Neither side could be separated in the 130th Steel City Derby, despite Sheffield United dominating the match and having a first-half penalty saved at Bramall Lane.
David McGoldrick had a dubious spot-kick parried away by Cameron Dawson early in the first-half as United enjoyed the lion’s share of possession in the 0-0 draw.
Chances were few and far between, however, but Wednesday stopped a run of four straight defeats that saw them languish just above the drop-zone and recorded their first clean-sheet of the season.
The draw sends United up to second place, level on points with Leeds and Norwich, ahead of Saturday’s Championship fixtures.
The Blades made three changes with Chris Basham, fresh off a contract extension that sees him remain at the club until 2021, coming back into the starting eleven following a one match suspension. Mark Duffy shook off a groin injury as he came in for Paul Coutts, and McGoldrick partnered skipper Billy Sharp as former Owls frontman Leon Clarke watched from the bench.
Wednesday, meanwhile, who just a month ago were in the play-off places, made four changes as Morgan Fox, Jordan Thorniley, Ashley Baker and Michael Hector were all drafted into the starting line-up as the Owls began the match with six recognised defenders on the pitch.
Games like these, where form is forgotten about, often require that little bit of magic. When John Fleck got the ball out from underneath his feet before firing a shot from distance, it looked like the Lane was about to erupt within the five minutes. Dawson had to be alert to dive to his left and parry away the curling effort as Fleck cursed in frustration. It would’ve been some opener.
As Duffy appeared to be bundled over in the box by Fox after a quick interchange with McGoldrick, referee Andrew Madley pointed to the spot. It looked stonewall at first glance, but on reflection Duffy anticipated contact and went down easily.
Up stepped McGoldrick, then, who watched as his penalty was saved by Dawson in front of the Wednesday fans. Agony for United. A reprieve for the Owls. It wasn’t the cleanest of spot-kicks and it seemed a little rushed from someone often so composed but, given the circumstances, a fine save from the Wednesday ‘keeper nonetheless.
A speculative effort from Ollie Norwood looked to threaten just minutes after Steven Fletcher blazed a half-volley over for the Owls, but it curled over the bar and away from danger.
United were undoubtedly enjoying the better of possession but were just a little too intricate in the final third as Duffy and Fleck looked to pull the strings and carve out a chance.
Jos Luhukay, whose first fixture in charge of the Owls was this corresponding fixture last season, saw his side test the Blades a little more in the final ten minutes of the first-half after battling against the treacherous tide for much of the tie.
The Blades returned after the break on the front foot, with Wednesday camped inside their own half as United searched for the final product that was illusive for much of the contest.
Whether any side truly plays for a draw in a derby is questionable, but the Owls looked ready to pounce on the counter as United tried to pick the locks in the final third.
Sharp was feeding off scraps and couldn’t quite battle with the physicality of the Owls’ backline, but Kieron Freeman and Enda Stevens tried to stretch the game by hugging their respective touchlines.
The dam wasn’t breaking despite United’s best efforts to smash their way through, and Wednesday rode their luck at times as the ball ping-ponged in the box following a Norwood corner.
In an attempt to help his side’s cause, Wilder brought on former Wednesday frontman Clarke to fire up his men.
With six goals in his last six Football League appearances against the Owls, the striker knows exactly what it means to be a part of this fixture, especially after scoring two at Hillsborough in last season’s dramatic 4-2 win.
While it didn’t have the immediate effect it perhaps intended, it gave United, who had been on the front foot for over three quarters of the match, some fresh legs as Wednesday began to tire.
Norwood’s free-kick at the death should’ve threatened the Owls’ backline but it eluded all as it sailed out for a goal-kick. Marco Matias, on for Matt Penney, had a tame shot saved after he swiveled his man, but nothing could separate the sides despite United’s best efforts.
Sharp’s header flew wide in added time as the skipper’s dream of a derby goal flashed before him – it was the chance he’d been waiting all game for – and Dawson did well to parry a late Norwood set-piece.
A point that will undoubtedly frustrate Wilder after his side’s domination. Luhukay will be the happier man tonight.
Sheffield United: Henderson; Basham, Egan, O’Connell; Freeman, Norwood, Fleck, Stevens; Duffy; McGoldrick (Clarke, 75’), Sharp. Subs not used: Baldock, Stearman, Coutts, Johnson, Washington, Moore (GK)
Sheffield Wednesday: Dawson; Fox, Lees (C), Hector, Penney (Matias, 79’); Thorniley, Baker, Pelupessy, Bannan, Reach; Fletcher. Subs not used: Palmer, Pudil, Onomah, Nuhiu, Joao, Wildsmith (GK)
Referee: Andrew Madley
Bookings: Sheffield United: None
Sheffield Wednesday: Bannan (70’), Baker (86′), Hector (89’)
Scorers: Sheffield United: None
Sheffield Wednesday: None
HT score: 0-0
FT score: 0-0
Attendance: 30,261 (2,190 Wednesday fans)
Man of the Match: Jack O’Connell (Sheffield United)