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