Sheffield United host Luton Town on Saturday – a game which has permutations not just in the automatic promotion race, but in the race for the top six too.
It was crucial that Sheffield United secured three points on Tuesday night in their battle to hold on to second place. Thankfully for their supporters, they did so as their 1-0 win away at Reading extended their lead over third place Middlesbrough to seven points. Unbelievably, it was their first league win on the road in 2023 and boss Paul Heckingbottom hailed his side and called it a ‘big win’. He will no doubt be hoping to build on what was a dominant performance against the Royals, with Luton Town visiting Bramall Lane this weekend.
The Blades won on Tuesday courtesy of Iliman N’Diaye’s goal on the hour mark. Striker Ollie McBurnie spoke after the game, having provided the assist for N’Diaye. ”It was important that we bounced back after the poor result the other day (last Saturday’s defeat at Blackburn). We were dominant throughout and it was all about finding that breakthrough. Although we knew it was important to win the game in hand, we have to focus on ourselves. Thankfully, everything is in our hands. He was also pleased to assist his team mate for the winning goal. “It was nice to give Iliman a goal rather than him giving me one” he laughed.
McBurnie scored against the Hatters earlier in the season in a 1-1 draw at Kenilworth Road, a goal which was his first of the season and sparked a run of five goals in six games. The 26 year old has followed up those goals with a further six and has 11 league goals for the campaign.
Middlesbrough have won six of their last seven league games meaning they gnawed at the gap to second place quite quickly, going to within four points after they thrashed Reading 5-0 last weekend and the Blades lost at Blackburn.
They also lost at Millwall in their previous away game and the return to Bramall Lane appears to come at the right time for United. Their home form is strong – with only Burnley and Blackburn picking up more points on their own patch.
Paul Heckingbottom’s side do not have many fresh injury worries. Enda Stevens remains a doubt with a muscle injury whilst Rhian Brewster, Rhys Norrington-Davies and Jack O’Connell are long term absentees.
Only the most optimistic of Luton Town fans will consider their side in contention for a top two finish. They sit ten points off their upcoming opponents and only three points from third placed Middlesbrough.
Since Rob Edwards took over from Nathan Jones as manager in November, he has only overseen three defeats in his fourteen league games in charge. They have picked up eight victories and the other three have been drawn. Middlesbrough, West Brom and Burnley are the only sides to take three points from them in that period and they head into Saturday’s game knowing only Middlesbrough have beaten them on the road.
Edwards though is looking forward to the trip north. “It will be a great atmosphere. The supporters that are coming have got to really enjoy it and I know we will hear them. It will hopefully be a good day, but it will be a challenging game for both teams.
He was also very complimentary of Saturday’s opponents. “We know them quite well and they’ve done very well ” he said. “Hecky’s done a great job and they have got a lot of great players and they are where they are on merit. They have got many strings to their bow and our game has got to be really good to get anything from them.
Jordan Clark signed a new contract extension with the Hatters this week. He has missed just one league game for the club since September so he will be raring to go. Pelly Ruddock-Mpanzu was dropped for the weekend win against Swansea and will hope to regain his place in the side. Edwards will however be sweating over the fitness of defender Reece Burke. Burke was subbed with an injury in the recent win at Birmingham and has missed the last two league games but he is edging closer to a return.
Goalkeeper Jack Walton has not played a league game for Luton since his January move from Barnsley. Midfielder Luke Freeman hasn’t played since December as he has a groin problem. Both will miss the game.
Venue: Bramall Lane, Sheffield.
Referee: Mr Leigh Doughty.
Kick off: 15:00 – Saturday March 11th.