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PREVIEW: Blades travel to the Hawthorns for six-point clash

Sheffield United are able to go four points clear of their West-Midlands based promotion rivals, with a victory at the historic Hawthorns.

Chris Wilder’s team head into this fixture, following their largest win of the campaign. Annihilating relegation-bound Reading 4-0, with new-signing Gary Madine opening his Blades account with a brace in front of the United faithful.

On the other hand, West Brom’s squad have had to prepare for this marquee match with significantly less rest, as they travelled to QPR midweek. Resting key midfielders Gareth Barry, and Rakeem Harper, Darren Moore’s side were still able to snatch the three points in the 94th winner through Jake Livermore.

Sheffield United v West Bromwich Albion - Sky Bet Championship : News Photo

Kieran Gibbs celebrates scoring against Sheffield United at Bramall Lane, December 2018

Additionally, starlet Dwight Gayle is also set to return for the televised fixture, having served a two-match ban after being punished by the Football Association for successful deception of a match official. The 28-year-old is likely to replace Jefferson Montero in the starting 11, who scored his first Baggies goal at Loftus Road.

For the Blades, Chris Basham is available again following his suspension. The versatile defender has served a two-match for 10 yellow cards, and could be recalled to the starting lineup on Saturday.

Moreover, George Baldock and Jack O’Connell have both been undergoing treatment for calf and hamstring injuries respectively, with Wilder being very hopeful that the pair can be included in the match day squad. Dynamic goal scoring duo Billy Sharp and David McGoldrick could also be brought back into the team after the duo, who have scored a combined 33 league goals, were rested against Reading.

Inevitably, Moore and Wilder mutually will be in desperate need for a fully-fit squad going into this six-point clash, as boths team will be hoping they can promote their bid for an automatic promotion spot, with a declared victory.

Match Stats:

West Brom are looking to complete a league double over the South-Yorkshire based side for the first time since the 1998/99 campaign.

The Blades haven’t beaten West Brom at the Hawthorns since October 2003, when they won 2-0 with goals from Michael Tonge and Ashley Ward.

The Baggies have kept fewer home clean sheets than any other Championship club this season, only maintain two.

United skipper Billy Sharp has scored with all eight of his headed shots on target this season, making him the most prolific aerial threat in the division.

Jay Rodriguez has been involved in 14 goals in 16 league games at the Hawthorns, having scored 10 goals, and providing four assists.

Wilder’s men have lost only one of their last 11 league fixtures, winning seven, and drawing three.

 

 

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Sharp shines again, as United lace pressure on the top two

Sheffield United boosted their automatic promotion hopes with an effortless win over relegation-threatened Bolton Wanderers. 

Chris Wilder’s side as predicted dominated the first half, and we’re unlucky not to take a first half lead. Scottish midfielder John Fleck was denied in the 41st minute, as Bolton’s Gary O’Neil managed to get a last-ditch touch on the ball to send it for a corner.

However, David McGoldrick managed to put the Blades ahead, connecting onto a low-cross from his strike partner Billy Sharp, following a great showing of pace and strength from the skipper. Moments later, the Wanderers came very close to an equaliser but forward Sammy Ameobi was unable to convert Jason Lowe’s whipped cross.

Captain Sharp then went on to secure the three points for his side, with a close-range header following a set-piece situation, which was finely swung into the six-yard box by Ollie Norwood.

Phil Parkinson’s side may have had to leave Bramall Lane empty handed, but an admirable defensive display in front of immense pressure from the Blades, will surely give them some positives to take away.

The opener from McGoldrick was his fifth goal in his last seven appearances for United, his 11th for the season. Whilst, Sharp netted his 19th league goal of the campaign, making them the joint-most prolific strike-pairing in the division, tied on goals with West Brom’s Dwight Gayle, and Jay Rodriguez.

The three points temporarily placed Chris Wilder’s team into second place, although have recently slipped back down to third due to Norwich’s victory at Elland Road. Despite this, United still sit in a fantastic position, only three points behind both Norwich and Leeds with a positive goal difference over their rivals.

Analysing United’s style of play during the game, they again succeeded at controlling and dictating the play for a high percentage of the match, whilst using their natural fitness and short passing ability to wear down Bolton’s aging defence. Their high defensive-line and constant pressure system, also allowed them to dispose Bolton of possession in their own half, proceeding to an instant counter-attack.

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The high amount of passes completed from United’s back three of John Egan, Jack O’Connell, and Chris Basham, also shows how the Blades dominated possession deep. Using their central defenders to hold possession and command the rhythm of the game, before space opened up in the final third.

Additionally, it can’t be ignored how successful Wilder’s side were at creating goal scoring opportunities from set-pieces. Not only, did Sharp’s headed finish come from a Norwood set-piece, but United won 13 corners through the duration of the game, developing several clear-cut chances as a result.

Furthermore in a game which ended 2-0, United only managed two shots on-target all game, which may seem low considering the amount of possession they had throughout the game. Admitting, this also shows the clinicalness of Wilder’s frontline, with Sharp making a career out of making the most out of few chances.

new-5c-20visual_36039329.pngAgainst Bolton, Sharp had fewer touches of the ball than any other Blades player that started the game, but still managed to bag a goal, an assist, and unleash four key passes. Enhancing a classic fox in the box, Sharp proved his ability to control the action, without even touching the ball, solely through his physical presence and movement in the opposition’s half.

Indicating contrast, Sharp didn’t just show his confidence in-front of goal, but also his composure to cut through a defence with his passing ability, as shown with his assist for McGoldrick’s opener.

Conclusively, following this impressive home display the Blades must now prepare for a trip to Villa Park on Friday, as they take out Dean Smith’s out-of-form Aston Villa.