Saints At Sheffield United The Preview
Friday, 13th Sep 2019 10:35
Im banned from saying it is a must win game, but certainly it is one we don't want to lose if we are to establish ourselves solidly back in the Premier League mid table after two years or battling relegation.
Saints are not a brilliant side away from home of late so it is crucial that we look at certain games and with all due respect to those opponents target them as winnable.
One of those was Brighton and we achieved that a few weeks ago and now we travel to Sheffield United and repeat that win.
Last season saw us struggle because of our atrocious away form in the first half of the season, in our first 9 away games we amassed only 4 points, those from a win at Palace and a draw at Bournemouth, yes some of the others were toughies but after 16 league games after our defeats at Cardiff & Fulham we sat in 19th place on 9 points, if we had taken 4 points from those games we would have sat in 14th and clear of the bottom 3.
Our failure to beat those two sides dragged us down for the rest of the season and made it hard to pull clear, this season we have to avoid gifting sides wins and letting them pull clear.
With respect to Sheffield United they are one of the sides who we are looking to finish above and that being the case we cannot afford for them to win on Saturday and pull 4 points clear of us at this stage of the season.
They are a side who seem to be doing well on passion and adrenalin, Chris Wilder drives his side forward and doesn't let them give up the tempo hence their penchant for late goals this season.
Those two last minute equalisers at Bournemouth and Chelsea are the difference between them being 14th now or being 3rd from bottom as they would have been without them.
So like Huddersfield a couple of years ago, they are a highly motivated side but are they one with enough quality to survive?
We have to go and help them answer that question and it looks like being an open game and one that could be decided in the last minute, possibly not in our favour given their ability to score late goals and ours to let them in.
But do they have our firepower up front? ,
I would say no, at least not proven strikers at this level yet.
Last season saw two ex Saints fire them to promotion Billy Sharp and David McGoldrick, Billy is getting a true chance in the Premier League finally, but he will turn 34 in a few months and is likely to be used only as an impact player.
Chris Wilder has mainly gone with David McGoldrick so far, but he is almost 32 and never played at this level till last month, I would say he is not the answer for them.
That leaves them looking to their new signings, Callum Robinson arrived from Preston and so far has stated every game scoring once, but he is struggling to be fit for this game and could be a big miss if he is out being their best player so far.
Club record signing is Oli McBurnie, he cost £20 million from Swansea, but he is not proven at this level, indeed two years ago he struggled to get into Swansea's side that would be relegated and was sent out on loan to Barnsley for the second half of the season, he scored 9 times in 17 Championship games and could well have kept them up on that sort of form if he had stayed, but in fairness in 16 games in the Premier League for the Swans he had never scored so you cannot blame them for sending him out on loan.
Last season he had a great season finally scoring his first goal for his parent club and hitting 22 goals in 42 Championship games, so he is perhaps our biggest threat on Saturday, that is if he plays, so far he has started only once and come off the bench three times, scoring his goal in a 2-1 defeat to Leicester.
So the deciding factor is going to be whether the Blades strike force comes good or not and for that matter whether Che Adams on his return to his former club can himself hit his first Premier League goal.
In short Saints have to do what they did at Brighton, keep it tight at the back, not give away stupid goals as they did at Burnley and then take their chances.
Without Nathan Redmond and probably Moussa Djenepo our two scorers at Brighton it makes the game tougher, but we still have Danny Ings, Che Adams, Shane Long and the fit again Michael Obafemi, so we are not short of proven goalscorers.
The trick is that we don't go into the final period of the game with the game still there for the taking, Chris Wilder pushes his side forward for 90 minutes whatever the score, so we ideally would have at least a two goal cushion, but perversely that could also work in our favour as they will keep pushing for another goal even if they are only a goal up and that could give us opportunities.
Even their centre backs can be described as overlapping and that could create opportunities for us on the counter.
So the difference could well be experience, they are a little short of it on the pitch and in Chris Wilder they have a manager with only a couple of seasons above League one and none at this level, with his penchant to keep attacking whatever the situation by the end of this season he is either going to be touted as the next big manager or be back in the Championship.
So for Saints the task is simple keep it tight at the back and take our chances, on paper we are a far superior squad with far more experience, we have to blunt the Blades natural attacking tendencies and expose them at the back.
The key will be the strength of our squad, even without Redmond & Djenepo I would still rather have any of our attacking options than theirs, we just have to play with confidence and without fear and put them to the sword.
Key man is Danny Ings, some might underestimate him, but he is key to our attacks, not just for scoring himself, but his ability to create chances and make space for others, he has the nous and is a cut above the standard Sheffield united's defence is used to playing against.
Photo: Action Images
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