Caolan Lavery is relishing the chance to take part in his first Steel City derby – after the Sheffield United striker failed to even get a ticket for the game at Hillsborough.
The 25-year-old, sidelined at the time with a serious facial injury, missed the Blades’ 4-2 Championship win at former club Wednesday in September, such was the demand for tickets.
I don’t keep in touch with anyone there. Sharpy (Blades captain and lifelong fan Billy Sharp) wouldn’t let me!Sheffield United’s former Owls striker Caolan Lavery
It would have been a poignant return to the Owls for Canadian Lavery, who was frozen out at Hillsborough in 2016 by head coach Carlos Carvalhal after four years at S6.
Lavery is primed for a substitute’s spot tomorrow night at Bramall Lane; his first taste of a Steel City derby in a combined tenure of nearly six years with first Wednesday, then United.
“It was unfortunate because of my injury that I didn’t get to be involved in the first one,” said Lavery. “I watched it but I actually didn’t turn up because, believe it or not, I didn’t have a ticket.
“Basically, somebody had pinched all the comps. So cheers, thanks very much for that,” he said with a smile.
“If you ask anyone, it’s a big game. But every game in the Championship from now on is going to be a big game, too.”
Lavery is one of a select group who have played for both Sheffield clubs. It is an even smaller number who have moved directly across the city, as Lavery did in 2016 when his Owls contract expired.
So he is well-placed to assess the differences between the two fierce rivals.
“The big difference is the whole training regime, I think,” said Lavery. “The gaffer here has everyone working very, very hard on a daily basis and making sure you’ve all got each others’ backs.
“That’s the big difference here from my time there (at Hillsborough). When I was there is all I can talk about.
“I try to be a good fit here and show all the qualities that make this club great. I try to base myself on being a hard-working honest lad and improve all the other areas of my game. Everyone gave me the impression how it would be here. It can be difficult for new players but, right from the beginning, I had people coming up and introducing themselves.
“That was players, staff and the people who work in the canteen. Then, when I started training, I thought something special is going to happen here.”
While the Blades are looking for back-to-back promotions –they sit seventh in the Championship – Wednesday have struggled and are just six points off the relegation zone.
With just one win in 11, and Carvalhal replaced by Jos Luhukay, Lavery has been surprised at their slump in form.
He said: “It’s easy to buy in here. That’s because what you see from the gaffer is what you get.
“He has a great group and he wants certain things from us every single day. We don’t allow anyone to trail behind as it were. That’s why everyone is together.
“Regarding Wednesday, it’s tough to have an answer. Everyone is surprised where they are sitting in the league. I don’t keep in touch with anyone there. Sharpy (Blades captain and lifelong fan Billy Sharp) wouldn’t let me!”
Lavery suffered multiple fractures to his cheekbone and eye socket in a clash of heads with Derby County’s Marcus Olssen in September.
It sparked fears he could have been left blinded in one eye, but the striker, who made his comeback in the Boxing Day win over Sunderland, says the injury has left no permanent scars.
“It has all healed up and I’m having no side-effects whatsoever,” said Lavery, who made his first start since that Derby game in the FA Cup win at Ipswich.
“I wore a mask but even after a week I wanted to take it off. I played a few development games with the mask and trained with it.
“Believe it or not, straight away I was back in training and they wouldn’t let me head the ball.
“The first or second day, that’s what I did, I headed the ball and had the medical team on my case. It wasn’t psychological. I just wanted to get out there on the pitch.”