Blues Playing for Pride as Blades Hope to Confirm Promotion
Friday, 26th Apr 2019 11:54
Town go into the last away game of their 17-year stint in the Championship at Sheffield United on Saturday evening playing for pride and hoping to put a dampener on what could be a Blades promotion party (Sky Sports Football from 5pm, KO 5.15pm).
The South Yorkshiremen are currently second, three points behind leaders Norwich and three ahead of Leeds United in third with everyone having two left to play.
Chris Wilder’s team have a goal difference which is 11 better than the Whites’, so victory over the Blues would effectively guarantee promotion back to the Premier League for the first time since their 2006/07 relegation.
Leeds, who had a disastrous Easter period in which they picked up no points to Sheffield United’s six, aren’t in action until Sunday when they play current form team Aston Villa at Elland Road. The Blues host the Whites at Portman Road on the final day of the season.
Town assistant boss Stuart Taylor says the Blues will be ignoring the situations of their final two opponents and will be focusing on their own game.
“We know we’re playing for pride ourselves and we’re not looking at Sheffield United’s promotion party or Leeds United’s promotion party, it’s nothing to do with that, we’re looking at ourselves and taking the game for what it is,” he said at Thursday’s pre-match press conference.
He says the Blues, who go into the match having won one of their last 17 and only twice away in 2018/19, will continue to experiment with their line-up with an eye on next season in League One.
“I think we’ve done that already and we’ve picked players and used players in certain ways and we’ve always looked at the future here,” Taylor added.
“We don’t believe anything should be done short-term, so we’re looking at the bigger picture at all times and what’s best for the football club and if that means looking at the next season then there’s no problem with that in terms of how players are going to play and where they’re going to play and giving them tests along the way.
“It’s the only way you know how they’re going to do. So they need to be tested and set that challenge.”
The Scot, who previously worked with boss Paul Lambert at Wolves and Stoke, says Town will go into their final games concentrating on their own concerns, not the clubs they’re facing.
“Without a doubt. It's about us,” he insisted. “It’s never about anybody else, it’s about what’s right for us as a football club and what’s right for our players, and we will always make the decisions based on that, nothing to do with any other team that we’re playing against.
“I said before that we’ve got a belief and it’s how we go about it, so our plans and our needs are always based around what’s best for the football club.”
The lacklustre Preston performance and consequent 4-0 defeat came in the wake of relegation to League One having been confirmed but the Blues were better against Swansea on Monday, although while still losing 1-0.
Taylor believes the squad have got over the immediate impact of confirmation of the drop into League One.
“I think the lads showed that in the game on Monday, the performance was better,“ the 44-year-old former midfielder said.
“And I think if we being honest about it, it’s probably the first performance since we’ve been in that it was pretty flat.
“But I think there was a few elements to that and a few reasons to that, without making excuses which we won’t go into.
“But the lads took it on the chin and they moved on, and they responded in a good way by going out on Monday and running around and dominating parts of the game and being creative and stuff like that.
“But certainly their pride was hurt last Friday, and a little bit of their confidence was hurt as well, but we look for a reaction, and they’re big enough, strong enough and good enough to move on from last Friday.”
Taylor says no one wants the season to end with a whimper with the Blues able to have some impact on the top of the table even if their own campaign is over from a competitive perspective.
“Without a doubt and I think that’s what bothered the lads as well,” he reflected. “The performance [at Preston] was below par for them and as we said to them, give us a reaction to it.
“And they were desperate for the next game to come, to be honest with you, on the Friday.
“As fatigued as they were, mentally and physically, they wanted the game as soon as possible so it was good that it was the Easter one on Friday and Monday so they could get it out of their system.”
Like manager Lambert, Taylor had praise for the Blues support: “They’ve been absolutely superb, and we’ve all commented on it. The support has been unbelievable.
“It’s been so vocal and so supportive. When the lads make a mistake on the pitch a lot of the time here’s moans and groans at other clubs but at this club they give them a round of applause and encourage them to get back onto the ball which is huge for us.
“For our players that’s huge because it gives them the confidence to go and get on the ball and try it again the next time rather than going into a shell and hiding. The lads have responded to it really well and long may that continue.
"I think the supporters realise how important they are at this football club, they’re absolutely massive and we’re looking forward to next season with them 100 per cent behind us and creating that atmosphere and fortress at this club that other clubs will be scared to come and play in.”
The Blades were playing in League One as recently as 2016/17 and Taylor says they are an illustration of how clubs can bounce back and move forward.
“Without a doubt,” he said. “It’s about putting the foundations in place and building from that.
“There are so many different clubs in the Championship that are at a different part of their development, if you want to call it that, and Sheffield United not that long ago were at pretty close to rock bottom.
“They’ve built on that and they’ve improved and progressed so much that they now find themselves in that position of second top of the league and pushing for promotion to the Premier League. All credit to them, it’s just the way some clubs go through it and some clubs don’t.”
A key factor in the Blades’ success this season has been David McGoldrick, who moved to Bramall Lane following a trial last summer after being released by the Blues having struggled with injury for much of his five and a half years at Portman Road.
“We’ve played against him in the past with the presence that he is and the work ethic that he’s got,” Taylor said when asked about the 31-year-old Republic of Ireland striker, who has scored 15 times this season, more than in any of his full seasons with the Blues.
“He chips in with goals and he’s done fantastic since he’s gone up there and I’m quite sure like most players coming back against his old club he’ll want to prove points or whatever.
“It’s just another player with a Sheffield United top on that we’ll be playing against, that’s what it comes down to at the end of the day.
“We’ll be looking at our own performance and our own game and looking to achieve as much as we can in the game.”
