Sunderland v Sheffield Wednesday: ‘We know the magnitude of the game’ admits Darren Moore

SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY manager Darren Moore’s last experience of a play-off semi-final as a player was an incredibly tense occasion in a two-legged tie that was on a knife-edge.

Ahead of his first match in charge of a side in the end-of-season lottery, Moore is preparing himself for the same. If it ends in the same outcome, he won’t be complaining.

Not too many observers would be foolish enough to predict with any authority as to whether the Owls or Sunderland will be the ones smiling on Monday evening after 180 minutes of action over two legs. Or possibly longer.

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Play-offs are rarely straightforward as Moore can vouch for. Back in his time at Derby in 2006-07, Moore was part of a Rams side who trailed early on in their Championship semi-final first leg at Southampton before turning the tables to win 2-1.

Sheffield Wednesday's manager Darren Moore. Picture: PA.

In the second instalment at Pride Park, Moore put the hosts ahead, only for the Saints to instantly level. Further goals were exchanged before a dramatic late goal from the visitors made it 3-2 to level the tie on aggregate and take it into extra-time.

It went all the way to penalties and Derby prevailed to set up a Wembley final date against Moore’s old club West Brom, which the Rams won.

In its own way, that semi-final was a microcosm of play-off football which is predictable only in its unpredictability.

Moore said: “When I look back as a player, there have been some memorable moments in these situations.

Injury worry for Owls skipper Barry Bannan. Picture: Steve Ellis

“There’s no better feeling than winning it. As a manager, you try and draw on some of those experiences and apply things as best as you can with your staff and players in terms of getting ready.

“The games are one-offs and there’s emotions and tensions and you can understand it. You want to try and be proactive, but sometimes it’s more being reactive to things as you can never predict what is going on.

“The main thing is that mentally and physically, we have got to be ready. We know the magnitude of the game and it’s one that myself and the team look forward to.”

As semi-finals go, there have been few higher-profile ones – certainly at third-tier level – than this particular one which pits together two sleeping giants.

Interest is understandably huge, so much so that it is set to record the biggest attendance over two legs of any play-off semi ever across the EFL.

A crowd in excess of 40,000 is expected on Wearside tonight and it is likely to be the largest crowd at the Stadium of Light since 46,039 attended the League One game against Bradford City on Boxing Day 2018.

A crowd of around 34,000 will converge for the second leg at Hillsborough on Monday with Wednesday’s outstanding victory last weekend to clinch play-off participation against Portsmouth in front of a sell-out home crowd serving as useful preparation according to Moore.

The Owls chief will assess talisman captain Barry Bannan this morning before deciding whether he will be involved in the north-east tonight.

Moore commented: “We had a sell-out crowd (last Saturday), credit to the fans and players. To perform the way they did under that scrutiny was very good.

“Portsmouth were an excellent team and it was a difficult game. But we are going onto another level and two one-off games. But last week was a good test to come through.”

Moore’s desire to do his bit to turn around the fortunes of one of football’s grand old institutions is fervent.

He arrived at a time in March 2021 when the club were listing on the pitch and dysfunctional off it. The bitter pill of relegation further dented the morale of a proud club and fanbase.

Whatever happens in the play-offs, Wednesday have undeniably progressed under the stewardship of Moore. But he is desperate to provide something tangible by way of promotion.

He continued: “I am certainly aware in terms of what has gone on before. I did a little bit of research myself on the club and I moved into the area as I thought it was right.

“To be in the area and submerge myself into the fanbase and city of Sheffield was something I was grateful to do.

“But I also wanted to be around the club and find out the background of the club with the staff.

“We have worked incredibly hard this season and will continue to do that in trying to move this club in the right direction.

“That is all I have ever wanted and will continually work towards keeping this club moving.

“It has been a solid start, but we don’t want to rest there. Success is a moving target.

“For this club to be a success, then we have got to keep moving forward.”

Last six games: Sunderland WWDWDW; Sheffield Wednesday DWWLWW.

Referee: M Donohue (Greater Manchester).

Last time: Sunderland 5 Sheffield Wednesday 0, December 30, 2021; League One.