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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sheffield United Preview

Down at the treatment centre they get you together with people of similar problems so that you can understand that its not just you having a difficult time. And there's a separate table reserved there for ex-Premier teams, one table for Birmingham, Reading and Derby and another, smaller one, for Watford, Sheff. U and the Addicks.
As regards the success of the therapy, perhaps we should look at the fortunes of the 30 relegated teams over the last 10 years to see what happened. Six of us like it so much that we've done it twice, so that's 24 different teams in all. And of those 24 teams, 6 are back now in the Prem, 4 have ignored all warnings and have descended into the depths of Tier Three which leaves 14 of us still pissing about in the fizzies. Fourteen out of 24, perhaps that's what makes this Division so difficult and for the record only 6 of them managed promotion at the first attempt - one being us in 2000 - while 4 others went up in the second year.
Anyway, as for the current situation at our table, Watford and ourselves are the struggling ugly sisters while Sheffield are the Cinderellas dancing up there in 5th position on 28 points, just 3 points less than her two siblings put together.
Relegated in 2007 with Mr Warnock, the manager now at Sheff. U is Kevin Blackwell, ex of Leeds and Luton, who took over from Bryan Robson on Feb 14 this year. He was reportedly rather upset to suffer his first League defeat, against the Addicks on March 1st at Bramall Lane, and would clearly want some revenge but his ravings that day had an affect and they've only lose 7 times out of the 29 games since then. And a clear sign of the opposite direction that the rtwo teams are taking is that since that day we've won even fewerthan they have lost, just 6, in a similar 29 games.
Form Guide
Away from home they've beaten Blackpool, Doncaster and Barnsley, drawn with Bristol but lost to Birmingham, Derby, Norwich and Sheff. Wed, with three of the defeats being 0-1 and the other, 1-2, to Derby. And they've only conceded 7 goals away from home, only Bristol and Cardiff have let in fewer.
In the Form Guide over the last 8 games, they've won 4 of them, conceding just 4 goals. The Addicks in comparison have conceded nearly four times as many goals, 15 and have won only once. But down the other end while the topsy-turby Addicks have scored 9 times in getting just 6 points, Sheffield have run up a total of 15 points from just 8 goals scored. Looking further back while the Addicks have only managed 1 win in the last 11, the Blades have won 6. So we score but lose while they defend better and still win.
Whats Their Secret?
Well, that best defence in the fizzies to start with at only 11 goals conceded and along with Bristol City they have the most clean sheets, 8 so far, and once they go ahead in a game, 8 times now, they always win it!
But their good defence hides a failing. Whilst never losing once they go ahead, of the 6 games their opponents have scored first, they have lost 5 and only drawn one. So their powers of recovery are pretty bad. The Addicks in contrast have come back from losing three times to get draws, against Ipswich, Burnley and Plymouth.
Its a shame then that every time we face the leagues top defences, Birmingham, Cardiff and Reading are next best after Sheffield, we do the worst thing possible and concede goals more goals than usual, namely 7 in those three games.

Who They Got?
Top goalscorers are James Beattie and Billy Sharp on 7 and 4 respectively. Beattie joined from Everton for £4m in July 2007 and has scored 29 times for United in 50 appearances while Billy Sharp is ex-Scunthorpe and cost around £2M. But starting the last few games beside Beattie has been the 20 year old number 8 Anthony Stokes. You remember him, Pardew tried to sign him from the Arse in the last January window but he fell into the arms of fellow Irishman Roy Keane instead and is now on loan at Bramall Lane, but hasn't scored yet.
As for defence, Greg Halford will return to the Valley after making 16 appearances for the Addicks last season, scoring twice but because of the form of local boy Kyle Naughton - included in the U-21 England team this week and rumoured to be moving to the Premiership pretty soon - he's not the first choice right-back and at left-back there's the twice-dismissed-already-this season 31 year old fiery chinese international Number 12, Sun Jihai. In June this year, in a 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying match against Qatar, Sun was shown a straight red card for dissent while he was warming up as a substitute on the bench. China lost the match 0-1.
Blackwell is clearly a believer in experience and in central defence there's number 33, 36 year old ex-Aston Villa and Middlesbro Ugo Ehiogu who was red-carded against Barnsley but returns against us, while there's a doubt hanging over fellow central defender, no-nonsense skipper Chris Morgan, holder of the record for most times dismissed Blades player with 5, after his elbow smashed the skull of Barnsley Ian Hume two weeks ago.
There's also lots of experience in midfield where there's 39 year old Gary Speed, the player with most Premiership appearances apparently, and Number 25 is 28 year old Matthew Spring ex of Leeds and Watford and who has followed manager Blackwell around, and is currently on loan from Luton. And completeing the regular midfielders is Number 28, 22 year old Irishman Stephen Quinn who played his first Premiership game against us in the 1-2 defeat back in December 2006.
With nine players playing all of the three last games, (the Addicks have only 5 ) they have a settled side with 4 of them, goalkeeper Kenney, midfielders Quinn and Speed and striker Billy Sharp all appearing in the current top 100 players in the actimindex whereas the Addicks have just two, Mark Hudson and Nicky Weaver.

What They saying Then?
Pardew in his summing up said, "Two errors cost us so much hard work, but it happens, and we have to stay strong, believe in ourselves, and take that performance into next week."
Alex McLeish, also after Saturdays game, "Heads seemed to drop but at the break I told them that it wasn't the mistakes but the reaction that matters and we showed good spirit."

Team News
Some surprising words have been used in the reports from our last two games; awesome, stunning, real commitment and no little skill, a break of punishing swiftness, a deserved lead. And they were all talking about the Addicks.
So after being the first team this season to put two goals past Taylor in the Birmingham goal, and with the Guardian giving MOM to Nick Bailey, perhaps we should be confident of a result come the weekend. And a astonishing statistic has come to light, if you can believe the Sporting Life. 3, 5, 6, 7, 7, 7, 9, 11, 12 are the numbers for our shots, not all on target of course, in our successive 9 away games. We started against Watford with only three shots and an ever-improving sequence has lead to 12 shots against the Blues on Saturday. Other facts highlight the attacking game that we played at St. Andrews with a total 8 corners, only bettered in the defeat against Bristol City.
Perhaps it's a pity that we can't always play away because we now face the uncertainty of two tough home games in 8 days sandwiching another difficult game at QPR. Sheffield and Southampton have identical away records of 3 wins, 1 draw and 4 defeats, while QPR have won 6 at home already.

Racon and Fortune both played for the reserves on Tuesday but its surely too early for a first team return for either so with only the one current addition to the bench, in 18 year old "powerful hitman" Martyn Waghorn, we will probably see the same side that started at Birmingham.

Weaver; Moutaouakil, Hudson, Primus, Youga; Sam, Bailey, Semedo, Holland, Bouazza; Gray


So the difficult bit. Two stirring improved performances on the road have not given us the points deserved but the big question is; can the team bring back to the Valley the same level of improvement? Forecasting a win at Plymouth and a draw at Birmingham, I was expecting something to happen simply because the atmosphere at the Valley and the pressure on Pardews head is bound to be greater at home games. So you either have to agree a) that Pardew does still have an good influence over the players to get a good performance away from the Valley or b) the players themselves feel more at ease away from their fanbase.

So after someone noted the high level of support given to Brum at the weekend, perhaps its time to really get behind the players and the manager.

Anyway, these are no times for the faint-hearted, we need to turn the tables on these nasty Yorkshire cinderellas and raise the roof with noise, this game is as much about us as it is the team, 1-0 home win.

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