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Jim: Sheffield United Our Most Important Game
Jim: Sheffield United Our Most Important Game
Friday, 3rd Apr 2009 08:49

Town boss Jim Magilton is urging his players to view Saturday's trip to Sheffield United as the "most important game of their lives”. The Blues are currently seven points from the play-off places with only six games left.

Magilton, like TWTD back at the pre-match press conference for the first time in some while, says his players need to focus on winning the game, regardless of how unlikely a play-off place currently appears: "It's the most important game of our lives. That's how I view it. Regardless of where we are, what the position is.

"We're going into the game without any fear. Our away performances this year have given us the confidence to go there and know that we've got an opportunity to win a game of football.

"The picture may or may not change after Saturday, but certainly we're going there to win the game, without any shadow of a doubt.

"I'm not going to turn around and say ‘we have absolutely no chance'. I'm going there to win the game. If the picture changes in our favour on Saturday, wonderful. We've got five more games after that.

"If this was the first game of the season I'd be saying exactly the same thing and I'm not going to change my philosophy about how we go about every single game, and that will be the case until the last ball is kicked.”

Magilton says everyone at Town knows what to expect from a visit to Bramall Lane: "We've have a history with Sheffield United, we enjoy the games. They've always been the sort of games where you know what you're in for with regards to the crowd, Kevin Blackwell and the way he sets his team up.

"He had a lot of history with Neil Warnock and a lot of experience. He's since forged a reputation all of his own and he's an outstanding manager.

"They've got the bit between their teeth, so it's a game we should be looking forward to.”

Magilton will be without skipper Gareth McAuley due to the hamstring injury he sustained while playing for Northern Ireland on Wednesday and the Blues boss will have to decide which two of his three fit centre-halves he plays against the Blades.

The Town manager has hinted that Alex Bruce may come back into his thinking, however, when McAuley was suspended for the recent game at Wolves, Iván Campo was partnered with Pim Balkestein. The Spaniard seems certain to play and a Campo-Bruce pairing appears to lack the height when faced with what's likely to be a largely aerial approach from Sheffield United.

David Wright appears likely to be OK to continue at right-back with Ben Thatcher on the left and Richard Wright in goal. Moritz Volz would probably come into the side if Wright fails to make it having returned to full training after his recent groin operation.

Tommy Smith is also back in full training having missed most of the season after breaking his ankle in August and may be given a reserve game before the end of the season.

In midfield, Giovani Dos Santos has been ruled out by Tottenham's medical staff due to the abductor injury he sustained in the Watford match, however, Tommy Miller is training after picking up a dead leg in the game against the Hornets.

Miller looks set to continue in the centre with the Blues perhaps sticking with the four-man midfield which saw them to a 1-0 win at Reading in their last away game. David Norris may take the other central role with Alan Quinn on the left and Danny Haynes on the right.

Jon Walters could be back in action as soon as next week having initially been ruled out for the season due to ruptured ankle ligaments, while Luciano Civelli is out of action for 10 months due to knee ligament damage.

Up front, Kevin Lisbie and Jon Stead are the likely starters with Pablo Couñago on the bench.

Sheffield United are currently fourth in the table, 11 points and six places above the Blues. Boss Kevin Blackwell, who was named Championship Manager of the Month for March, says all his side's remaining matches are crucial as the look to seal a play-off place or perhaps even gatecrash the automatic positions: "The last seven games are all vitally important and the good thing is that we are going in with confidence on a good run of form and we are desperate to keep that going.

"Marcus Evans gave Jim Magilton £12 million to spend at the beginning of the season and they are a bit disappointed on the results they have got from that. But it just shows that money won't always buy you a team.

"Ipswich are going to be a tough side; their away record this season is far, far better than their home record. Their away record is the third best in the division and I think they will come here and try and make it difficult for us."

Blackwell, whose side are unbeaten in seven, has striker Danny Webber back after a hamstring injury, but fellow frontman Billy Sharp is not yet ready for a return after a groin injury.

Gary Naysmith, Jamie Ward and David Cotterill have been away on international duty and their fitness will be assessed on their return.

Unusually, Town and the Blades have drawn more matches than either of them have won. The sides have ended games level on 23 (20 in the league) occasions, while Town have been victorious 21 times (20) and United 17 (15).

Earlier in the season, the sides drew 1-1 at Portman Road via Tommy Miller and a James Beattie penalty. Last season, the Blades won the Bramall Lane match between the teams 3-1, Beattie scoring twice, one a highly controversial penalty, and Keith Gillespie once for the home side and Jon Walters for Town.
Jon Stead and Alan Quinn both joined Town from Sheffield United last year, but no current members of Kevin Blackwell's squad have represented the Blues. Quinn's younger brother Stephen is likely to be in the Blades' side, while an even younger brother Keith is a member of United's reserves team.

Saturday's referee is Nigel Miller from County Durham, who has shown 68 yellow and five red cards in 29 matches so far this season. Miller's last Town match was the 2-0 home victory over Charlton last season and earlier on during 2007/08 he was in control of the Blues' 6-0 hammering of Bristol City.

Likely squad: R Wright, Bialkowski, D Wright, Thatcher, Volz, Campo, Balkestein, Bruce, Miller, Norris, Quinn, Haynes, Shumulikoski, Garvan, Lisbie, Stead, Couñago, Bowditch.

Photo: Action Images

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