Sheffield United Fan’s Column: So who will turn into Lionel Messi during the Steel City derby?

Who will turn into Lionel Messi tonight?
Who will turn into Lionel Messi tonight?

United’s and Wednesday’s records over the last nine league matches are exactly the same (W1 D3 L5), but the moods of the two clubs could hardly be more different.

United should have won five of the games they did not, whereas from what I’ve read and heard, Wednesday have been pretty dismal most weeks. United’s players have been applauded off the pitch after each of their four home defeats, whereas those who remain at Hillsborough when Wednesday have lost either boo or are too apathetic to do so.

United’s most recent league performance was at Derby, where they dominated the second-placed home team in every meaningful statistical category (except the one that counts!). Wednesday, meanwhile, were “abject” (Radio Sheffield’s word) in their home defeat to struggling Burton Albion. Even Wednesday’s one win in this period came from the predictable ‘bounce’ after sacking the manager. That didn’t last long, and by all accounts they were worse against Brentford and Burton than anything they produced under Carlos.

I’m not highlighting all these points to claim that United are so much better than Wednesday (although the League table suggests that they are). It’s because results and performances over a number of weeks mean nothing when it comes to a derby match. Expect Wednesday to be a completely different team for that one, especially now they have a new manager in place, an event that normally spurs previously under-performing players into passable imitators of Lionel Messi or Bobby Moore.

Southend United manager Phil Brown was Radio 5Live’s commentary summariser for the Shrewsbury Town v West Ham United FA Cup tie on Sunday. Brown was talking about a particularly rapid Shrewsbury player (sorry, I didn’t catch who) but my ears pricked up when he mentioned Ryan Leonard. Brown then described an incident earlier in the season when the Shrimpers played the Shrews. This involved Leonard and said Shrewsbury man chasing after the ball. Said Brown: “That was some race. Leonard is our fastest player.”

If that’s the case, it’ll be nice to see him playing a part for United before the end of the season (unless, of course, all Southend’s other players are especially slow), because United don’t possess great pace anywhere on the pitch. Nobody is a slouch, but a bit of footspeed in the team never hurts.