Derby Day Memories - 1979
Of all the memorable derby matches over the years, Boxing Day 1979 holds a special place in Sheffield football history.
Held in front of a Third Division record crowd of 49309, the match would change the course of the season for both teams. A massive police presence was evident for Sheffield's all-ticket match of the decade, and the sense of anticipation was immense. Both teams were high in the table: United top, Jack Charlton's Owls fifth. The referee's coin was tossed in the tunnel, captains Mike Pickering and Mick Speight leading the teams out onto the pitch side by side FA Cup style, into a cauldron of noise and surrounded by packed terraces.
The game began, and Wednesday's hard-working midfield of Johnson, King and Hornsby denied the Blades time on the ball and space in which to run. United had a reputation for skill and elegance, but on a heavy pitch and with the Owls snapping at their heels, they couldn't show it, and mistakes were frequent. As a spectacle, for a while, the game didn't live up to pre-match expectations.
On 36 minutes, the breakthrough: Ian Mellor picked the ball up on the left wing, came inside and blazed a shot into the top corner from 25 yards. It was to be the only goal of the half, but United almost managed an equaliser shortly before the teams went in. A shot was tipped onto the bar by Owls keeper Bob Bolder and the ball fell invitingly for MacPhail as Wednesday hearts sank. However, he blasted the ball straight back at Bolder and it was scrambled to safety.
Wednesday came out for the second half with renewed purpose, and a goalmouth incident on 54 minutes changed the course of the game: a crunching collision between King and Speight left the Blades captain with damaged ribs, the influential midfielder was carried off and the pendulum swung in the Owls favour.
Come on down, Terry Curran. The Owls favourite (who played for Southampton the previous year and dropped two divisions to sign for Wednesday) imposed his undeniable (though at times inconsistent) talent on the latter stages of the match, and the Owls ran away with it.
McCulloch raced down the left wing, cut in to the box and crossed for Curran to dive and head home, falling to his knees in triumph at the Leppings Lane end. A minute later, Hornsby fed Curran, who sped away and squared it for Jeff King to side foot into the net. On 87 minutes, Mellor fed the ball through to Curran, who went through, chipped the ball over the keeper and was brought down for a penalty, perfectly converted by Mark Smith.
The match was a turning point for both clubs. Although losing their next match, the Owls then went on a sixteen match unbeaten run, and despite a lacklustre end to the season, managed to gain promotion to Division Two. After a decade spent in the lower reaches of the league, Wednesday had taken their first step on the long journey back to the top, gaining promotion to the top flight in 1983/84. United faded badly to finish twelfth that year (Curran rubbing salt into the wound with a terrific individual equaliser in the return match at Bramall Lane) and were relegated the following year to Division Four.
The next Sheffield derby didn't take place until 1991 and United were 2-0 winners.
But nothing will ever erase the 'Boxing Day Massacre' from the collective memory of all Sheffield football fans: a dream for Wednesday, a nightmare for United.
Sheffield Wednesday: Bolder, Blackhall, Williamson, Smith, Pickering, Hornsby, King, Johnson, McCulloch, Mellor, Curran.
Sheffield United: Richardson, Speight (Cutbush), Tibbott, Kenworthy, MacPhail, Matthews, de Goey, Bourne, Butlin, Garner, Sabella.
Stayed tuned for more Derby Day Memories ahead of the big match!