Steel City derby returns after five year absence
By Simon Evans
MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - One of English football's most passionate derby clashes returns, after a five year absence, on Sunday when Sheffield Wednesday host Sheffield United in the Steel City derby.
As always local pride is on the line but this year, after some lean times for the two South Yorkshire teams, there is also an air of optimism and ambition surrounding both Championship clubs.
The last time the two former Premier League teams met was in the third-tier League One in February 2012 when Wednesday won during their promotion campaign.
United were left stuck in League One until last season and they have begun life in the second tier well, winning five of their opening eight games to sit in sixth place with Sheffield born Billy Sharp scoring four times.
The Blades' local born manager Chris Wilder, who played for the club as a defender, is certainly feeling the sense of occasion.
"We could sit here for hours and talk about the good days and the bad days for both clubs, they have been ups and down for us all, but this a new chapter," he said.
"We're back in the Championship and this is us renewing our proud rivalry against our nearest neighbours," he added.
A crowd of more than 33,000 is expected at Hillsborough Stadium for the match and Wilder believes the derby is one of English football's most felt.
"People will talk about other cities and other derbies, but this is up there for me personally, it is passionate and lively and it means everything to both sets of supporters and all connected with both clubs," he said.
Wednesday are just two points behind, however, and will fancy their chances of gaining the edge in the all-time record for the fixture.
The two clubs are level at 48 wins each from the 140 matches in 123 years of competitive derbies in all competitions.
Wednesday's Portuguese manager Carlos Carvalhal may not have Wilder's close connection to the city but he says he is well aware of the special nature of the fixture.
"I know it is important, I have played a lot of derbies before as a manager.
"I remember Sporting v Benfica was something unbelievable, (in Turkey) Besikta?, Galatasaray and Fenerbahce and so on. These kind of games have a special environment, it is very important to the fans and we understand this," he said.
The pressure is certainly on Wednesday who, after losing in the promotion playoffs in the past two campaigns, have a return to the top-flight as their goal this year.
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Christian Radnedge)