There are not many games that I get nervous about beforehand. There are times I get nervous during a game, like when we are defending a slim lead or going into the last minutes chasing a winner. I’m not so much nervous about tomorrow night as I am dreading it. For a long time even when Sheffield United have had the better team, on paper at least, I always expected us to battle and make the game a contest. This led us to several memorable wins over the Blades under Brian Laws and later Gary Megson. Both of those managers knew the importance of the Steel City Derby and knew that often it comes down to who wants it more, not who is technically better.
Last season something changed. I just knew in the lead up to the match at Hillsborough that we were not prepared. All the quotes coming out of the club and the general attitude of the manager and coaches made it obvious that to them, it was just another game; another three-points up for grabs. I feared the worst. In many ways that match was a complete humiliation. We were one-nil down before many fans had even sat down for the first time. A second followed shortly after. It was only after about half an hour or so that we seemed to wake up and going in at half-time at two-one down, gave us a chance of getting something from the game. Everyone knows how it went after that. The fact we didn’t even get a chance to celebrate the equaliser properly before United took the lead again was just another kick in the nuts.
There is a quote from Sun Tzu which I feel is appropriate to football, and roughly translated the quote is:
“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.”
Another historic military quote, which is often appropriate to football, comes from Alexander the Great:
“I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.”
Regular readers of my blog will know I have been banging on about leadership all season. We lack leadership on and off the pitch. Last season we lost the derby at Hillsborough before the ball had been kicked. Carlos and the other coaching staff did not understand the importance of the derby, nor how much United needed that victory. This was the first chance they had to avenge the “mind-the-gap” season and they needed to beat us. Carlos simply did not understand and our army of lions was humbled by United’s “lesser players” who were led by their own lion. Don’t misunderstand this as admiration for Wilder; I don’t like the guy and I think he lacks class when interviewed but he has got a group of players working hard for each other and the Blades’ players had won the derby in their own minds before kick-off at Hillsborough last season.
The derby at the Lane last season was a strange game and for much of the game was based around our resolute defending keeping United at bay. Our preparation was better for that game and we could even have snatched a late winner had Adam Reach’s shot been a centimetre more accurate.
This season we have had a few high and low points. A great run, after a shaky start to the season, has now fallen into a terrible patch of form. With four defeats on the spin it is absolutely vital that we are prepared mentally for the match tomorrow. If Jos Luhukay is treating this as “just another match” then we will lose and lose heavily I fear. United will come at us from the first minute and should they get an early goal I fear our team will crumble under pressure. This is the sort of match where we need big characters with a strong mentality; players like Westwood and Hutchinson would have been ideal in this fixture but realistically neither of them will feature. Instead we will have a ‘keeper who has all eyes focused on him because we are yet to keep a clean sheet this season.
I’m dreading tomorrow because I don’t think we will have the right mental preparation for the game. Something just doesn’t feel right. Obviously I am hoping we will come away with three-points and a clean sheet but I have seen nothing this season to make me think that is a likely outcome. If I was picking the team for tomorrow I would go with a 4-5-1. Based on who will realistically be available for selection, I would be looking at something like:
GK - Dawson
RB - Palmer
CB - Lees
CB - Thorniley
LB - Penney
DM - Hector
CM - Pelupessy
CM – Bannan
AML – Reach
AMR – Joao
ST – Fletcher/Nuhiu
I think the key to stopping United is in midfield so I would be packing the middle of midfield with Hector, Pelupessy and Bannan. Reach and Joao would have to tuck in when defending but when we get a chance to break they are our biggest threats in terms of pace. Having a player like Fletcher or Nuhiu means the ball is more likely to stick upfront when we clear our lines. There is nothing complicated about this set up; pack the midfield and press United as soon as they enter our half. Then we hit them on the break.
If we win tomorrow then it would be a great achievement and hopefully bring some positivity to the club as a whole. If we lose then we have two weeks before we play again. I think a defeat would see a lot of fans turn against Luhukay and there would be immense pressure for Chansiri to find a new manager in time for our next match. Rightly or wrongly, I think there are a lot of fans who have made up their mind that if we lose, Luhukay has to go. I’ve posted in my previous blog that Luhukay is not the main problem at Sheffield Wednesday but he is the easiest one to solve. Any manager working under Mr Chansiri and the current financial set up is going to have the same issues ahead of him. What we need is a lion who knows this division and knows this city. I know some fans who have said they will take a defeat tomorrow if it means we change our manager. I can’t bring myself to think that, although I do understand the logic of taking a step back to take two steps
forward. If I believed that we would actually change manager in the wake of a defeat, and appoint a credible Championship manager, and that Mr Chansiri would surround himself with more “football people” who know Sheffield, then I could perhaps be persuaded to take the defeat. I don’t believe that a defeat would see any of that happen though.
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Critic. Writer. Thinker. Observer. Creator of nowwelive.com.