Sheffield United v West Bromwich Albion; Bramall Lane, Wednesday 26th April, 8pm
While much of the football supporting public will have their attention firmly focussed on the “title decider” at the Etihad Stadium, Blades and Baggies fans will be distracted by events on the other side of the Pennines at Bramall Lane. Following Luton Town’s win over Middlesbrough on Monday, the hosts need one more victory from their final four games to secure a return to the Premier League while Albion probably need to win their last three matches if they are to secure a top six spot.
This midweek sees two clubs in the play-off race play their games in hand with both having a tough fixture. On Tuesday evening, Blackburn Rovers host champions-elect, Burnley, in what should be a fiercely-contested local derby, while Albion are facing second-placed Sheffield United on Wednesday – victory for both could see them occupy top six spots as we go into the weekend albeit Albion would need a two-goal margin of victory to move above Coventry City who currently sit in fifth spot.
With just four points separating fifth from twelfth, even defeats for both clubs would not rule them out of contention, although both would then be relying on the teams above to drop points, albeit that is something all clubs in the chasing pack have done with alacrity in recent weeks. While Luton Town and Middlesbrough have maintained good form and pulled clear, those behind have been swapping places as form has faltered. Millwall and Blackburn Rovers have both dropped out of the top six to be replaced by Coventry City and Sunderland who seemed some way off a few short weeks ago. Meanwhile, Albion’s final two opponents, Norwich City and Swansea City, are still very much in the hunt sitting just a point behind Albion.
Sunday’s defeat to Sunderland was undoubtedly a huge blow after Corberán’s team had dragged themselves back into contention with back-to-back away wins. As I said in my match report, I feel that Albion are just a bit short of what is required to get promotion, although I would not rule them out entirely. An unfortunately-timed spate of injuries has hampered them significantly, but in reality, it was failure to do the business in both boxes that cost them on Sunday.
Sheffield United were, of course, Carlos Corberán’s first opponents as Albion boss and, until Sunday, the only side to win at the Hawthorns in his tenure. The Blades’ 2-0 victory on that day kept them in 4th spot in the Championship and left the Baggies bottom of the table. Only Burnley and Middlesbrough have earned more points since then than Paul Heckingbottom’s team with United having secured 17 wins and 53 points in their 25 games, four more points than Albion have earned from their 26 games in the same period. The Blades have lost five league games since mid-February which has kept Luton Town and Middlesbrough interested, but with just three points needed, effectively two when you consider goal difference, from their final four games, they are nailed on to join Burnley in the Premier League next season.
The games they have lost recently have been to promotion-chasing sides. Burnley, Luton Town, Blackburn Rovers, Millwall and Middlesbrough are the teams to have beaten the Blades in the league in 2023 with Luton and Boro’ doing so at Bramall Lane. Albion will need them to have another off-day if they are to claim the three points they desperately need.
Corberán has very little choice in terms of team selection, with perhaps the decision on central midfield the one that is the least obvious. Okay Yokuşlu was evidently short of match fitness on Sunday and he may not be risked against the three central midfielders that United normally play. Kyle Bartley may also be pushing for a start but it would be harsh on either Pieters or Ajayi to be replaced at this stage, barring any injury concerns, of course.
In a fortnight, the regular season will be done and dusted. Can the players raise themselves for one last push in an effort to extend their season for a few more weeks? I’m not expecting a top six finish now, but I certainly won’t give up hope just yet.
Sheffield United were founded in 1889 and have played at Bramall Lane for all of their existence. Founder members of Division Two in 1892, they soon won promotion and first played against Albion in October 1893 which resulted in a 2-0 win for the visitors at Bramall Lane thanks to goals from Billy Bassett and William Neale. The Blades secured their first victory over the Baggies the following year when goals from Hugh Morris and Jack Jones secured a 2-1 victory, again at Bramall Lane.
The head-to-head record has remained fairly even throughout the history of the fixture with Albion edging it by 48 wins to 45 in all competitions although the Blades have slightly the better record in league football. The Blades’ biggest win came at Bramall Lane in February 2000 – Marcus Bent gave the hosts an early lead but it was still only 1-0 when Richard Sneekes was sent off seven minutes before the break. Bent made it 2-0 before half time and completed his hat trick six minutes into the second half. Further goals from Paul Devlin, Alex Notman and Michael Brown made the final score 6-0 making a mockery of the 13-match unbeaten start that Brian Little’s team had made to that season. Little would be sacked a few weeks later to be replaced by a certain Gary Megson.
The Baggies’ biggest win at Bramall Lane is the infamous “battle” from February 2002 which resulted in a 3-0 win, something I have covered many times on this site, but perhaps a less well-known impressive win came four years earlier and it is the only time an Albion side have scored more than three at the home of the Blades.
In April 1998, Albion were drifting towards a mid-table finish – they had started the season well under Ray Harford, but when he opted to make a move to QPR, the Baggies’ form collapsed as it took Denis Smith until his ninth league game at the Hawthorns to record a home league win. He had earned a little credit when his first win as Baggies boss came at Molineux, but Albion had recorded just one win in fourteen games when they travelled to Bramall Lane for their last away game of the season. The Blades, on the other hand, were fighting for a play-off spot although all was not well at the club after manager, Nigel Spackman, had resigned after the club had sold both of their top scorers, Brian Deane and Jan Åge Fjørtoft, on the same day without replacing them. Steve Thompson was in caretaker charge and while form was patchy, them remained in the play-off fight. Graham Stuart gave the hosts the lead from the spot but Andy Hunt equalised before the break before Lee Hughes put the Baggies ahead on 65 minutes. Marcelo equalised for the hosts but Albion responded with two quick goals, the first from Kevin Kilbane and a second for Lee Hughes to make the final score 4-2 and give the travelling fans some late season cheer. The Blades did make the play-offs but lost to Sunderland in the semi-final who themselves lost on penalties in the final after a 4-4 draw with Charlton Athletic.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
29 Oct 2022 – League Championship
West Bromwich Albion 0
Sheffield United 2 (Ndiaye, McBurnie)
Last meeting at Sheffield United
9 Feb 2022 – League Championship
Sheffield United 2 (Sharp (2))
West Bromwich Albion 0
11 Aug 2022 – League Cup 1st Round
West Bromwich Albion 1 (Grant)
Sheffield United 0
Last win at Sheffield United
14 Dec 2018 – League Championship
Sheffield United 1 (McGoldrick)
West Bromwich Albion 2 (Barry, Gibbs)
Albion’s Record against Sheffield United
If you cannot see the tables, click here.