Sheffield United have impressed on their first season back in the Championship since 2010/11 and have been in and around the promotion places for the entire campaign.
They went top of the table in late October after winning at Leeds and returned there in mid-November after winning at Burton, but a run of four defeats and two draws in their next six games left them outside the play-off zone going into Christmas.
Their mixed form has continued since then and they will arrive at Griffin Park in ninth place, although only two points outside the play-off zone with eight games remaining.
The Blades have been strong at Bramall Lane and have the fifth best home record in the Championship with 11 wins and three draws from their 19 home games.
However, their away form has been more inconsistent and is the 13th best in the division with seven wins, three draws and nine defeats.
They have been involved in some thrilling matches this season, including a 5-4 home defeat by Fulham and 4-2 derby win at Sheffield Wednesday, while they have kept clean sheets in each of their last three fixtures.
Their cup runs were both ended by Leicester – in the second round of the Carabao Cup (4-1 at Bramall Lane) and the fifth round of the FA Cup (1-0 at the King Power Stadium).
United were founder members of the Premier League in 1992 but have only played in it for three seasons – the last being 2006/07.
After that they spent four years in the Championship – losing to Burnley in the 2009 play-off final – and six in League One before returning as champions with 100 points last season.
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WHO’S IN CHARGE
Boyhood Sheffield United fan and former Blades defender Chris Wilder was appointed as manager in May 2016 in place of Nigel Adkins, after the Blades had finished 11th.
Wilder had just led Northampton to the League Two title when he left for Bramall Lane after previously guiding Oxford back into the Football League via the National League play-off final in 2010 in which they beat York 3-1.
He has also managed Alfreton and Halifax.
After beginning his playing career with Sheffield United and returning for a second spell, he also had permanent stays with Rotherham, Notts County, Bradford City, Brighton and Halifax – making more than 400 appearances in a 15-year career.
WE’VE MET BEFORE
Good Friday will be Sheffield United’s first visit to Griffin Park for nearly five years.
Their last was our first home game of the 2013/14 season and Will Grigg was certainly on fire as he scored twice in a 3-1 Brentford victory.
Adam Forshaw put us ahead but Neill Collins headed an equaliser before Grigg struck twice and then squandered the chance of a hat-trick when he missed a penalty.
The return match, on a Tuesday night in April, finished 0-0 but featured a pre-VAR reversed penalty and red card decision as referee Eddie Ilderton changed his mind about awarding us a first half spot-kick and sending off United’s Kieron Freeman after consulting with a linesman.
We visited Bramall Lane on the first day of this season and the promoted Blades got off to a perfect start by beating us 1-0.
Billy Sharp headed the only goal in the 39th minute but Lasse Vibe somehow missed the chance to equalise when he headed over from inside the six-yard box.
Q – How would you assess Sheffield United’s season so far – what was expected at the start of the season?
A – It’s been a great season for the Blades so far. The expectation was to build on promotion and they’ve certainly done that. They’re still in contention for the play-offs and have had some memorable wins along the way.
Q – What is the feeling about the rest of the season – do club/fans/you expect the side to secure a play-off place?
A – I’m not sure the fans expect the play-offs but many will be optimistic they can still compete. Either way, after a long spell in League One they’ll be pleased to be back in the second tier and contending for the play-offs.
Q – Chris Wilder has had a lot of success at his different clubs in recent seasons. What is his secret and how much does being a Blades fan play a part for him at Bramall Lane?
A – Chris Wilder’s a really good manager. It’s really that simple. He did an unbelievable job in difficult circumstances at Northampton. He had success at Halifax and Oxford. This is merely a continuation at Bramall Lane. He provided unity at the club for the first time in a long time, got the players to buy in and his sides play attacking, progressive football. And they work harder than most other teams.
Q – What has been the reason for the slight fall-off in form in the second half of the season?
A – They had some key injuries (eg Paul Coutts) and David Brooks had glandular fever. They were two big losses. Leon Clarke’s form dipped too. The performances have been good overall but they weren’t hitting the heights of pre-Christmas.
Q – If the club was to be promoted to the Premier League, how prepared will it be?
A – I don’t think you can ever be 100% prepared for the Premier League. You can’t pick and choose when you make it. I suspect Wilder would relish the challenge. And considering the success of teams like Burnley and Brighton, there’s no reason why they wouldn’t compete.
Q – How have ex-Bees Jack O’Connell and Clayton Donaldson been since they joined the club?
