HONOURS even in the Steel City derby but, if anything, a moral victory for Sheffield Wednesday and their new manager Jos Luhukay.
Rarely in 125 years of cross-city rivalry had the Owls been as unfancied to prevail as last night and yet their supporters were the ones celebrating at the final whistle.
With good cause, too, as not only had their side produced a stellar display amid a hostile atmosphere, but the final 25 minutes had been played with ten men following the dismissal of Glenn Loovens.
United also left the field to warm applause from their fans, but there was no mistaking the sense of disappointment at what had, ultimately, been a frustrating night for the hosts.
Sure, Chris Wilder’s men had moved back into the play-off places at the expense of Leeds United.
But having hammered their bitter rivals at Hillsborough in September, hopes had been high that a first league double was theirs for the taking.
That United missed out on those bragging rights was down to an Owls display that could not have been in starker contrast to their last insipid offering in the Steel City, when slipping to a dreadful home defeat to Burton Albion on New Year’s Day.
Wednesday were compact, organised and well drilled. Double sessions and team meetings instigated by Luhukay in his first week at the helm had clearly paid off.
Never was this more apparent than shortly before the hour when the ball fell to John Fleck 25 or so yards from goal.
Wednesday were compact, organised and well drilled. Double sessions and team meetings instigated by Luhukay in his first week at the helm had clearly paid off.The YP’s Richard Sutcliffe
As the Blades midfielder sized up his options, the Owls’ backline moved forward as one in a fashion similar to how George Graham’s Arsenal used to strangle the life out of opposition attacks.
It meant, as Fleck unleashed a shot that careered into the knee of team-mate Mark Duffy, the Blades midfielder had unwittingly been caught offside.
This was far from the only time the hosts had been shackled by the discipline of Luhukay’s men so it was a big surprise when Loovens went close to undoing such sterling work with a rash, mistimed sliding challenge on Clayton Donaldson.
Having already been booked for a mistimed tackle on the same man, the Owls captain simply had to get the ball.
He did not and referee David Coote brandished a second yellow card at Loovens to leave the visitors down to ten men.
Up to that point, the derby had been simmering at best. The first half had been something of a write-off with neither goalkeeper having a save to make. The closest either side went to making the breakthrough in 45 minutes long on effort and passion but short on guile was when the ball twice landed on the top of the net.
John Lundstram was behind this early effort for the Blades that had Joe Wildsmith scrambling, and at the other end Lucas Joao went close with a chipped shot that had Simon Moore briefly worried before the ball cleared the crossbar.
Otherwise, Joao and then Ross Wallace dragging shots well wide of Moore’s goal and then Duffy being equally wasteful with a free-kick was about as good as it got.
Matters improved after the break with Wildsmith displaying tremendous reflexes and agility to deny Clayton Donaldson.
It really was a save of the highest order, the delivery of George Baldock having allowed Donaldson to get what seemed just the right contact on the ball to bring the Bradford-born striker his first United goal on home soil.
Moments later, Daniel Pudil’s volley flashed an inch or so past the post at the other end. So, when Ross Wallace created sufficient space to fire a shot that Moore saved well, the 31,120 crowd finally had a game on.
Loovens diving in on Donaldson to incur a second yellow card of the night then cranked up the noise levels further around the Lane and left Wednesday, for a time, rocking.
Leon Clarke headed wide from a Duffy free-kick before Wildsmith spared Frederico Venancio’s blushes with a save after the defender had diverted a right-wing cross towards his own goal.
Wildsmith then held an ambitious 25-yard effort from debutant James Wilson as United pushed for a winner that just would not come.
In fact, the Owls almost snatched all three points with it needing a fine save from Moore to keep out a wickedly dipping shot from Adam Reach.
Had that gone in then Luhukay, who had sprung a surprise by matching United’s three-man defence, would have been celebrating one of the more unexpected victories in this long-standing rivalry.
As it was, the new Owls manager had plenty to be pleased about at the final whistle as his players deservedly soaked up the acclaim of the 2,018 visitors housed in the bottom tier of the Bramall Lane stand.
Sheffield United: Moore; Basham, Stearman, O’Connell; Baldock, Fleck, Duffy, Lundstram, Stevens; Clarke, Donaldson (Wilson 65). Unused substitutes: Sharp, Wright, Leonard, Evans, Lafferty, Blackman.
Sheffield Wednesday: Wildsmith; Venancio, Loovens, Pudil; Palmer, Wallace (Clare 90), Jones, Reach, Fox; Rhodes (Boyd 70), Joao (Nuhiu 82). Unused substitutes: Butterfield, Matias, Dawson, Thorniley.
Referee: D Coote (West Yorkshire).