The build up to the game was immense, and it was said to be one of the toughest Sheffield derby matches to call for years, but Wednesday picked up one of their most comfortable victories over the red and white side of Sheffield for many years on Saturday afternoon.
A first half tap-in from Akpo Sodje followed up by a Marcus Tudgay strike in the second half gave Wednesday all three points against their closest rivals and leave Blades fans wondering what next for their men and the future of boss Bryan Robson.
The Owls received a huge boost going in to the clash with the news that star striker Akpo Sodje was given the green light to partner Marcus Tudgay in attack, although Francis Jeffers failed a late fitness test and Steve Watson was also fit enough to start in the bench.
Jermaine Johnson was also included in the starting eleven by boss Brian Laws while new signing Ronnie Wallwork got his first run-out in the blue and white stripes in front of the Hillsborough faithful.
Blades boss Robson included two former Owls in his starting line-up in the shape of Leigh Bromby and Derek Geary while former Owls target David Carney was also included in the starting eleven for a Blades side who came in to the clash on the back of two victories.
Many Sheffield derby clashes in recent seasons have produced less-than-impressive displays for the spectators, but the first of the 2007-08 campaign started in fast-paced action with Jermaine Johnson showing the early intent with a superb run, evading a number of challenges along the way, before his lacklustre finish went straight in to the arms of Paddy Kenny.
The early attacking flair on show from the Owls lifted the Hillsborough crowd, and in turn gave the eleven in blue and white renewed confidence following their disappointing 1-0 defeat at Cardiff City last weekend.
Wednesday remained confident in the opening ten minutes as the lacklustre Blades offered little in response, Gary Speed offering the first attack on Lee Grant’s goal when he came inches short of a dangerous Lee Martin corner kick.
The early exchanges of the first half proved even, with both sides carving out a number of half chances at either end, the dangerous Rob Hulse coming close from a Carney cross while Marcus Tudgay blasted high and wide at the other end as both sides looked for a breakthrough.
Mark Beevers was making his first start in a Sheffield derby up against the experienced Rob Hulse, and although the former Leeds striker had only recently returned from a long-term injury lay-off, the highly-rated Owls defender was putting in a top-notch forward against his powerful target man.
Another Owls’ youngster to be playing in his first Steel City clash was Tommy Spurr, and the left-back was also enjoying a fine debut both in defence, and offering support to the Owls’ midfield and attack at the other end of the pitch.
And it was on the 25th minute when the game burst in to life as Sodje arrived on time to smash home from point blank range from a Jermaine Johnson cross and send the majority of the Hillsborough crowd in to hysterics.
The jet-heeled Owls winger had been causing his marker problems throughout the opening exchanges and his dangerous cross fell straight at the feet of the Owls’ top scorer who couldn’t fail to miss in front of the travelling Blades’ fans.
The visitors did create their chances but they were few and far between as Wednesday were comfortable with all Robson’s charges had to throw at them.
And the Owls’ could well have taken an increased advantage in to the break as Sodje shot wide following good build-up play from Burton O’Brien, who Tudgay also forced a top-class save from Kenny from a superb over-head kick.
Half-Time: Wednesday 1-0 United
The under-fire Robson can’t have been happy with the display from his eleven in the first half and he duly made two changes with former Owls target Billy Sharp coming on to replace Nick Montgomery while Keith Gillespie replaced the poor Carney.
And the changes seemed to work instantly for the visitors, as they remained camped inside the Wednesday half for the first 15 minutes of the second half as the Wednesday defence held firm.
Glenn Whelan did have a chance for Wednesday straight after the restart, Glenn Whelan firing a long-range effort straight in to the arms of Kenny.
But from then on, United continued to push forward in search of the leveller, with Sharp coming the closest of the lot as his looping effort was superbly tipped over the bar from Grant to the frustration of the former Scunthorpe man – clearly desperate to bag against his arch-rivals, and his former boss.
And veteran Gary Speed also saw his header from a Lee Martin cross cleared off the line by the impressive Whelan as Wednesday continued to deny United time and time again in a frantic opening to the second half.
But the Owls weathered the storm, although they had to replace Sodje on the hour mark, as Leon Clarke came on to partner Tudgay in attack, and the former Wolves man forced an early corner as Wednesday started to grab another hold on the game.
And the out-of-favour Clarke almost put his name down in Wednesday history as he turned his marker on the edge of the box but placed a tame effort in to the arms of Kenny when he should have done better.
But the moves were promising for the Owls fans, who sensed a second was coming, and it did with Clarke involved again as his head-on found the foot of Tudgay who turned and launched an un-stoppable effort by Kenny to make it 2-0 and just about game, set and match.
Indeed, Wednesday could, and probably should, have made it 3-0 and put the icing on the cake just a matter of minutes later as Whelan put Clarke in, but the Owls’ hitman sliced his effort wide of goal when he should again have done better from just a matter of yards out.
Wednesday fans and management alike could well have expected a United onslaught in the latter stages but it never materialised, and Wednesday ran out comfortable winners to take the bragging rights in offices and factories around Sheffield, for the time being at least.
COME ON YOU BLUE AND WHITE WIZARDS!!!
Full-Time: Wednesday 2-0 United
Wednesday: Grant, Bullen, Hinds, Beevers, Spurr, Johnson (Small 79), Whelan, Wallwork, O’Brien, Sodje (Clarke 61), Tudgay. Unused subs: Wood, Esajas, Burton.
United: Kenny, Geary, Kilgallon, Bromby, Montgomery (Gillespie 45), Tonge, Speed, Carney (Sharp 45), Armstrong, Hulse, Martin. Unused subs: Naysmith, Stead, Ehiogu.
Brian Laws told SWFC.co.uk:
‘We are all ecstatic, there’s no doubt about it, we are delighted for the football club and the supporters, who have suffered without a derby win for such a long time,’ Laws beamed. ‘I hope that goes a long way to taking that bit of suffering away, they have got some bragging rights now and they haven’t seen that for a long time.
‘It was a magnificent occasion today, the supporters were absolutely outstanding from start to finish and gave the feeling about the place that if you were to get that week in week out, what could you do with it? It is electrifying and it certainly gave everyone a spur today.’
Bryan Robson told SUFC.co.uk:
‘I have seen enough of the lads and given them enough chances this season but I believe we need a drastic shake-up.
‘There have been enough excuses, we can’t keep saying that we are good enough to get to the play-offs with a good run of results and then failing.
‘Although you cannot write off the play-offs just yet we can’t keep kidding ourselves. We have kept thinking we have turned the corner, but now maybe I think that for some players the expectations on them have been too much.’