Sheffield United take on QPR this weekend as the Blades look to keep the pressure up in the promotion race.
Certainly, they have every chance of doing just that this season but, of course, no games are easy from here on in.
A tough match with the R’s awaits, then, and so we caught up with Martin Fox of S24SU.com to talk all things Blades ahead of the clash….
1. First of all, assess your Christmas period…
After a frustrating draw with Ipswich, the Christmas period has been a good one with wins against Derby, Blackburn and Wigan, all of which saw the Blades score 3.
Sparked by annoyance at officials in the Derby and Blackburn games and riled up vociferous Blades fans, it was great to see United force wins and take chances, with previous games ending in frustration in playing well, but not scoring and putting games to bed.
Beating Derby was the best of these three, showing that we do have enough to get positive results against others in the top six and that we don’t have to be disappointing whenever a game is televised!
2. Chris Wilder tore into the players who featured v Barnet – was he fair in doing so?
In terms of the performance against Barnet, it was a poor one, lacking in cohesion but perhaps more frustratingly seemingly lacking in application.
One positive in so many changes was you’d have thought that the players on the periphery of the squad would be looking to force their way into consideration for the first choice starting eleven. This didn’t come across in the performance, with supporters being frustrated in the perceived lack of effort from a number of the team. It was always going to be more difficult with so many who haven’t been playing regularly or indeed together, but the impression many got was that the players thought we just had to turn up and would coast to a win.
It was only really when the three regulars Basham, Duffy and Sharp came on that we looked in the slightest like potentially getting anything from the game, but even then, we wouldn’t have deserved it and it would have been very unfair on Barnet.
With this in mind, I’d say he was fair in having a pop at the players and hopefully it will give some of them the anger to kick on, but – fully acknowledging that the side put out should have been good enough – he also has to take some responsibility for so many changes.
I think it’s likely that the performance may have caused a change in thinking in terms of outgoings and we’ll see more going out on loan/made available for transfer.
Despite the above, I’d take nothing away from Barnet in the slightest, they played well, were organised, disciplined and played some good football on the break, full value for their win.
3. Back to league action against QPR this weekend, where can the R’s be exposed?
A bit of a cliche and sounds obvious, but grab an early goal and I think we’ll be fine, the longer the game goes without a Blades goal, the more frustrated the crowd will become and the less likely we are for a positive result, will be interesting to see how Gary Madine is used if we end up needing a “Plan B”.
We’ll see a return to the settled first eleven and hopefully will be able to carry on where we left off. QPR are a better side than the start of the season and their form has picked up, but it’s a game in which we should be targeting three points if we want to remain in contention.
4. Gary Madine has come in, what do you make of that signing?
It’s an interesting one.
I can see the thinking behind getting someone in with the attributes he has (goalscoring record apart), but it just seems a big, big call given his history. There’s already been a lot of talk and heated debate between those who are willing to look past his previous playing career, comments and off the field issues and those for whom it’s a big deal. The extent of the reaction even caused the manager to come out and defend the move/encourage any dissenters to get behind the signing. There will be opposite factions in the crowd, hopefully, what happens on the pitch will stop this being an issue.
One thing’s for sure, Madine’s certainly got courage and confidence in his ability, as there are far easier moves he could have made. He’s simply got to hit the ground running here and let his football do the talking, otherwise the atmosphere will quickly turn toxic.
Wilder and his team are obviously confident that he’ll be worthwhile, so whilst I personally would have looked elsewhere, let’s hope he can provide the extra physicality and heading ability he’s put to use against us in the past. The management team have confidence it’s a positive move, so let’s hope it turns out to be a masterstroke.
5. Score prediction
I’m going for a narrow Blades win, 2-1.