A – O’Connell has been a crucial player for United, one of their best signings under Wilder. He’s not just a physical presence at the back, he’s probably the only big centre-half in the division that does a good job overlapping the wing-back.
Donaldson has been really good albeit in a specific role. He’s not going to play every week but when he does he’s often had an impact. It was a quality signing.
Q – Which Blades players should we watch out for?
A – If David Brooks is fit he’s one of the most exciting players in the Championship. John Fleck has had an outstanding year and Mark Duffy is highly underrated.
Q – Which Brentford players will you be wary of?
A – I really liked the look of Florian Jozefzoon when Brentford beat Wednesday over Christmas. Pace is rare these days and he has it.
Q – Finally, are you able to give me a possible Blades starting line-up and formation too please?
A – 3-5-2 with another ex-Brentford player Simon Moore or Jamal Blackman in goal, then Chris Basham, Richard Stearman and Jack O’Connell as a back three. The two wing-backs could be Enda Stevens and George Baldock with John Fleck, Lee Evans and Mark Duffy in the middle. Front two – pick two from Billy Sharp, Leon Clarke, David Brooks, James Wilson or Ched Evans.
PUBS IN BRENTFORD AND TRAVEL NEWS
For Sheffield United fans coming to the game, you are probably aware there plenty of pub options pre-match and all are most welcoming and away-fan-friendly (as it should be).
We are now back to the traditional four pubs around the ground, following the reopening of the Royal Oak.
The Griffin is closest to the away end (like 30 secs walk) and is very popular with away fans – but also very, very busy. The New Inn is on the other side and is also popular with away fans. The Princess Royal and the Royal Oak are the other options.
Other pubs slightly further afield for the more creative amongst you include (and this is by no means a definitive list) …. The Globe (Windmill Rd) is the Beesotted pre-match pub. This boozer & The Lord Nelson (Enfield Rd) are both incredibly friendly and cosy away-friendly pubs and about 1 min walk from each other …. frequented by ‘away fans in the know’.
The Plough (Northfields Ave) in Northfields is a decent stop-off if you are coming by tube to Northfields. The ‘Northfields run’ makes a much better pub crawl route than South Ealing – getting off at Northfields station, turning left and stopping off at The Plough (2 min walk), The Lord Nelson (10 min walk from The Plough) & The Globe (1 min walk from The Nelson) en-route before ending up at The Griffin (8 min walk from The Globe) by the away turnstiles.
There’s also a relatively new tiny microbrewery pub in Northfields called The Owl and The Pussycat (Northfields Ave)– right turn out of the station away from the ground as opposed to left.
There is a pub right by Brentford station referred to as … the Pub by Brentford station.
For ale head to the Magpie and Crown pub on Brentford High Street. The Royal Horseguardsman (Ealing Road) can probably hold 15 of you at a push.
The Brewery Tap (Catherine Wheel Road) is a cosy boozer by the river. And if you are super adventurous, get off at Kew Bridge and visit One Over the Ait (Kew Bridge Road) – a spacious boozer right next to Kew Bridge with a beer deck overlooking the river – and The Express Tavern (Kew Bridge Road) – an ale pub with a retro feel.
A quick Google search and you’ll find them all. There are many many more too if you have a look around.
Parking is pretty easy away from the ground going up towards and over the A4 Great West Rd (ie. North) via Ealing Road or Windmill Road.
Getting to Brentford from town – many fans get the tube to Waterloo (Northern, Jubilee lines) or Vauxhall (Victoria Line) then take the Overground train to Brentford.
However, there are engineering works on Friday, a replacement bus service and also strike action that may affect your journey.
This is relatively straightforward but can actually take longer than if you get the tube due to waiting times (overground trains come every 15 mins and the journey from Vauxhall or Waterloo to Brentford is 30 mins on the fast train – 51 mins on the slow train – so you could find it takes you over an hour including the journey from Kings Cross/Euston/Paddington).
Many fans choose the tube over the overground. It’s 35 minutes to Northfields station from Kings Cross or Euston (less from Paddington) and then 15 minutes walk to Brentford from there (4 mins on the bus) – more if you take the Northfields to Brentford pub crawl outlined above (Plough, Lord Nelson, Globe, Griffin) of course. If you’re feeling lazy you could take the E2 bus from outside Northfields station to either outside The Globe pub (3 stops – serves The Lord Nelson too) or Brentford FC (4 stops).
You can check out Transport for London’s guide to travel on the Tube and Overground.
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