Sheffield United are among the promotion challengers for the second season in a row.
Despite a disappointing end to the last campaign and a poor start to this one, Tuesday night’s visitors have put themselves firmly in contention again this time around and topped the table in early October after a run of four consecutive wins.
Since then, however, they have slightly faltered with only one win in their last six games, although they have drawn their last two – the derby at home to Wednesday (0-0) and another all-Yorkshire clash at Rotherham (2-2).
Manager Chris Wilder freshened up his squad in the summer – with one of the new signings being our former captain John Egan for a record fee for the Blades.
Egan played more than 70 games for the Bees over the past two seasons, scoring seven goals for us.
He has only missed one Championship game this season and is playing alongside another ex-Bee in ever-present Jack O’Connell in the heart of the defence.
This is United’s second successive season in the Championship after a six season spell in League One.
The Blades were founder members of the Premier League, but have only played three seasons there – the first two of its existence as well as the 2006/07 campaign.
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
We visited Bramall Lane on the first day of last 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.
Chris Mepham scored his first Brentford goal to earn us a 1-1 draw in a stormy Good Friday return match, in which both Ryan Woods and Blades goalkeeper Jamal Blackman were sent off.
BBC Radio Sheffield sports journalist Adam Oxley, who presents, reports and commentates for the station’s Football Heaven show, explains why Sheffield United have made such a strong start to the season, why they ran out of steam last time around and the impact made by John Egan at Bramall Lane.
Q – Sheffield United have made a superb start to the season – what do you put this down to?
A – There are plenty of factors but it all leads back to Chris Wilder. The club has recruited well and Wilder is getting the best from his squad. The players know their roles and know what’s expected of them. The manager is an inspirational figure for players, staff and fans alike, and that’s not just because he’s a fan of the club, as he has proved with his previous success at Alfreton, Halifax, Oxford and Northampton. Wilder has high standards and is very honest in his appraisal of his team, be that good or bad.
Q – What were the expectations for this season, given how close the Blades went to the play-offs last season?
A – It’s been very much an upward trajectory for the Blades since Chris Wilder took the helm, so the expectation was to see that continue. This means pushing closely for and achieving a play-off place. Wilder has received some financial backing with the club-record signing of John Egan from the Bees, and other high-profile names like Oli Norwood and Dean Henderson have arrived too, but United will probably have to strengthen further in January if play-offs and promotion are to be achieved.
Q – What derailed the promotion bid last season, having been in contention for so much of the season?
A – The Blades ran out of steam last season. United kept a very similar team to that which claimed the League One title. This helped for continuity but they didn’t quite have the stamina and squad depth to secure a top-six spot. There were also some disagreements between the two co-owners, who both want control of the club, which seemed to take some of the focus away from matters on field. While this power struggle continues behind the scenes, the co-owners now appear to be singing from the same hymn sheet as far as backing the manager is concerned, and the squad has been improved with the additions mentioned.
Q – How has John Egan settled in at Bramall Lane and what impact has he had on the side?
A – Very well. Egan has fitted into United’s 3-5-2 formation effortlessly and after a couple of matches getting his bearings, he’s one of the first names on the teamsheet, as he should be as the club’s record signing. I’ve interviewed him earlier this season and he’s a very ambitious player, both at club and international level, and while he’s not the team captain, his leadership qualities have certainly helped make the Blades resolute at the back.
Q – How is his partnership with fellow ex-Bee Jack O’Connell going?
A – Egan, O’Connell and Chris Basham are the first choice back three and while others like Richard Stearman come into the side and do well, it is noticeable when one of the three can’t play. All three seem to have a great understanding and play pivotal roles for the team. Jack O’Connell and Chris Basham are real fans’ favourites, having helped United into the Championship and subsequently showing they’re a match for anyone in the second tier.
Q – What style of play should we expect to see from United?
A – Chris Wilder settled on a 3-5-2 formation very early in his time at Bramall Lane and it’s stuck ever since, helping every member of his squad to understand their role in the team. It’s different to a conventional 3-5-2 as centre-backs Jack O’Connell and Chris Basham will regularly bomb down the flanks and aid the wing backs, aiming to get balls across the box for Billy Sharp, David McGoldrick and/or Leon Clarke. The Blades play a high-energy, passing style, regularly switching flanks, orchestrated by Oli Norwood, Mark Duffy and John Fleck in midfield.
Q – Finally can you give me a possible Blades starting line-up and formation?
A – If fit, the Blades first 11 is: Dean Henderson in goal, a back three of Chris Basham, John Egan and Jack O’Connell, Kieron Freeman right wing-back, Enda Stevens left wing-back, John Fleck and Oli Norwood in central midfield with Mark Duffy advanced of the pair, behind forwards Billy Sharp and David McGoldrick. Leon Clarke or Conor Washington could play instead up front, and Paul Coutts could feature in central midfield as he continues his recovery from a nasty long-term injury.
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).
As you are probably well aware, Brentford is well known for its four pubs – one on each corner of the ground.
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) & 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.
And another new pub worth checking out is The Black Dog Beer House, formerly The Albany, on Albany Road.
There is a pub right by Brentford mainline station referred to as … the Pub by Brentford station.
For real 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, and across from the site of the Bees’ new stadium at Lionel Road, with a deck overlooking the river – and The Express Tavern (Kew Bridge Road) – an ale pub with a retro feel. There are a load more pubs in the river in Kew if that takes your fancy.
A quick Google search and you’ll find them all. There are many, many more too if you have a look around.
Parking near the stadium is a no no but is pretty easy in the streets north of Griffin Park on the other side of the A4 Great West Rd via Ealing Road or Windmill Road. Make sure you look our for the parking signs which change from area to area.
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.
By tube, it’s 35 minutes to South Ealing or Northfields stations from King’s Cross or Euston (less from Paddington) and then 15 minutes walk to Griffin Park from there (4 mins on the bus) – more if you take the Northfields to Brentford
You can check out Transport for London’s guide to travel on the Tube and Overground.
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