ONE down, three to go.
Bournemouth’s trouncing of Tranmere Rovers means Sheffield United enter tonight’s meeting with Walsall among a select group of English clubs still unbeaten in league competition this term.
However, while the bookies will lay pretty long odds on an away victory, Danny Wilson’s team know only too well that supposedly routine fixtures can be banana skins instead.
Last season’s stumble at the Banks’s Stadium went a long way towards ensuring what promised to be a memorable campaign ended in miserable fashion.
Seven months earlier, when Walsall visited Bramall Lane, Dean Smith’s men were put to the sword.
But only after, it must be remembered, giving their hosts a God Almighty scare.
So, predictably, Wilson was quick to remind people United will be taking nothing for granted when he held court at Shirecliffe yesterday.
“Psychologically, I suppose that record is important,” he said. “For us and for the opposition.
“They might look at it and think ‘crikey, that team doesn’t get beat’.
“Walsall are a team we respect and they’ve got some good players.
“Importantly, though, we want to also put them under some sort of stress.”
Reminders of United’s defeat in May’s League One play-off final at Wembley understandably grate with sections of their support.
However, with talk of lessons learned emanating from Wilson’s camp after almost all of their 22 outings since, it remains an important reference point.
The former Northern Ireland international, speaking after Saturday’s triumph over Preston North End, acknowledged tactics have been tweaked in an effort to make United more hard-nosed, while Graham Westley, his opposite number, used his programme notes to congratulate them on their bloody-minded response.
Addressing a record which reveals twice as many away victories at those at home is now priority.
“We’ve changed a few things,” Wilson continued. “We obviously feel an obligation to try and win all of our games and so there might be times when we leave ourselves a little bit short at the back.
“But, like I say, we’ve tweaked a few things to try and take care of that.”
“We’ve seen how teams celebrate when they get a result against us,” Wilson added.
“We know how they raise their games.”
Walsall might not be the division’s most glamorous name. But they are capable of producing stylish football.
Jamie Paterson and Will Grigg possess sharp technique while Andy Taylor, who left South Yorkshire earlier this year, will be keen to enjoy a winning return.
Fortunately for Wilson, any inside information the full-back is likely to impart, should be rendered useless by the churn in personnel his squad has endured since travelling to the Midlands 33 weeks ago.
Ten of the 16 players named on United’s team sheet that evening are no longer on the books.
United’s Darryl Westlake, a close-season capture from Walsall, could be a more effective ‘mole.’
“Technically, Walsall are going to be one of the better teams we play,” Wilson said.
“But we feel this is a game we can win.
“As I’ve made clear, though, that’s not being disrespectful.
“I’m not bothered about their previous results or the history.
“What we have been looking at is what they bring to the table and how they play.”
With striker Dave Kitson reporting for training yesterday despite contracting a virus hours before scoring the winner at Deepdale, United could name an unchanged starting 11 against Walsall.
Defender Marcus Williams is expected to retain his place at full-back after suffering what Wilson ambiguously described as “a knock” during a robust encounter with Preston.
But Wilson, whose third-placed charges are nine places ahead of Walsall, confirmed strikers Chris Porter and Shaun Miller are also “pressing hard” for inclusion in United’s first-choice selection.
“It’s good to have that type of competition there,” Wilson said.