Sheffield United: Blades are braced for chess game

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Two markedly different teams joined together by a common bond.

Off the pitch, Sheffield United and MK Dons might be polar opposites in terms of history and tradition. But when it comes to the mechanics of football, they find themselves on the same side of the tactical debate.

“There are similarities in the philosophies, if you like, adopted by the Dons and ourselves,” David Weir, the United manager, said. “We both like to try and pass the ball. Be strong technically and base that on a solid defence.

“Of course there are differences. Because there are different individuals involved.

“But, we both try to be creative and imaginative in terms of how we go about our work.”

Tomorrow’s League One fixture at Bramall Lane, which pits 17th against 10th in the embryonic table, could be billed as members of the establishment versus new boys on the block. United, who will shortly celebrate their 125th anniversary, entertain opponents founded only nine years ago.

Unlike Weir, who won 69 caps for Scotland and earned his European spurs with both Glasgow Rangers and Everton, Karl Robinson’s journey into the technical area contained stop-offs at places such as Prescot Cables and Caernarfon Town.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for what Karl has achieved and built there,” Weir continued. “Personally, I’ve never understood why people argued that you couldn’t play ‘football’ as it were in the lower divisions. Why on earth not?

“There are many ways you can play football. And none of them are wrong or right.

“But I always thought it as a bit strange when people reckoned you couldn’t pass the ball on the floor at this level. That you had to do something else to succeed.

“Fortunately, though, I think people are coming around to a slightly different way of thinking now. And that can only be a good thing too.”

Weir, speaking ahead of his fifth match in charge of the South Yorkshire club, understands that changing perceptions is far less important than delivering results.

United have taken four points from their opening four outings in the competition and searching for their first win since beating Notts County earlier this month.

Improving his squad’s returns in front of goal, Weir insisted during Wednesday’s media briefing at the Redtooth Academy, holds the key to a positive result.

“Quite clearly that’s something we need to work on. And we have been doing.

“You can always improve every single aspect of what you do but we’ve been getting into some good areas of the pitch and into some good positions. So we have to maximise that and make the most of it.

“Probably, the lads just need to relax in front of goal a little bit more. Do what comes naturally to them rather than trying to force the issue too much.

“We’re involved in a process but that’s not an excuse and we can’t afford for it to become one either. But we’ve got good players here who can do it, no question about that.”

With the Dons averaging 1.5 goals per game this term, (compared to United’s figure of exactly one), Robinson’s biggest concern appears to be deciding which centre-forward spearheads his attack.

Patrick Bamford, signed on loan from Chelsea, was on target during Tuesday’s Capital One Cup defeat at Sunderland while Izale McLeod thrust himself into contention for a starting berth with an impressive display.

“His attitude in training has been remarkable, his quality is there for me to see,” Robinson, reflecting on McLeod’s contribution in midweek, said. “He’s knocked on my door and challenged me.

“His all-round play was excellent. He got his luck in the way he got in, but he showed his class as a good finisher and that’s definitely made me think.”

McLeod, who made seven appearances for United in 2004, scored his first goal since March at the Stadium of Light after combining well with Samir Carruthers.

“I felt I always have always been in contention,” said McLeod. “I played really well in pre-season, I worked hard in the off season too.

“I’ve had to bide my time, I got my opportunity here and I feel I’ve taken it. It’s up to him (Robinson) now.”

“It was nice,” McLeod added. “I saw the keeper come out, so I thought ‘why not!’

“As soon as I saw Samir with it, I knew he’d put me in - I just had to stay onside. I had to keep composed and finish it.

“It’s great to get a start and score my first goal having come off the bench before.

“There’s nothing like starting a game, feeling part of it and being involved. I loved every minute of it.”

United must decide whether to risk Febian Brandy against Dons after the former Walsall winger aggravated a hamstring at Bradford City six days ago.

Stephen McGinn could receive a recall if Weir elects to change United’s ‘shape’ following the 2-0 defeat by Phil Parkinson’s side.

Callum McFadzean filled the ‘number 10’ role vacated by Kevin McDonald following his decision to join Wolverhampton Wanderers but was withdrawn at half-time.

“Callum is a very talented footballer and we are delighted to have him,” Weir said. “I wouldn’t read anything into the fact he was taken off and he shouldn’t either.

“Sometimes things work and sometimes they don’t but that’s football. We have a lot of confidence in the players here,”