Sheffield United v Stevenage, 3pm
17 November ~ Sheffield United approach today's game with Stevenage in a strong position. They sit second in League One, with the Football League's last unbeaten run coming to an end last week. Yet fans are not wholly satisfied with the situation. The aesthetically pleasing football of last season is no more, with the creative heart of the team ripped out as part of the club's attempts to deal with the Financial Fair Play rules. This has heaped pressure on the shoulders of midfield linchpin Kevin McDonald but as the focal point of the team, he has attracted increased attention from the opposition.
United have had a tendency to go more direct with their play this season, a point acknowledged by manager Danny Wilson in his local media interviews this week. Far too often this has led to a breakdown in play in the final third. Allied with a lack of width, United have become predictable and increasingly comfortable for defences to deal with.
Unwillingness to blood youngsters from the development squad and the limitations placed on summer transfer activity have seen Wilson resort to square pegs in round holes. One youngster who has grasped the opportunity given to him is England Youth keeper George Long. Since Mark Howard's injury at Leyton Orient, Long has kept five clean sheets in nine games. Playing with confidence and assurance that belie his 19 years he has just picked up the League One Player of the Month award.
United are playing the margins. Take away the 5-3 home win over Bournemouth and the Blades are averaging less than a goal a game. They are the most shot-shy team in the division away from home and at Bramall Lane it is little better. Wilson talked this week of being less wasteful in front of goal, but most fans would say that to be wasteful you have to create chances in the first place.
Success is built on a solid defence and United have conceded the fewest goals in the division. The danger is that one mistake can turn victories into draws and draws into defeats, as last week in Milton Keynes proved. Last season's games against Stevenage were tight affairs with Stevenage edging the league games overall and United going through in the play-offs with an 85th-minute winner. Stevenage have certainly made a great start to their season, having also lost some of their better players over the summer. I suspect another tight and low-scoring game is in prospect. Ian Rands