Coventry City v Sheffield United, 7.45pm
21 August ~ Sheffield United fans visit the Ricoh Arena tonight still suffering a slight hangover from last season's defeat in the play-off final. There is also a great deal of uncertainty about what their team will look like by the end of August, never mind where the team will finish in the league come May. A relatively young side took a perhaps undeserved three points in a stuttering and disjointed performance at home to Shrewsbury Town on Saturday. This was unsurprising. It is hard to judge a team so early in the season, especially with two young strikers – Nick Blackman and John Cofie – trying to form an understanding.
The right-hand side of the team has also been shorn of both Matt Lowton and Lee Williamson, who together scored 19 goals and set up ten others last season.
The starting 11 on Saturday were playing together for the first time and it will take a while for the fluidity of last season to return. United's 18-man matchday squad had an average age of 22 and contained seven players who have come through the youth system. While the continuing development of young talen is pleasing, the reality is that the reliance on youth is financially driven rather than based wholly on merit.
With United reportedly over their playing budget the club will be looking to balance the books. It is a case of losing high wage earners who are going to be difficult to shift – Nick Montgomery and Richard Cresswell – or receiving decent transfer fees for more talented younger players and mainstays of the first team – Harry Maguire and Stephen Quinn.
Both Montgomery and Cresswell watched from the stands on Saturday. Whether deals are imminent or Danny Wilson chose not to use players who may not feature in the long term, it is fair to say United could do with Cresswell at the moment. His experience at leading the line and holding the ball up would have stopped Shrewsbury having as much possession as they did.
Amid the disappointment with Saturday's performance and concern for the rest of the season, the fact remains that United got three points. The win over Shrewsbury shows the Blades will not find this season as easy as last and the fans will have to accept sacrificing the pretty football and winning ugly. Realistic supporters will happily accept more of the same at Coventry, who ought to provide a much sterner test. Ian Rands