Neither team could claim local bragging rights this time as Sheffield United were held to a 0-0 stalemate by Jos Luhukay’s Sheffield Wednesday at Bramall Lane.
Clayton Donaldson went closest for the Blades as his header was tipped over the crossbar before Daniel Pudil’s thunderous volley from the edge-of-the-box was a heart-in-mouth moment for the 29,000-odd Blades fans in attendance.
But 10-man Wednesday, who had skipper Glenn Loovens sent off for a second yellow card midway through the second-half, will take the result after a torrid run of recent results that saw them sit six points above the relegation zone prior to the match.
Adam Reach’s half-volley in the last minute, which was tipped over impressively by Simon Moore who went down injured seconds before the winger’s stunning effort, could’ve been the perfect start for the man in the away dugout.
As managerial debuts go, and Wednesday boss Luhukay is the first manager of either Sheffield club to have the derby as their first game in its 125-year history, this was certainly an introduction.
Sworn in as Carlos Carvalhal’s replacement, with the Portuguese joining Swansea City in the Premier League late December, Dutchman Luhukay is well aware of the task at hand.
With a point to prove after the 4-2 humiliation at Hillsborough in September, the extent to which the Owls have been hit with injuries can be seen with only David Jones, Ross Wallace and Reach fit to start from the reverse fixture.
With just four wins from their last 17 Championship matches since the derby, tonight was a chance to prove a point but they were on the back-foot immediately as John Lundstram’s lofted volley from a John Fleck corner bounced off the roof of the net.
Apart from a couple of wasted corners neither side managed to fashion many chances of note, although Jordan Rhodes headed a teasing cross from Liam Palmer wide early on and United failed to get on the end of an Enda Stevens cross that begged for a touch as it bounced along the face of goal.
The Blades were almost the contributors of their own downfall five minutes before the break when they momentarily stopped in anticipation of winning a free-kick after Stevens was upended. Referee David Coote waved away the protests, though, and the Owls hit them on the counter before Wallace eventually fired wide at the near post following tidy footwork from Lucas Joao.
But Mark Duffy had the final say of the first-half as his free-kick from the edge of the D dropped inches wide of the top corner as the referee blew for the interval.
With both sides very much locked level it looked like it may take something special to separate the two sides.
And it almost did.
A guided header from Donaldson was destined to loop into the top corner, but Joe Wildsmith leapt from nowhere to tip the goal-bound effort over the bar. Everyone thought it was in except for the Wednesday ‘keeper who has impressed since stepping in for the injured Kieren Westwood.
In less than a minute the Blades were forced to defend, and they could do nothing except watch on as Pudil’s volley from the edge of the area whistled inches wide of the far post.
Wednesday then almost punished the Blades for standing off in the box as Wallace was allowed too much time to turn before lashing a shot that Moore did well to collect.
Just as the Owls were beginning to threaten they were dealt a blow, however, as skipper Loovens was shown his marching orders for a second yellow after fouling Donaldson.
Twenty-five minutes with ten-men seemed like an eternity to the visitors as Chris Wilder’s side looked to push on after the introduction of James Wilson, signed on-loan from Manchester United – his first senior match since suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury in October 2016.
United certainly profited from the dismissal and enjoyed a lot more possession but the forward players remained starved of service despite Duffy pulling the strings in the middle. It was a dogged display for the Owls who recorded only their sixth clean-sheet of the season.
A cagey affair indeed with few and far chances between them, and Wednesday’s Reach had a chance to seal a winner in the last minute but his half-volley was tipped over.
As the Steel City Derby came to a close for this season, barring any FA Cup meetings of course, it’s one win for the Blades and a draw apiece.
And now the Blades will no doubt have the play-offs in sight after a promising start to the season while Wednesday know what more needs to be done and will surely use this as a basis for the remaining half of the campaign.
Sheffield United: Moore; Basham, O’Connell, Stearman; Baldock, Fleck, Lundstram, Stevens; Duffy; Clarke (C), Donaldson (Wilson, 66’). Subs not used: Sharp, Wilson, Wright, Leonard, L. Evans, Lafferty, Blackman.
Sheffield Wednesday: Wildsmith; Palmer, Venancio, Loovens (C), Pudil, Fox; Jones, Reach, Wallace (Clare, 90+1); Rhodes (Boyd, 70’), Joao (Nuhiu, 82′). Subs not used: Butterfield, Matias, Dawson, Thorniley.
Referee: Mr. David Coote
Scorers: Sheffield United: None
Sheffield Wednesday: None
Bookings: Sheffield United: None
Sheffield Wednesday: Loovens (24’, foul, 64’, foul), Venancio (44’, foul), Wallace (74’, dissent), Nuhiu (86′, foul)
Sent off: Sheffield United: None
Sheffield Wednesday: Glenn Loovens (64’, second bookable offence)
HT score: 0-0
FT score: 0-0
Attendance: 31,120 (2,218 from Sheffield Wednesday)
Man of the Match: Mark Duffy (Sheffield United)