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Madine opens his account, as United stick four past Reading

Opting to start the game without top goal scorers Billy Sharp, and David McGoldrick, Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder was ecstatic that his selection gamble paid off after they hammered Reading to temporarily go second in the table. 

Wing-back Kieron Freeman opened the scoring just after 38 seconds, following a six-week absence from the first team, which was the beginning of a ruthless performance from the Blades.

United soon made it two when on-loan striker Gary Madine scored his first goal for the club, leathering the ball into the top-left corner, after some outstanding pressing work from John Fleck who forced an error from Reading’s backline.

Madine added to his tally late in the first half, latching onto a perfect first-time cross from Marvin Johnson. His shot was unstoppable as it rippled into the back of Emiliano Martinez’s goal, giving Wilder’s side an impressive 3-0 lead.

Additionally, Martinez was left stranded in the centre of his goal for United’s fourth, as a long-range effort from Fleck took a deflection off Reading defender Matt Miazga en route to goal, putting an end to the one-sided encounter.

When asked about his team’s impressive performance, and the reasoning behind his team-selection changes, Wilder responded: “The easy call was to keep the same team. I feared a slow game and a tired game, it was important we had an energetic performance. I wanted us to play a little more forward, Gary Madine and Scott Hogan allowed us to do that.”

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Moving forward, during his time at Bramall Lane Wilder has be known for his adopted progressive attacking style, and possession-based tactics. However, this game painted a totally different picture compared to a typical Sheffield United performance.

Whilst, the Blades commonly exit fixtures with a dominant possession percentage, especially on home soil, on Saturday Reading enjoyed a much more time on the ball than the hosts. Predominantly focusing on the Royal’s weakness in midfield, Wilder set out his side to constantly press the opposition forcing an interception of play, which would then be followed by a quick, and direct counter-attack through either Johnson, Fleck, or Mark Duffy.

This is also evident through the more laid-back approach from midfield maestro Oliver Norwood. The Northern Ireland international would usually be used to sit deep, controlling the tempo of the game, alongside creating time and space for his teammates to slowly push the ball forward into the opposition’s half. Subsequently, Norwood only made 50 successful passes from his usual 70 passes per game on average, proving how he was told to focus more on his defensive duties, and wait to pounce on an error in midfield.

Undoubtedly, Madine’s magnificent performance in front of goal, providing two goals and one assist, cannot be ignored. However, his performance shouldn’t overshadow how much of an impact Scottish midfielder Fleck had on the game.

fleck-5c-20vs-5_36555713.pngIntercepting the ball more than any other United player, alongside attempting the second-highest amount of tackles. Fleck’s engine-like work-rate was a pivotal part as to why the Blades so easily dominated the play. Playing a typical box-to-box central midfielder, Fleck didn’t tire for the entirety of the game, as well as covering more ground than any other player for either side.

Seemingly the best player on the pitch, defensively and moving the ball forward, Fleck undeniably will have to continue putting in man of the match performances like against Reading. As, Wilder must now prepare his side for an automatic promotion six-pointer against Midlands club West Bromwich Albion next weekend.

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PREVIEW: Blades look to bounce back following six-goal thriller

High-flying pair Sheffield United and Middlesborough meet at Bramall Lane tonight, with Tony Pulis’ team able to narrow the gap to only one point if they are capable to dethrone the South-Yorkshire based side.

United squandered their chance to temporarily go top of the Championship table last friday, throwing away an emphatic three-goal lead in the final eight minutes at Villa Park. Captain Billy Sharp had hit a vintage fox in the box style hat-trick against Aston Villa, for the hosts only to leave it late with a heartbreaking end in the tail for Blades fans alike.

Blades boss Chris Wilder was bewildered post-match having witnessed his trustworthy number one Dean Henderson make two blundering errors late in the fixture. As well as, the consistent Jack O’Connell miss kicking the ball to the feet of John McGinn who delivered it into Andre Green, who inevitably stole a point for the Villains.

On the other hand, Boro seemed destined to bounce back with a victory against promotion-rivals Leeds United on Saturday, following their collapse defeat in the hands of Newport County in the FA Cup. Unfortunately, despite Lewis Wing opening the scoring for Boro early in the second half, the Teesiders only had themselves to blame as they we’re unable to hold out Kalvin Phillips who rifled a stoppage-time equaliser past Darren Randolph’s sticks.

Intimidating defender Aden Flint will be rueing his missed chances, who really should have put the hosts in front on two different occasions. But by sitting deep, and inviting pressure onto their defensive-line, Leeds eventually broke their resistance, which may be the case again at Bramall Lane if Pulis has the same intention to drop deep instead of attempting to combat a high-pressure system.

Additionally, Sheffield United may have a cause of concern having only won two of their last 10 meetings with the Teeside club, however both of those victories have come in encounters at Bramall Lane.

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Chris Wilder’s outfit have shown many fantastic performances against the Championship’s lesser powers, but Friday’s missed opportunity at Villa Park was another instance of the Blades dropping points opposite to the division’s elite. The hosts have won just four of their fixtures against top-half sides, with Norwich being the only team in the top-six that United have been able to snatch a point from; leaving an distinct issue.

Similarly, the Teessiders have failed to maintain a consistent run of form, with them only securing back-to-back league victories on one occasion since August. However, this hasn’t sanctioned them out of the automatic promotion race, due to their officency against top-six sides, where they have only faced defeat once.

The visitors have only been beaten twice on away soil this campaign, also coming away from West Brom, and Bristol City, two sides who currently occupy top-six positions, with maximum points. This impressive away form may put them slight favourites at Bramall Lane, as United have failed to win away at any of the top-half outfits.

Subsequently, the Blades are without versatile centre-half Chris Basham due to his suspension from accumulation of 10 yellow cards. On-loan Marvin Johnson is also unavailable due to terms in his contract with parent club Boro. Although, Scott Hogan may obtain his first United appearance due to the same terms ruling him out of the Aston Villa fixture.

Differently, Pulis will have to assess forward Britt Assombalonga, after he passed a fitness test before the Leeds game. Midfielders Mo Besic and Adam Clayton may also return to the starting 11 after both facing lengthy spells on the bench.

Match facts:

Sheffield United’s 2-1 victory over Boro last term, is their only victory in the two-clubs previous five meetings, with Boro winning the other four.

However, Boro have won just once in their last nine fixtures when travelling to Bramall Lane, in all competitions.

The South-Yorkshire side are unbeaten in the last 12 home league fixtures when playing on a Wednesday evening, with the last falling in 1993 losing 1-0 to Norwich City.

Since Chris Wilder has taken over at Bramall Lane, they have won 70% of their home league fixtures when Skipper Sharp has started (35/50) compared to just 27% when he hasn’t (3/11).