Double, No Trouble
2008-9 was the best ever Steel City derby season, certainly in the hearts and minds and living memory of Wednesday fans.
In truth the Owls could have been celebrating a historic double a season earlier: a 2-0 victory in January with goals from Sodje and Tudgay set the standard, but a United comeback in the return fixture at Bramall Lane in April thwarted the Owls dreams, as they secured a two all draw. But Brian Laws was developing a canny knack of coming up with the goods against our cross-town rivals, and so it was to prove last season.
First up, an eventful match at Hillsborough on 19 October 2008, in front of 30,441. It had everything, a full-blooded encounter, controversial red cards, a bit of scrapping, a bizarre drinks bottle incident, and one stand-out moment of sheer class. Paddy Kenny charged for a cross which instead was headed away by Chris Morgan. Amidst the confusion, in a fleeting moment, Owls veteran Steve Watson kept his head and coolly lobbed the unfortunate keeper from a good 25 yards to send the blue and white portion of the crowd into ecstasy.
Referee Mike Dean had a big say on proceedings, first dismissing Blades centre back Matthew Kilgallon for a raised foot on diminutive Owls midfield terrier Sean McAllister, and issuing a second yellow to an off-the-field Jermaine Johnson, who had reacted badly to being substituted by kicking a drinks bottle into the crowd (his earlier shots on goal having ended up there too). Fortunately no one was injured.
But Wednesday held out in a second half full of pressure and tension, a late Beattie strike going just wide, and the first half of the double was secure.
On to Bramall Lane on 7 February 2009 (att. 30,786), for one of the finest achievements in recent Owls history. Wednesday were out of the blocks in rapid fashion in the opening minute, Michael Gray eased his way into the penalty area and pulled back for Tommy Spurr to smash home an jaw-dropping opening goal - when Tommy scores, they're usually stunners and this one was no exception.
But Wednesday fans settling happily back in their seats were soon to jump up in anguish, as Halford's long throw reached Arturo Lupoli who headed in via the woodwork to level - only five minutes gone, and the match had already turned into something special. Further Blades pressure with efforts from Montgomery and Bromby followed until, on 29 minutes, a goal classy enough to win any game, let alone one so highly charged with emotion.
Marcus Tudgay found himself in space, and took his time to launch an unstoppable effort from 30 yards which arrowed past a flailing Kenny and into the top corner. Pandemonium. There may have been one person in the stadium who thought it was going wide, but it was a shot right to the heart of the fans in red and white.
The second half was unbearable tension and drama for the watching thousands: Leon Clarke came closest for Wednesday, Blades striker Ward was denied, and ultimately Lee Grant was on his toes to tip over a Billy Sharp effort towards the end as the Owls held on for their first victory at Bramall Lane since 1967 and their first double over United for 95 years.
How could this year's fixtures possibly match that? Of course, they will: this is the Steel City Derby after all. Blackwell's men will want to get even and restore bragging rights. Both teams have selection worries, but in recent times this match has not been so much about personnel, it's been about attitude and commitment and approaching the game in the right way. Brian Laws is on a roll (the Blades having gained a solitary point from four derby matches since their return from the Premiership) and he'll want that to continue. Bryan Robson never got it right. Kevin Blackwell needs to, in the eyes of his supporters.
It's the kind of match we live for. Bring it on. I can't wait.