Six games without a win, the drop zone looms over the Sky Blues despite midweek results going our way. This game against Sheffield United is one that many are expecting us to lose but a win here would give the team confidence after some better performances in recent weeks. The Blades though present a considerable obstacle and have won two league games whilst we’ve been twiddling our thumbs over the past 10 days.
It would help if Steven Pressley can finally show that he has settled on a starting line-up and style of play. Injuries haven’t helped but too often it has seemed like players are still learning how to play with each other, which consequently makes it hard for the team to play at the high intensity levels that Steven Pressley demands. We are a more entertaining team since the recent injection of pace but the time for experimentation is over, it’s either get this right or get relegated.
Although Frank Nouble and Reda Johnson are still out through injury, there are still selection decisions for Pressley to make. Adam Barton and John Fleck never really convince as a midfield partnership, offering little else than their tendency to slow play down in the middle of the park. Barton had a more impressive 90 minutes against Scunthorpe but Fleck came up with the assist for the goal and is also a player that Pressley has rarely dropped when he had the choice. Pressley might well stick with the duo given that Conor Thomas has been out of favour of late and Jack Finch was pencilled in to start on Thursday’s called-off under-21 game.
Sanmi Odelusi is close to full fitness but it seems like this game might come too soon. Luke Williams has looked like a good player in his first two appearances for the club without ever really making a big impact on the game. Blair Turgott is a work in progress but may get a chance off the bench after impressing in the under-21s last week. There is the potential for changes in the midfield but Pressley may be more inclined to stick with the combination that dominated possession against Scunthorpe.
The return of Andy Webster to full fitness could mean another shake-up in defence. Pennnington and Martin were okay against Scunthorpe but were far from convincing as a partnership and Pressley could justifiably re-call Webster on that basis. Webster also has the fact that he played so well in our last meeting against Sheffield United going for him, if he’s fit enough, expect the Scot to pick the Scot. Ryan Haynes could probably do with more time out of the team at and Jordan Willis has been adequate as an emergency left-back in recent weeks.
Possible Line Up: (4-4-2) Jones; Pennington, Martin, Webster, Willis; O’Brien, Fleck, Barton, Williams; Tudgay, Samuel.
Last Time We Met
Although most Sky Blues fans will always regard Sheffield United as being one of the most difficult teams to overcome, our recent record against the Blades has been pretty good. The most recent meeting came in August at Sixfields, Sheffield United dominated the opening 20 minutes of the game before a brilliant Ryan Allsop save kept out Michael Higdon and the momentum turned. We struggled to carve out too many clear cut opportunities, a forward line of fans’ favourite Marcus Tudgay and Josh McQuoid will do that for you. But we ran out victors after Jim O’Brien forced an own goal following an accurate Ryan Haynes cross to seal the win.
Our last trip to Bramall Lane was emblematic of our tail-off at the end of last season. Nathan Delfouneso gave us the lead after he pounced off a deflected pass from John Fleck. However that was the cue for the Blades to take over and they strolled to an eventual 2-1 victory with a lachrymose Coventry City unable to summon the effort to retaliate.
How Are They Doing?
With the distractions of their heroics in cup competitions now over, Sheffield United have now got down to the business of chasing promotion from the division. Prior to February 10th, Sheffield United had won just two league games from their past ten. Nigel Clough’s side have now won their past three games and are in ominous form.
Part of the reason that things have improved so markedly has been a spate of signings in January that bolstered a squad that had already looked to be brimming with talent. Most notably, Premier League quality full-back John Brayford has returned to Bramall Lane after surprisingly being deemed surplus to requirements at Cardiff. A fans’ favourite, Brayford should not be playing League One football and his signing demonstrate the resources available at Bramall Lane.
Nigel Clough also added attacking midfielders Jason Holt, Matt Done and Paul Coutts alongside versatile full-back Kieron Freeman. Matt Done has settled straight into Sheffield United’s starting 11 and has scored four in his first three games for the club. It’s a far cry from where Done was last season where he was struggling for game time at League Two Rochdale and had to fill in at left-back.
Another man in form is Jamie Murphy who can play in any position across the frontline and has nearly doubled his season’s goal tally across his last four league appearances. Other attacking threats to watch out for are goal poacher Marc McNulty, wingers Ryan Flynn and Jamal Campbell-Ryce, the pacey Che Adams as well as the impish creative midfielder Stefan Scougall. That’s not forgetting the ludicrously gifted Louis Reed in central midfield, Sheffield United have an embarrassment of riches in this area of the pitch.
Sheffield United have struggled at times in defence where Nigel Clough’s infamous propensity to tinker with the side has arguably robbed them of defensive stability. More recently it has been the partnership of converted midfield brute Chris Basham and yet another gifted young talent in Terry Kennedy that have been given a run in the team together. With the defence looking sorted, there are few genuine areas of weakness in Sheffield United’s team barring the sense that they are still prone to getting caught out by organised defensive units when playing at Bramall Lane.
Possible Line-Up: (4-2-3-1) Turner; Brayford, Basham, Kennedy, Harris; Reed, Doyle; Coutts, Holt, Done; Murphy
If we go into this game believing that we are beaten, we will lose. It’s important for the players to believe that they can get something out of this game because we may well need the points here in our battle against the drop. We need to start the game with a high level of intensity rather than trying to ease into it as we have so often done under Steven Pressley. Sheffield United have the players to punish us for playing the ball too slow and being sloppy in possession and if we don’t impose ourselves on the game from the very first minute, this could be a very heavy defeat.
I’m trying to be optimistic and part of me sees this as the game that proves that Pressley has found the right course for this team with fans’ favourite Marcus Tudgay in amongst the goals. Applying rational logic, can I see that actually happening? No. 2-1 win for Sheffield United.