Megson and Owls need to win

Npower League Division One 'Sheffield United vs PNE''Ched Evans 1st goal
Npower League Division One 'Sheffield United vs PNE''Ched Evans 1st goal

The derby dynamic has changed. Suddenly it’s a game Sheffield Wednesday have to win rather than one either side might otherwise settle simply for not losing.

And the personal stakes are potentially huge for Gary Megson.

So will the force be back with Megson and his physically powerful team? Or will Sheffield United have the finesse to edge out their rivals at Hillsborough?

To answer question two you must ask what the Blades will do about question one. There is little doubt or surprise that Danny Wilson’s side, more expensive and boasting pedigree at a higher level, are looking the more cultured outfit.

But Megson has the height, power and tactical acumen that could bring the sides level in a one-off match such as this. And there is also the crowd factor; the sheer fervour generated by the Hillsborough hordes and the feeling that no set of fans has more pride in their club than Wednesday’s despite recent events.

Go back to Bramall Lane in early season and it’s hard not to conclude that the Owls were the more threatening side overall in that 2-2 draw, regardless of their late comeback. Certainly, they forced more goalscoring opportunities across the 90 minutes.

There was also a riposte from Megson to my reference here to a clash of styles. He felt - and still feels - Wednesday are wrongly labelled in that regard.

The Owls boss has a point, not least that there is no right or wrong way - barring dirty play and gamesmanship - to win a game of football. In that regard, we can be assured that no two teams, or managers, are more principled in their approach than Megson and Wilson.

For me, Mark Halsey is the perfect refereeing appointment as a great man-manager who will know that there is nothing more sinister afoot than both sides being fiercely competitive. Hopefully, it will be as good a spectacle as the Bramall Lane clash in which young referee Michael Oliver excelled despite the hairline controversy over Gary Madine’s leveller at the death.

So, however highly charged the occasion, footballing strengths and weaknesses should decide it. Or it will be the draw that most of us, I think, would take refuge in as the safest prediction? What’s fascinating is how United will cope with the kind of pressure, pumped up by crowd volume, that Wednesday are likely to assert. By that, I don’t mean a route one assault. The perception of Megson as a long-ball manager is false. He likes his players to get the ball down and move the ball quickly, albeit forwards rather than sideways and at a high tempo.

Where the aerial aspect comes in is from set-pieces where Wednesday must try to re-impose an advantage in height and strength. That’s a big test not only for the impressive alliance of Harry Maguire and Neill Collins but the whole United side when it comes to discipline in a crowded area.

For the rest, the Blades are set up to be smoother in possession, a touch more creative - if they are allowed - and boasting a red-hot striker in Ched Evans.

Their cause has been helped by the absence of Jermaine Johnson, a big match player who has been the scourge of United in the past.

Without him, will the Owls find the inspiration to match their perspiration?

I’m tilting towards United and the formbook on this occasion but the extra dynamic - the uncertainty surrounding Megson - is a variable that could work either way. It’s far from ideal for Wednesday’s preparation but Megson commands undoubted loyalty from his players and a good percentage of a crowd who can count him as one of their own.

It is an emotional undercurrent that makes this game all the more impossible to call with any confidence.