Sheffield United v Sheffield Wednesday, Championship, September 18, 2009
The Championship, arguably the most competitive league in world football, welcomes one of its glamour fixtures of the season on Friday night as the the Steel City derby takes place at Bramall Lane.
Last season Sheffield Wednesday surprisingly walked away with a 2-1 win from their closest rivals, the victory being Wednesday’s first at Bramall Lane since 1967 and completing their first double over their city rivals for 95 years. Blades’ coach Kevin Blackwell will be desperate not to lose face for a second year running in his club’s most intense grudge match of the year, but coach must contend with a couple of selection headaches before kick-off.
After seven matches of the new season, United comfortably sit seventh in the table just five points behind league leaders West Brom and Middlesbrough, but the Blades will be slightly under the weather having surrendered their unbeaten record in disappointing fashion by going down 3-2 at Coventry on Tuesday night.
Even more troubling for Kevin Blackwell, though, is the news that centre-half Matthew Kilgallon could miss the derby match having been struck down with a chest infection. Kilgallon’s partnership with Chris Morgan at the heart of the Blades’ backline forms the bedrock of the United defence, and his absence will be sorely missed in the derby.
In the defeat to Coventry, Blackwell was forced to compensate for his centre-half’s absence by employingÂ Kyle Walker as a makeshift centre-back while Ryan France was brought in as cover a right-back. The same ploy may be forced against the Owls, however after shipping three poor goals midweek changes could also be in the offing.
It is well known that the Blades are on the lookout for defensive cover, Bolton’s Danny Shittu and Ipswich’s Gareth McAuley are the latest names said to be on United’s radar.
Further up the field United are able to boast a healthy selection of midfield schemers. Reading’s James Harper has been brought in on loan to add extra creativity in the middle of the park, while 23-year-old Northern Ireland international Jamie Ward is fast emerging as United’s conjuror-in-chief.
Up-top, Darius Henderson (no goals in seven games) will be hoping to open his account for the season, while Ched Evans will be looking to add to his two goals already tallied this year.
The Owls’ boss Brian Laws has his own selection issues to contend with prior to the derby. Defender Richard Hinds, yet to make a League start this season, could play at Bramall Lane on Friday as doubts hang over Richard Wood and Mark Beevers, who was carried off during Tuesday night’s 3-1 defeat against Middlesbrough.
Laws also has to decide whether to recall Francis Jeffers to his first team after the former Everton and Arsenal striker missed the last three games after being dismissed several weeks back for violently punching a Port Vale player in the face.
One selection dilemma not worrying Laws is the inclusion of Marcus Tudgay as his leading frontman, the striker having scored in both matches against United last season.
With both teams coming into this match off the back of defeats and with patched up defences to boot, a frantic, high-tempo match is in the offing with both sides vulnerable to concede when under pressure.
101predicts: Sheffield United 3 – Sheffield Wednesday 2 (25/1)
Full match odds here.