Gary Megson’s only concern at Sheffield Wednesday is that his side wins. Photograph: John Rushworth/Action Images
Danny Wilson has devoted recent months to an ambitious re-branding exercise designed to banish long-ball football from Bramall Lane but, providing they win, Sheffield United‘s manager will not care if his players revive memories of the Dave Bassett eraon Sunday.
Ever since his installation last May, Wilson has reiterated a pledge to transform United into a bastion of patient, sweet-passing, possession football, so this initially seems a startling departure.
Placed in the context of the first Sheffield derby staged in England’s third tier for 31 years, though, this win-at-all costs mentality immediately becomes eminently understandable.
“Winning is everything so achieve it by any means necessary; do whatever it takes,” Wilson, a former player and manager at Sheffield Wednesday, is reported to have said to hisÂ squad ahead of a fixture at BramallÂ Lane that, quite apart from the considerable local pride at stake, promises to influence the League One promotionÂ race.
After four successive wins, Gary Megson’s Wednesday began the weekend second while two successive league defeats allied to a mini goal drought had seen United drop to seventh. The pair are now fourth and ninth after Saturday’s results.
Wilson’s Hillsborough heritage ensures he is still regarded with suspicion by some Blades fans. Yet at least the manager who had Barnsley fans chanting “It’s just like watching Brazil” as his old team sweet-passed their way into the Premier League back in 1997 is not about to repeat the mistake of a famous Bramall Lane predecessor.
In January 2008 Bryan Robson, then in charge of United, prepared for a Steel City derby by suggesting the game merely represented “just another threeÂ points”. It met with a similarly hostile reception to that which greeted Ruud Gullit when, a decade earlier, the then Newcastle manager claimed matches against Sunderland were “nothing special”.
Happily, Wilson is not about to fall into the same trap. “This derby’s going to be something else,” he says. “The atmosphere will be superb, it’s going to be incredibly intense. It’s a chance for my lads to go down in the history of this football club.
“I don’t want any player to underestimate this derby or what it means to the fans, and we’ve got to be ready. I can safely say we’re going to have to be prepared for a high-tempo game. It’s going to be hammer and tongs out there.”
While United boast the collective experience of Stephen Quinn, Nick Montgomery and the one-time Hillsborough striker Richard Cresswell, they are up against a Wednesday ensemble whose pragmatic style under Megson has not prevented them producing League One’s most incisive predator in Gary Madine.
The 21-year-old striker’s 10 goals in 12 league games have had Hillsborough reverberating to the strains of “GaryÂ Madine â€“ Goal Machine” while transporting him to the top of the division’s scoring charts. His likely duel with United’s immensely promising teenage central defender Harry Maguire promises to provide a fascinatingÂ subplot.
“It’s all down to me getting quality ballsÂ in the box,” Madine claims, somewhat modestly, but Megson’s directÂ approach is clearly doing his gameÂ no harm.
Neither,Â significantly, do the weekly squad running sessions â€“ beloved by Wednesday’s manager but decried byÂ some coaches as hopelessly old-fashioned â€“ seem to beÂ damaging the promotion hopes of aÂ team much improvedÂ by the installation of the 6ftÂ 7in former Scunthorpe centre-half Rob Jones, a boyhood Owls fan and now their captain.
Bolstered by Wednesday’s best start to a campaign for 30 years, Megson points to the straightforward values that underpin the success. “Winning,” he says. “It’s all about winning. When I played here under Howard Wilkinson I remember Howard talking about enjoying games and I told him I found that a strange thing to try and do. Enjoyment comes only from winning.”
On Sunday Wilson will, for once, fully agree.