Sheffield United: Why Owls celebrated after Steel City derby and Blades were disappointed
Sheffield United can take some consolation from the fact that, while they were intent on winning the derby, Sheffield Wednesday appeared content to secure a draw and maybe pinch something along the way.
But, as Chris Wilder admitted following the goalless draw at Bramall Lane, nearly is no longer good enough for a team which have continued to progress since lifting the League One title last season and now have serious designs on achieving promotion from the Championship instead.
“We’re not happy just doing well,” Simon Moore, the United goalkeeper, said.
“It comes from the top, from the gaffer. He wants us to be the best we can be. He wants this club to be in the Premier League and the fans can see that.
“We don’t just settle for mediocrity. We’re not just happy to be here, like some teams probably are. We’ve got the ability, the team ethic and spirit, to be competing. There’s a little bit of frustration at the minute but the ingredients are there.”
United’s sense of disappointment following Friday’s stalemate at Bramall Lane was heightened by the fact the scoreline represented an opportunity missed to really stick the knife into their arch-rivals.
Wilder’s stated ambition is not only to restore his club’s place at English football’s top table but also to wrestle the balance of power in the Steel City.
The moods of the two camps following the final whistle suggested, as Wednesday celebrated a draw, that the balance has certainly swung towards the hosts.
Following September’s 4-2 triumph at Hillsborough, another win would have seen it lurch decisively in the direction of S2.
“There are still three months or so left and we’re playing some really good football,” Moore continued. “It’s just that final bit. But if we keep working hard, then we’ll get there eventually. I’ve got no doubts about that.”
As Moore acknowledged, it is a measure of just how far United have come under Wilder’s stewardship that, despite their financial constraints, they were upset not to do the double over opponents who have spent millions in the transfer market and pay the wages to match.
“I was thinking the same thing,” Moore said. “This time last year, we were playing League One teams and had been for five or six years.
“Nights like this, with all the build-up, are special. The ground was packed and we’re disappointed to have drawn against a side that’s been in the play-offs the last couple of years.
You do think: ‘Christ, we’ve come a long way.’ But we feel this season is a big opportunity for us and so we wanted the three points.”
“We’ve come up and, at the start, you looked at it and thought: ‘They’re a good team, they’re big payers.’ Maybe we under-estimated ourselves though.
“We knew we were a good team. Maybe we didn’t know just how good we are. We want to be where Wolves are now, on top. We’ve got the ability, we’ve just got to keep working hard and stick to our principles. Then, we’ll give ourselves a chance.”
As United consider how best to rediscover the ruthless streak that made them such a formidable proposition at the beginning of the campaign, Wilder might be tempted to look towards his bench.
Billy Sharp - like the manager, a dyed-in-the-wool Blade - appeared just the man to lift them against Wednesday yet, with new signing James Wilson preferred as a substitute, remained on the bench.
Although Wilson’s entrance made sense given the flow of the contest at that time, Sharp’s hustle, bustle and uncompromising approach could be exactly what is required at such a pivotal stage.
After all, having scored eight times in 14 outings before losing his place in the starting 11, the United captain formed an impressive partnership with the prolific Leon Clarke.
“With the set of lads we’ve got, the money is irrelevant,” Moore, referring to United’s financial constraints, said. “We want to work hard for each other and the gaffer has created an environment where everyone wants to work for each other.
“I get on with everybody but I’ve never been in an environment like this. It was phenomenal last season and it’s carried on this season.
“On top of that, we’ve got some unbelievable players. People were thinking: ‘Sheffield United will be happy to be midtable.’ But we want to show them that we’re not. I know a lot of people who thought we’d be down the bottom.”
Moore, aged 27, recovered from injury to make an exceptional save from Wednesday’s Adam Reach towards the end of Friday’s game after Wednesday’s Joe Wildsmith, who saw his captain, Glenn Loovens, dismissed midway through the second period, had also excelled himself to thwart Clayton Donaldson.
“If you keep a clean sheet, you’ll always be guaranteed something,” Moore said. “So hopefully we’ll keep a few more. I came for the punch and Stearsy (Richard Stearman) got there before me and headed it away. I was just winded, that’s all. But I had to get up to make that save.
“We work our nuts off. Training is really intense and we’ve brought a few new players in now. People know there is someone waiting to take their place. I think we’ve done well and are inches away from doing even better.”