.
Bruce is refusing to set a points target from the dozen games remaining if he is to secure a fifth promotion from the Championship as a manager.
“I haven’t looked at how many wins we need,” he said. “I haven’t put myself under that microscope yet – who knows? Can we get them? That’s the question, can we give ourselves a chance?
“Whether that means we need to win six or seven or eight, who knows?”
Derby build-up: Page 10