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Opposition Lowdown: Promotion-Hunting Sheffield United

Reading will look to bounce back from their heavy defeat to third-placed Middlesbrough with a home tie against second-placed Sheffield United. Join us as we take a look at the opposition.

Sheffield United v Reading - Sky Bet Championship - Bramall Lane Photo by Tim Goode/PA Images via Getty Images


Sheffield United finished in fifth place in the Championship last season, securing a playoff spot, but they failed to make it to the final, losing to Nottingham Forest on penalties after a 3-3 aggregate draw in the semi-finals.

The Blades have had a strong start to the season, sitting in second place, four points ahead of third-placed Middlesbrough with a game in hand, having won 19, drawn seven and lost eight games. However, their recent form has been mixed, having seen two wins and three losses in their last five games.

The two sides faced each other back in August last year, with United beating Reading 4-0 at Bramall Lane, after goals from Oli McBurnie, Iliman Ndiaye and two from Anel Ahmedhodzic.

The boss

Paul Heckingbottom: Heckingbottom became Sheffield United manager in November 2021, taking over from Slavisa Jokanovic, who was sacked after The Blades’ 0-1 victory against Reading, with the club sitting 16th in the table.

Heckingbottom was a familiar face around Sheffield having previously managed United’s under-23 side, while also serving as caretaker manager when Chris Wilder left The Blades with the side sitting bottom of the Premier League in March 2021.

He started his managerial career at Barnsley back in 2016, leading the Tykes back to the Championship, before a four-month spell managing Leeds United, followed by a nine-month spell in charge of Scottish Premier League side Hibernian.

Heckingbottom signed a long-term deal with United in November 2021, with the board praising his leadership qualities, technical football skills and focus on player development.


The Blades had a quiet January with no players coming through the door at Bramall Lane. However, they will have been pleased to have kept their promotion-chasing squad intact, having seen no major outgoings.

Defender Anel Ahmedhodzic, who scored twice against the Royals in the reverse fixture earlier on this season, will miss Tuesday’s game as he serves the last match of a suspension. Defenders Enda Stevens, Jack O’Connell and Rhys Norrington-Davis will all miss out with injuries. Former Liverpool youngster Rhian Brewster will also miss out as he recovers from a hamstring injury.

Expected lineup

Foderingham, Basham, Egan, Robinson, Bogle, Lowe, Berge, Norwood, Fleck, McBurnie, Ndiaye

Key player

Oliver Norwood: Former Royal Norwood signed for the Blades on a permanent deal in January 2019, having been on loan at the club since the previous August. The midfielder started his career at Manchester United, joining their youth academy at the age of seven. He never made an appearance for United but had loan spells at Carlisle, Scunthorpe and Coventry City. He made a permanent switch to Huddersfield Town in 2012 and spent two seasons at the Terriers.

He then joined Reading in 2014, making 92 appearances, scoring five goals and claiming 18 assists. After two years in Berkshire, Norwood joined Brighton & Hove Albion on a permanent deal; while there he also had loan spells at Fulham and then Sheffield United.

Norwood has also represented Northern Ireland and won 57 caps, before retiring from international duty in 2019. The 31-year-old centre midfielder is Sheffield United’s most creative outlet with a great eye for a pass – both short and long.

One to watch

Iliman Ndiaye: Attacker Ndiaye joined Sheffield United in August 2019, signing from non-league Boreham Wood. He started his youth career in France with Rouen but also spent time in the youth team at Marseille. He moved to England in 2017, signing for Boreham Wood, but never made a first-team appearance for the club prior to joining the Blades in 2019.

After a loan spell at Hyde United in 2019, Ndiaye returned to the Blades, making his debut for the club in 2021. He became a first-team regular in the 2021/22 season and has now made 74 appearances for United, scoring 18 goals.

The 22-year-old is a full Senegal international who has six caps for his country. Ndiaye can play in the number 10 role or upfront and is a strong dribbler of the ball.