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Title up for grabs as Blades host Bolton

Chris Wilder has overseen an impressive debut season – as has counterpart Phil Parkinson

By Matthew Brady

The League One title hangs in the balance as Bolton travel to South Yorkshire to face Sheffield United in a game that could have huge ramifications at the top of the table.

Both sides have gone unbeaten throughout February, although league leaders United have failed to win their last two games, including being held at home by promotion contenders Scunthorpe.

History also favours Bolton, as the Blades have already tasted defeat twice against Wanderers this season, including an opening day loss that gave boss Chris Wilder a disappointing debut.

The Yorkshire outfit have certainly recovered since then, with Wilder recording an impressive 21 wins out of 39 games in all competitions during his Bramall Lane tenure.

But Wilder is under no illusions about the challenge his side face against the resurgent Wanderers, who have recovered from a dismal January to challenge for automatic promotion again.

Gary Madine celebrates a late equaliser at Valley Parade

“They’ve got experienced players who are good in both boxes – and to be fair that’s where the game is often decided. They’ve possibly been the best team in the division defensively.”

Wilder will come up against his former teammate and childhood friend Phil Parkinson, who has turned Bolton around since calling time on five years at Bradford City this summer.

Parkinson’s side have reacted well to losing top-scorer Zach Clough to Nottingham Forest on deadline day, and will hope controversial striker Gary Madine can help fill the void Clough left.

Madine has been in the headlines again this week for varying reasons, scoring a late equaliser last weekend against Bradford before a video emerged of him criticising Blades forward Billy Sharp.

The video, in which Madine refers to top league goalscorer Sharp as a “fat little pig”, has been criticised by many, including Bolton supporters and United chief Wilder.

In terms of team news, the home side will still be without Manchester United loanee Joe Riley as he recovers from a dislocated shoulder, while forward Chris Long could return for Wanderers.

The fixture will be refereed by Mike Dean. The Wirral-born official is never far away from controversy, and has brandished as many as eight cards in a single game so far this season.

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