Manager Lambert confirmed on Monday that Dean Gerken will start in goal - Bartosz Bialkowski will return for the Leeds game - while Myles Kenlock could return at left-back having missed out against Swansea due to a minor hamstring problem. If not, Callum Elder will continue.
At right-back, Lambert will choose between James Bree and Josh Emmanuel, while skipper Luke Chambers will be partnered by James Collins, Toto Nsiala or Corrie Ndaba, who would be making his senior debut, at the heart of the defence, assuming the Blues stick with their 4-3-3 system rather than matching the Blades’ 3-5-2.
In midfield, Lambert may well make changes with Teddy Bishop and Cole Skuse perhaps in line for returns having been rested against Swansea, while Flynn Downes or Trevoh Chalobah could keep their places.
In the front three, Will Keane may well play down the middle with Alan Judge to the left and Gwion Edwards, if he is fit enough having suffered with an ongoing groin problem in recent weeks, to the right.
For Sheffield United, 23-goal skipper Billy Sharp could return having missed the last two matches due to a hamstring problem. Midfielder Chris Basham has also been out with a hamstring injury.
Blades boss Wilder, a fan of the club as a boy and a defender at Bramall Lane in his playing days, is delighted with the position his side find themselves in following their Easter victories over Nottingham Forest, 2-0 at home, and Hull City, 3-0 away.
"We'll just keep rolling on, we needed a big weekend of football and you can't get away from the fact that the results have been a boost to us,” he told his club’s official site.
"We're delighted to win in the manner we did at Hull. It's on to Saturday now, we can't afford to cut any corners and we won't, we're in a fantastic position.”
Monday’s clean sheet at Hull was the Blades’ 20th of the season and Wilder added: "The boys are proud of our defensive record and we've got a goalkeeper [Dean Henderson] who makes saves when he is needed.
"It's a team effort, from set plays, to getting a shape, to being difficult to break down and then when we go forward it's about trying to score.
"We've had to tick a lot of boxes to win this many games at Championship, with and without the ball and I couldn't ask for anyone more from the players."
The Blues have had the better of the Blades over the years, winning 23 times (22 in the league), drawing 26 (23) and losing 21 (18) of the meetings between the sides. However, Town have won only two of the clubs’ last 14 matches.
At Portman Road in December, Ellis Harrison netted his first and still only goal for the Blues and Billy Sharp equalised for the Blades as Town and Sheffield United drew 1-1.
Harrison’s deflected shot gave Town the lead in the 38th minute but Blades captain Sharp levelled two minutes after the break.
Last time at Bramall Lane in October 2017, Chris Basham’s goal four minutes after half-time saw the South Yorkshiremen to a 1-0 victory over the Blues.
Martyn Waghorn went closest to scoring for Town with a shot against the bar shortly after the Blades goal, but the home side deserved their victory.
Sheffield United signed ex-Blues striker McGoldrick in the summer after a trial following his release by Town in May.
McGoldrick has made 34 starts and nine sub appearances scoring 15 goals this season.
The Irish international joined Town from Nottingham Forest in January 2013, initially on loan but with the deal becoming a permanent switch the following summer, McGoldrick scored 45 goals in 126 starts and 33 sub appearances for the Blues.
The Blades squad includes former Town loanee Richard Stearman, who moved to Bramall Lane from Fulham in the summer of 2017.
Stearman spent the second half of 2012/13 on loan with the Blues from Wolves, making 15 appearances.
Canadian-born striker Caolan Lavery, a former Northern Ireland U21 international who is currently on loan at Bury, joined Sheffield United from Sheffield Wednesday in the summer of 2016, having signed for the Owls in the summer of 2012 after turning down a professional contract with the Blues having come through the Town academy.
Saturday’s referee is Tim Robinson from West Sussex, who has shown 123 yellow cards and seven red in 33 games so far this season.
Robinson’s last Town game was the 1-1 draw with Aston Villa at Portman Road in August in which he harshly red-carded loanee Tayo Edun on his Blues full league debut for two bookable offences as well as cautioning Janoi Donacien and two visitors.
The former PE teacher was also in charge of the 1-0 home defeat to Norwich City in October 2017 in which he cautioned only Chambers, Downes and Jordan Spence.
A month earlier Robinson was the man in the middle during the 5-2 thrashing of Sunderland in which he booked Tristan Nydam and three Wearsiders.
Prior to that he took charge of 2017/18’s 1-0 opening day victory over Birmingham City when he yellow-carded Spence and one visitor.
The season before that he officiated in the 3-1 home win against Newcastle United in which he cautioned McGoldrick, Tom Lawrence and one Magpie.
Robinson also refereed Town’s 1-0 success at Aston Villa in February 2017, in which he booked only Jonas Knudsen and Toumani Diagouraga, and the 1-0 victory over Preston at Portman Road in August 2016, in which he booked Skuse and one visiting player.
Prior to that he was in charge of the 1-0 win at Derby on the final day of 2015/16 and yellow-carded skipper Chambers, Adam McDonnell and two Rams.
Before that he took control of the 2-1 home victory over Reading in February 2016 in which he booked Christophe Berra and two visiting players.
Robinson’s only other competitive Town game was the 2-0 home defeat to Middlesbrough in December 2015 in which he again cautioned Berra and two visitors.
He also refereed the pre-season friendly at Crawley in the summer of 2013 in which he awarded the Blues a penalty, which was converted by McGoldrick in a 2-1 victory.
Squad from: Gerken, Bialkowski, Bree, Emmanuel, Kenlock, Collins, Chambers (c), Knudsen, Nsiala, Ndaba, Skuse, Chalobah, Downes, Nolan, Dozzell, Bishop, El Mizouni, Edwards, Dawkins, Judge, Quaner, Jackson, Keane.
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