Tuesday 8 April ~
At the first Sheffield derby of the season on January 19, the TV cameras picked out a middle-aged man twirling his blue-and-white scarf around his head after Wednesday scored. This was their manager Brian Laws who makes no secret of his long-term affection for the club who employ him. At that match United's Bryan Robson was the man in the spotlight. Indeed he was sacked a month later in the wake of fan demonstrations. For the return fixture tonight at Bramall Lane, the pressure is again on the visiting manager. With Wednesday a point about the relegation zone in the Championship, Brian Laws could be in the final month of his dream job.
United still have vague hopes of a play-off place but a more realistic target is the lower reaches of the top half. But they have every reason to be confident today, and not just because of the two teams' respective league positions and the fact they have taken 16 points from their last six matches. Wednesday haven't won at Bramall Lane since 1967 and the last time they did the double is as far back as 1911-12. Chairman Kevin McCabe, who seems to enjoy the limelight, is still making noises about appointing a high-profile general manager but in the meantime Bryan Robson's successor, Kevin Blackwell, seems to be coping quite well without advice from a more famous name.
As might be expected for a club with an unpopular board but a large support base and a stadium to match, Wednesday have been linked with several proposed takeovers in the past few years. Supporters group the Owls Trust, now known as Wednesdayite, were widely criticised for appearing to back a bid from Ken Bates four years ago, although they claimed that they simply wanted to encourage all potential investors. The latest would-be buyers, represented by Lancashire-based businessman Geoff Sheard, are said to be Russian. But talks appear to have been shelved until the summer and no doubt will be affected by whichever division the club are in next season.
Premier League dropouts are piled up in the final third of the Championship, a collective testimony to financial mismanagement. Wednesday have hovered around the bottom six for the whole of 2007-08 largely as a consequence of losing their first six matches, which set a club record for the worst ever start to a season. But they have now gone seven games without defeat, the last five of which were draws. Brian Laws' inexperienced team has been hit by injuries, so while he might not wave his scarf around to mark a grinding draw, it would be an important point gained all the same.