The Lions turn their focus back to the Sky Bet Championship this weekend as they take on Chris Wilder's Sheffield United (kick-off 3pm). The Blades have enjoyed a predominantly good start to the season, sitting fourth in the division. Neil Harris’ men are looking to bounce back this weekend following the midweek Carabao Cup defeat at the hands of Fulham and a 2-0 reverse in the last League outing at West Bromwich Albion.
Founded in 1889, Sheffield United enjoyed unprecedented success in their first 30 years in particular. The Blades lifted their solitary League title in 1898 after finishing second the previous year, and managed another runner-up berth in 1900 alongside four FA Cup wins during this era.
Sheffield United have often fluctuated between the top three divisions in England, and topped the League in their only season in the fourth tier in 1981/82. The side’s last appearance in the Premier League came under Neil Warnock in 2006/07, relegated on the final day by fellow survival hopefuls Wigan Athletic. A further drop hit the club in 2011 as they began a torrid journey trying to escape League One – an achievement they secured in style in 2017, as they cantered to 100 points under current boss Chris Wilder after three previous unsuccessful Play-Off campaigns. Following a striking start to last season back in the Championship, United fell away slightly and went on to finish in a respectable 10th place. Enjoying another good start this term, particularly on an attacking front, Wilder will be looking to maintain their form throughout the season as they hunt down a place in the top six. The club also carry a good knockout pedigree, reaching the Semi-Finals of both domestic cups in 2003, the last four of the FA Cup in 2014 and another Semi in the League Cup the following year.
Ones to Watch
Jack O’Connell (5) is a towering defender who made the move north to Bramall Lane from Brentford in 2016. O’Connell, 24, has progressed excellently under Chris Wilder and was the only player to appear in every Blades game in The Championship last term. A mainstay in the defence, O’Connell possesses a unique ability to overlap down the channels and operate out wide when his side are attacking, as well as playing a commanding role at the back with excellent aerial prowess and a 6’3’’ frame. The former England U19 international began his career on the books of Blackburn Rovers, signing professional terms in 2012. A loan spell at Rotherham United gave O’Connell his first senior appearance later that year, and further loans at York City and Rochdale earned the defender a move to Griffin Park in 2015. Another temporary stint at Rochdale was enough for Wilder to recognise his potential, and he has gone from strength-to-strength since becoming a Blade.
Mark Duffy (21) is another who signed in 2016 following Wilder’s appointment. He has made a solid impression with the Sheffield United supporters, not least for a stunning goal in last season’s thrilling Steel City derby as they beat Sheffield Wednesday 4-2 at Hillsborough. Duffy was recruited after earning a place in the League One Team of the Year whilst on loan at Burton Albion from Birmingham City, and went on to achieve the same feat for a successive year as The Blades won their long-awaited promotion. Nimble, energetic and exciting on the ball, Duffy carries plenty of League experience having previously made over 100 appearances for Scunthorpe United, as well as donning the colours of Doncaster Rovers and Morecambe. A former Liverpool youth player, Duffy is still playing some of the best football of his career at 32 and remains a key asset to Wilder’s squad this season.
Ben Woodburn (11) was brought in on loan from Liverpool in the summer to earn valuable experience in the men’s game. Although still only 18, Woodburn has already experienced some memorable moments, including becoming The Reds’ youngest-ever goalscorer against Leeds United in November 2016, and scoring a stunning winner on his senior Wales debut against Austria in September last year. The forward – adept across the front line and wide in midfield – has gone on to obtain eight caps and counting, and is expected to be a huge star for the future of Liverpool and the Welsh side. Woodburn has appeared mainly from the bench for The Blades so far this campaign, gradually settling into the side, and will be pushing to start as the season schedule intensifies. An exciting and fearless teenage talent, Woodburn is a player to be wary of and has shown his ability to make an instant impact.
Billy Sharp (10) maintains the ‘born and bred’ mentality in the Sheffield United dressing room – like his manager, representing his boyhood club. The 32-year-old re-signed in South Yorkshire for a third spell in 2015 following a season with Leeds United, and has led by example from the front as The Blades enjoyed their sumptuous promotion campaign of 2016/17. Sharp has this season surpassed 80 goals in the red and white jersey, and brings invaluable experience to a promising squad. A consistent performer up top with over 200 career goals, Sharp has also turned out for clubs including Southampton, Doncaster Rovers and Scunthorpe United, and is a two-time winner of the League One Player of the Year Award, in 2007 and 2017. The experienced marksman will be looking to add to a tally which currently stands at four Championship goals this season.
In the Dugout
Local lad and former Sheffield United player Chris Wilder grabbed the opportunity to manage his boyhood club in 2016 after cantering League Two the previous season with Northampton Town. The appointment proved immediately successful, as Wilder guided The Blades to the 2016/17 League One title with a remarkable 100 points. With the journey looking to continue even further as the side enjoyed blistering early-season form – topping The Championship at one stage – the side eventually slowed down and finished a respectable 10th. Starting his managerial career in 2002 with Halifax Town, Wilder left the club after their disbanding in 2008. His next job came at Oxford United, taking the club into the League before moving to Sixfields. Picking up 99 points as Northampton stormed League Two, Wilder then went one better with the century at Bramall Lane in 2016/17 – earning him the LMA Manager of the Year Award.