THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

17 April ~ Billed by Wednesday as "the biggest since Wembley" (the FA Cup semi-final of 1993), this weekend’s Steel City Derby at Hillsborough could prove to be a landmark for the city’s football clubs for some years to come. That is certainly how it feels for Wednesday fans anyway, although Unitedites may be less convinced. For Wednesday, it is a game they have to win. A loss could, depending on other results, see them cut four points adrift of safety with only two games to play – which would surely condemn them to another spell in League One. A win, however, would keep them in with a fighting chance of survival and set up what has felt for some time like an inevitable last day showdown with Crystal Palace. 

The match does not have the same direct implications for United, although victory can keep them in with a mathematical chance of play-off qualification. Bigger motivation for the supporters will be securing a derby double and sending their rivals closer to the precipice, whilst defeat will mean another post-Premiership season ending in disappointment. The pressure is all on Wednesday, and it will be interesting to see if their greater need drives them to victory, or if United will benefit from being able to play with more freedom.

Beyond the immediate ramifications, however, the result of the match may signal a shift in the balance of power in the city. Wednesday are planning another increase in their wage budget should they stay up. With a number of players reaching the end of their contracts, manager Alan Irvine will have ample opportunity to reshape the squad. United, meanwhile, have already had to make cuts following the loss of their parachute payments and will have to make more. Should Wednesday win the match and survive it is not unreasonable to suggest that, for the first time in the best part of a decade, they may challenge to finish as the higher placed team next season. Defeat and relegation would mean still more years as the poor relation and more despair for the club's supporters.

A tussle for mid-table supremacy in the Championship may not do much for the city's football reputation, but for Wednesday it would be a big step in the right direction. First, though, they have to win this game. John Birch

Comments (3)
Comment by Glass Half Empty 2010-04-17 12:31:27

The picture you paint is a possibility but I think it understates the difficulties Wednesday face in making significant improvements in their status. Stafford's plans for the squad are based on crowd and revenue predictions which have not been met this season, it will be very difficult for them to achieve anything without external capital being secured. Despite years of looking there is no sign of a white knight for them as yet. The US investors currently being wooed seem to be playing hardball and it's difficult to see any new money coming from that source without at least some of the power in the club moving that way as well. Something that won't go down well with any number of parties.

As for United, you are correct it means very little to us in terms of our current status, very few Blades' fans have seen promotion as a possibility recently, it is just about bragging rights and the amusement to be derived from dumping our darling neighbours right in it.

The weakening of United has been very real this season though, The recession has seen McCabe's business position seriously weaken, his main priority at the moment seems to be to get the money he has supported the club with in the past back out, his vision for a global network of clubs seems to have been fatally weakened by the shambles at Chengdu Blades, who have been punished with relegation due to links with corruption in the Chinese League, and Terry Robinson's shambolic reign at Ferencvaros.

We started this season with an incomplete squad, morale low after the ridiculous sale of both Naughton and Walker to Spurs and a joke of a business/game plan that seriously suggested we could fill our team with loanees and expect to be successful. This is a crunch time for United though because from the public utterances of Kevin Blackwell recently, he realises the folly of this plan following the utter lack of continuity in the team this season, where even regular supporters were left bemused by who the hell was playing for us in any given game. He seems to be trying to bring outside pressure to bear on the board to up our spending in the summer to create a squad of contracted players strong enough to compete for promotion next season. A worthy aim but very few supporters seem to have much confidence that he is the man to do this.

United split opinions across football with their decision to pursue the manner of their Premiership relegation through the courts but it is now becoming abundantly clear what the true cost of relegation was for the Blades. The club had the opportunity to establish itself as the regional top club for a generation and become an established Premiership club against the unique background of both Wednesday and Leeds embroiled in their own problems. The fact that we have failed to do this is a source of utter frustration to the supporters and doubtless to McCabe as well but the next few months will show very clearly whether he has the means and motivation to try again or whether he has totally lost the will for the fight.

Comment by Houdi Elbow 2010-04-17 13:53:26

It's difficult to find any Wednesday fans who genuinely believe we'll escape from relegation. Following the dreadful 5-0 reverse against Reading Irvine responded by tightening the defence, with a measure of success, but we can't buy a goal at the moment. Our best case scenario is going into the Palace game with something to play for. Also make no mistake that we would struggle in the 3rd division next season should the worst happen.

Comment by owlzat? 2010-04-19 10:49:59

A pretty unsatisfactory result all round in the end.

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