Tonight, Sheffield United visit the KC Stadium, a team whom we have failed to beat at any venue in the League since October 1983, when goals from Brian Marwood (2), Steve McClaren and Les Mutrie crafted a 4-1 win at the Ark. The Blades would laugh last, however, infamously gaining promotion at City’s expense without kicking a ball as the Tigers won 2-0 at Burnley, when only 3-0 would do.
This fixture was the most frequent Yorkshire derby of those mad old, bad old days of high fencing and high police overtime rates. However, after the Blades’ promotion to the top flight in 1990 and the Tigers’ relegation to the third tier a year later, followed by the collapse of quality and sincerity that defined the rest of the 1990s, close to a whole generation of supporters were denied a re-run of those tasty, spiky occasions. Then, in 2005, City won promotion to the Championship, which Sheffield United had rejoined a decade before.
The Blades, under Neil Warnock, paid their first visit to the Circle in January 2006. City, with Peter Taylor at the helm, had enjoyed a mixed time of it in their first season at this level for 15 years, and were not favourites on a bitter winter’s night. Yet the frostiness of the evening was not matched on the pitch and it was, for a good while, the roister-doister of a battle that men in their 40s had missed greatly since the days of being penned in and covered in the purest saliva that Darnall and Ecclesall had to offer.
The Tigers took the lead when Jason Price, so often a player who flattered to deceive, bent a left-footed half-volley around the eyebrowless, ham-gloved Paddy Kenny and celebrated in typically rhythmic fashion in front of E1. He’d scored a ludicrously late – and far less spectacular – winner against Sheffield Wednesday three weeks before and was a genuine flavour of the month with both fans and manager. Inevitably, therefore, Taylor would sell him within a fortnight.
It was such a special goal, worthy of the occasion for both its beauty and its effect on the Sheffield United contingent, an admirably loud, plentiful and snarling bunch far worthier of their team than the less vocal lot dressed in blue and white from the northerly patch of their city. They initially went very quiet, as one does when such a special goal enters your net right in front of you, before responding in kind with some seriously defiant noise. The stadium, frankly, was bedlam, with the Tiger Nation loudly celebrating and the visiting fans loudly encouraging their side – a far more talented outfit, as their league position showed – to get back into it.
And so they did. Luckily, and then controversially. It is the way of things when the game is between these two.