Sheffield United head into their evening clash with Tottenham Hotspur looking for their first post-lockdown win which would move them ahead of their opponents and into seventh.
It will be the Blades’ first league game at Bramall Lane and they’ll hope a return to familiar surroundings will mean a return to positive results. After all, United scored their first goal since Project Restart at home against Arsenal last time out and but for an injury-time goal, they would have forced extra time.
Now, attentions turn to the Gunners’ North London rivals. Spurs themselves have enjoyed a much better return to action, securing four points out of six and keeping their faint hopes of a top-four finish alive. In truth, the lockdown has been beneficial for Jose Mourinho’s men as it has allowed key players in Son and Kane to build fitness after injury as well as offering vital time on the training field to become more accustomed to the new manager’s style and tactics.
For Wilder’s men, it has been the opposite. Before lockdown, the Blades were in fine form, with European football a realistic ambition; whereas now, whilst they have as much right to aim for the qualification spots as Spurs, their season has a danger of petering out if they cannot rediscover the winning formula.
Of course, context is important here – fellow promoted sides Aston Villa and Norwich would swap places with the Blades in a heartbeat. As Wilder said in his pre-match press conference, United were ‘underdogs in the Championship’, they were hardly tipped for the playoffs last season and yet this season they have spent more time within the European conversation than the conversation for relegation. Three more points at Bramall Lane on Thursday night would add more gloss to what has been a remarkable season thus far.
Sorely missed left-sided centre half, Jack O’Connell is edging closer to a return but his manager will not take any risks on his fitness so he is still unlikely to feature. Also a doubt is John Lundstram after suffering a shoulder injury against Arsenal on Sunday.
There is some positive news however as the Blades managed to secure an extension to Dean Henderson’s loan until the end of the season so he will come back into the side after missing their last league game against his parent club, Manchester United.
With over a week since they were last in action, Mourinho will have a strong, well-rested squad to call upon, with the only notable absentees being young defenders Japhet Tanganga and Juan Foyth.
The reverse fixture in November ended in a 1-1 stalemate but it was far from uneventful. John Lundstram’s marginally offside toe led to David McGoldrick’s strike being ruled out by VAR but the Blades rallied and scored a deserved equaliser 12 minutes from time courtesy of a George Baldock scuffed cross.
United were arguably the better side on the day and piled more misery on the former Spurs boss, Mauricio Pochettino. Chris Wilder will be hoping for a similar performance on Thursday night.
In the seven Premier League meetings between these sides, there has not been a single away victory.
Despite their poor run of form, Sheffield United still have the joint third best defensive record in the division.
Spurs are unbeaten in 23 matches against newly-promoted sides, suffering their last defeat against Queens Park Rangers in April 2012.
ONE TO WATCH
Not exactly a controversial choice, but after scoring in his side’s last outing, Harry Kane will hope to kick on and add to his tally of 12 goals this term. Kane looked short of sharpness against Manchester United and West Ham, having only recovered from a ruptured hamstring during the lockdown but as with all strikers, his late goal will do his confidence a world of good. He will hope to exploit an unusably vulnerable Blades defence since the restart.
The game kicks off a double header of Premier League action on Sky Sports on Thursday night, preceding the top of the table clash between Manchester City and newly-crowned Premier League champions, Liverpool. Coverage starts at 5pm, with kick-off at 6pm.