DERBY matches such as Saturday’s clash between Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday are big games that generate a lot of energy, interest and passion because of the proximity of the clubs.
It’s great that we have clubs in and around the same divisions being able to battle it out, especially when you look at where they are in the league and what is potentially at stake.
Obviously we are still a fair few games away from the end of the season but it’s a chance for teams to be able to lay down a bit of a marker.
Wednesday need to bounce back from defeat to Brentford in midweek whereas Leeds seem to have managed the little blip they had relatively well.
Both defences have been solid at times but then you also look at the attacking play they can both conjure, with the likes of Chris Wood and Pablo Hernandez for Leeds. Then you look at what Wednesday have added in recent weeks and – hopefully – there will be plenty of goals and plenty of excitement. I played for both clubs which was a tremendous privilege. To compare the two does both sets of fans a disservice because when you are a fan of a club, you love that club for all your worth.
To compare the two is a tough one but there’s passion you feel for the fans and I think any football fan wants to see somebody who, hopefully, cares about what they do and where they are and who they are playing. I still live in Yorkshire and you do come across a lot of fans of both sides and they have always been absolutely lovely. When I say about it being a privilege to play for both it genuinely was, and when I look back I can think: “Wow, I played for those two and they are both pretty big!”
I’m very proud if it and you absolutely do not take it for granted sitting on this side of the fence now watching, hopefully, purely as a football fan. It’s going to be tremendously tight in the race to get promoted to the Premier this year and what Garry Monk will be preaching is just to take each game as it comes. You look at the six-point gap to the play-offs and it’s comfortable enough for Leeds – as long as they turn over Fulham.
But you can’t discount that small bracket behind the play-off pack and you look at the surge that Norwich have been on. It’s wonderful the way it’s balanced for us and it’s a test of mettle for Leeds.
I spoke last week about them being able to manage expectation levels, but also for themselves because they are on the cusp of something where, at the start of the season, you’d have sounded quite fanciful saying first and foremost that it would be a relatively stress-free year and a relatively straightforward year.
To be in the position that they can be, to consolidate a position in the play-offs, the Leeds fans and the more realistic Leeds fans would have taken that definitely. Sky are covering the game on Saturday and then the Brighton v Reading one, but we are doing them both in the studio so I won’t actually be on-site unfortunately as it’s a wonderful occassion.
It’s a bit of a cliche but the players have to play the game the right way. These games can make for quite fiery affairs which I think both sets of fans would want. Both sets of fans are not exactly shrinking violets and quiet which makes playing in these games such a privilege really. Considering where they are and considering what we have seen from both managers, who can get passionate about what is going on on the pitch, it’s got the ingredients of something pretty special. I think the key is playing as sensibly as you can in what is, ultimately, an emotional game. It’s all about managing your emotions.
If you look at the players that are involved – the likes of Pontus Jansson, Kyle Bartley, Liam Bridcutt and then for Wednesday, Tom Lees if he’s fit, Glenn Loovens – they are the kind of players that have the ability to play in matches of this type of pressure and this type of calibre.
Fundamentally, they all know what to do with a football and how to play the formation that the manager sets out and the managers have to rely on their teams to be able to go out there and be composed, calm and make the right decisions more often than the opposition. It’s whoever manages their emotions, whoever gets the slight rub of the green. Also from an officiating point of view – the referee has got to have a strong, decisive game.
For me, from a work point of view, it’s about having a slight toe in both camps. There is a real fondness and love I have for both clubs which I don’t think ever leaves you really. From the point of view of an allegiance, I will keep my professional head on and just say I hope it’s a cracking game of football.
Forthcoming Championship fixtures on Sky Sports:
Tonight: Wolverhampton Wanderers v Birmingham City (Sky Sports 1, kick-off 7.45pm).
Saturday: Leeds United v Sheffield Wednesday (Sky Sports 1, kick-off 12.30pm); Brighton & Hove Albion v Reading (Sky Sports 1, kick-off 5.30pm).
Sunday: Norwich City v Ipswich Town (Sky Sports 2, kick-off noon).