Promotion contenders Sheffield United are flying high in the Championship playoff places, after being promoted from the third tier in 2017. Their rapid rise to the top of the Championship is testament to the hard work Chris Wilder and his staff have invested in the club.
In the 2016/17 season when United were promoted from League One, Reading were consistently sitting in a similar position that the Blades are placed in now - in contention for promotion to the Premier League within the playoff places. How times have changed.
The last five
Sheffield United: LDWDW
Chris Basham will be missing for Sheffield United after receiving a two-match suspension for picking up ten yellow cards in the league this season. He missed his first match against Middlesbrough in midweek and will sit out the tie against Reading on Saturday.
Sheffield United have had a tough run of fixtures recently. However, their only loss in their past five games was a narrow 1-0 defeat against Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium. They have managed to gain a point in each of their difficult away ties against Norwich City and Aston Villa. However, they were devastated with their draw at Villa Park, with the Blades being 3-0 up after 80 minutes in that tie. Their 1-0 win against fellow promotion hopefuls Middlesbrough in midweek boosted their chances of going up. They will be hoping for another home win this weekend.
Nelson Oliveira is in contention to start again for the Royals after playing in a face mask on Wednesday. In other injury news, Andy Rinomhota is a serious doubt for the weekend after twisting his ankle severely in action and will be a huge miss for the Royals. Garath McCleary was left out of the squad for tactical reasons in the last fixture against Blackburn but could make the squad for the trip to Bramall Lane.
Reading’s 2-1 win against Blackburn Rovers on Wednesday lifted the Royals out of the relegation zone. This was after Reading played in back-to-back draws against Aston Villa at home and then Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough. All these points are vital to the club, especially after conceding a last minute equaliser to fellow strugglers Bolton Wanderers in late January. With the crunch home tie against Rotherham United not too far away, it would be very handy if the Royals can pick up more points at Bramall Lane.
8/12/2018: Reading 0-2 Sheffield United
27/2/2018: Reading 1-3 Sheffield United
21/10/2017: Sheffield United 2-1 Reading
26/1/2013: Reading 4-0 Sheffield United
25/4/2011: Reading 2 – 3 Sheffield United
Our last meeting with the Blades was when Scott Marshall took charge in his first game as Reading caretaker. We’ve had several caretaker managers over the past decade - the great Brian McDermott and the legendary Eammon Dolan, as well as Martin Kuhl more recently. Marshall’s time as temporary manager saw no improvement in results though, and his side lost 2-0 to United in the reverse fixture of this weekend’s game.
Our only victory in our previous five meetings came as a 4-0 FA Cup win, which included a touching tribute to the bravery of Chris Armstrong, who was diagnosed with MS. Other than that victory, our form against the Blades has been quite miserable. Our meeting with them at home in February 2018 resulted in a 3-1 loss, and me freezing in my Mad Stad seat. Roy Beerens scored our consolation goal at Bramall Lane in a 2-1 loss back in October 2017.
- Reading were 21 league places above Sheffield United on 16th February 2017, exactly two years ago. This was when Reading were fourth in the Championship, and United were leaders of League One.
- Sheffield United are now 18 league places above Reading going in to this weekend’s fixtures - a huge change from two years ago.
- Sheffield United have scored 53 goals in 31 league games this season and are on course to score 78 if they continue at the same rate. This is compared to their finishing total of 62 Championship goals scored last season. Will their goalscoring prowess power them to promotion?
- Reading have not won a game this season where they have conceded first. The opening goal will be vital.
Both teams are desperate for a win this weekend in different circumstances. Sheffield United will be looking to solidify their place in the promotion race, while the Royals look to drag themselves away from a relegation scrap. Reading are in a much better place under Jose Gomes now as opposed to when they were under Scott Marshall in their 2-0 defeat in the reverse fixture, in December.
Even though Reading are still desperate for points having improved, I feel that third-placed Sheffield United will be a step too far for the Berkshire side. Reading will put in a spirited performance, but I sadly predict a 2-0 win for the home side this weekend.