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A professional always has something to play for

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Michael Gray | 16:29 UK time, Thursday, 22 April 2010

After all the hype surrounding the 125th Steel City derby, we have been straight back down to earth this week preparing for Saturday's vital trip to Cardiff City.

The Sheffield derby is always a huge occasion and, with more than 35,000 fans at Hillsborough last Sunday, the atmosphere was electric. The supporters helped us to a 1-1 draw - the fans had been looking forward to the game as much as the players - and the occasion certainly didn't disappoint. It wasn't pretty, that's for sure, but derbies rarely are.

The way the game unfolded made us feel that we should have taken all three points, but unfortunately Lee Williamson fired in a free-kick off the back post to cancel out Darren Potter's first-half goal. It was gut wrenching for us, to be honest, but if you look at the match as a whole you would probably say a draw was a fair result. Neither team really took their chances.

Darren Potter scores for Sheffield Wednesday
Darren Potter's volley opened the scoring in the Sheffield derby

It was a proper, old-fashioned kind of derby, not so much like modern-day football where you get the ball down and play. There was a lot of hustle and bustle, with tackles flying in, but the crowd certainly appreciated that. When the fans see you getting stuck in, they really get behind you. I wasn't on the pitch so I could hear a lot more of the noise. It really was impressive.

Wednesday-United is a fixture for which no player needs any extra inspiration to give of their all. It's the first game you look for when the fixture list comes out. For it to come around so close to the end of the season, with so much at stake for Wednesday, gave it an even greater sense of occasion. I thought the lads gave a great account of themselves and the work ethic was terrific.

The rub of the green probably went against us a bit and we missed out on three crucial points. But it was a stirring and gritty display, just what we need at this stage of the campaign as games are running out.

Our manager, Alan Irvine, told us before kick-off how big the game was. He said we'd all played in derby games before, and, therefore knew what it was all about. He wanted us to give the bragging rights to the Wednesday supporters, so the lads knew they had to give everything that they'd got.

We've got a lot more to play for than Sheffield United at the moment. They can't get into the play-offs so their season is effectively over. But they tried to put a dent in our chances of remaining in the Championship. They looked to frustrate us on the pitch but I thought our team dealt with that well.

Lee Williamson scores for Sheffield United
The Blades equalised when a free kick from Lee Williamson (not pictured) sailed straight in

Now we go to Cardiff needing a result to be sure that the relegation scrap will go down to the final day of the season. We need to approach Saturday's match in exactly the same way as we did the derby. It's a huge, huge game for us again. We know what we need to do now and we have to give everything to make sure we stay up.

When he took over, the manager said he thought it may go down to the last game and it certainly looks like that is on the cards. We play Crystal Palace at home in our final game and a big crowd could make a massive difference for us. But first we have to get something out of our trip to south Wales.

Cardiff have qualified for the play-offs but if anyone thinks they might take their foot off the gas, then they should think again. Last season, we played them on the final day and they needed a point to finish in the top six. Some people would say we had nothing to play for because we were mid-table with no chance of going up or going down but we won the game 1-0 and Cardiff didn't get into the play-offs because Preston beat QPR.

For a footballer, it's all about being professional, for both sides. Every game you play in, you want to win. You've got to do the job put in front of you. Cardiff will want to beat Sheffield Wednesday because they are professionals and we want the win for totally different reasons. I'm sure both sides will be going hell for leather, but we have to make sure we win it.

Strangely, our relegation rivals Crystal Palace don't play their penultimate game until Monday, whereas all the other Championship matches take place on Saturday. We just have to focus on our job. We are one point behind Palace with an inferior goal difference so it is all about what we do. If we don't get the result we want at Cardiff, then Palace know if they get something against West Brom they will be practically safe.

We have only lost two of our last nine games but we have had a couple of matches which should have been wins rather than draws. While we are not an easy team to beat right now, we would be a lot closer to safety if we had held out for a couple more victories.

Our supporters have been fantastic all season - home and away - and I expect Owls fans to be just as loud as Cardiff's this weekend, even if they are likely to be outnumbered. We want them to go home with big smiles on their faces and we are going to try to put on the best performance we can.


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