Sheffield United will be hoping to strengthen their case for an automatic promotion spot when they travel to Hillsborough in Monday’s Sheffield Derby (4 March, 7:45pm KO).
The Blades secured a remarkable 4-2 win at Sheffield Wednesday last season, but they will face a much more formidable side this time around following the appointment of Steve Bruce.
The ex-Blades boss has steadied the ship at S6 after taking over at the start of the month, resulting in a seven match unbeaten run in the Championship.
A Steven Fletcher double saw Wednesday edge past Brentford on Tuesday night, with Bruce claiming it was the best performance he’s seen since he’s been at the club.
“Some of the stuff we played and the way we worked was terrific,” he said.
“I can’t fault them for their effort and endeavour. They’re working extremely hard and I can’t ask for more.
“We could have a really good end to the season. We’ve got a huge game (the Sheffield derby) to look forward to next Monday.”
United, on the other hand, have maintained their impressive form despite injury threatening to unravel their tight-knit squad.
Injuries to Jack O’Connell – who was forced to end a monumental run of 106 consecutive starts – and George Baldock twisted Chris Wilder’s arm into ditching his tried and tested system of three at the back.
His men have appeared to step-up, though, and recorded an impressive victory over West Brom thanks to Kieran Dowell’s headed effort in the first-half.
Both sides have strengthened since the 0-0 stalemate at Bramall Lane in November, too.
David McGoldrick – who saw his spot-kick saved in the contest – has Gary Madine and Scott Hogan vying for his place, with Billy Sharp smashing records across the board and meriting United’s armband.
Bruce is starting to stamp his own authority on a Wednesday side that were hovering precariously above the drop-zone following Jos Luhukay’s dismissal before the turn of the year.
Wolves defender Dominic Iorfa and Newcastle’s Rolando Aarons and Achraf Lazaar have added an extra dimension to the Owls’ attack, giving them a much needed zip to their play that was arguably lacking under their old boss.
They’ll be sweating on the fitness of striker Lucas Joao, however, with the joint top-scorer missing training at the start of the week.
Bruce told the Star: “Lucas could not train on Monday. He has not been comfortable with it (his knee). He is sore. He is touch and go for Monday. We are hoping for the best.
“If you are not right, it doesn’t matter how good a player you are.
“It is always difficult if you are not 100 percent.”