WHAT can swing the derby United’s way? For me, it is the crowd.
When Danny Wilson gives his final team talk shortly before noon on Sunday, I’m sure one of the messages he will stress to his players, in no uncertain terms, is to get the fans involved in the action. They can make the difference and their role should not be underestimated.
If United can create an intimidating, hostile atmosphere through the home faithful, it will only enhance their prospects of picking up the three points on the day. The supporters have the power to influence refereeing decisions and, at the same time, lift their own players.
However, it is the job of the players to give the fans something to cheer. All it might need is a crunching challenge in the middle of the park or a shot from distance to get Bramall Lane rocking.
Yes, United have had a dip in form and dropped out of the play-off places in League One after a run of three defeats in four outings. Yes, the goals have dried up and Wilson’s men have failed to score in three out of the last four league matches. But the formbook goes out of the window in derbies.
The postponement of the Preston clash has allowed United almost two weeks to prepare for this fixture. Players who were carrying any bumps or bruises following a hectic August and September schedule will have shaken off the knocks and be fresh and ready to go.
Another important factor which should not be overlooked in the final analysis is that United boast big match players in their ranks. Stephen Quinn, Nick Montgomery and Richard Cresswell have played in multiple derbies against their arch rivals. They are fully aware of the importance of securing the local bragging rights.
In total, United have six survivors from the last time the two teams met, excluding injured duo Andy Taylor and Chris Morgan. Steve Simonsen and Lee Williamson featured at Hillsborough while Ched Evans was an unused substitute.
Evans is a potential matchwinner and I expect him to deliver a big performance. In six appearances in the 2011/12 campaign, he has hit three goals, including the last gasp strike at Rotherham United in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy last week. Evans has represented his country on countless occasions and, despite his well-documented off-the-field problems, remains a dangerous player at this level.
United have a nice blend of youth and experience at the back in Matthew Lowton, Neill Collins, Harry Maguire and on-loan Reading ace Marcus Williams, who will probably get the nod at left-back. They are more than a match for any team in the third tier, as long as they cut out the individual defensive errors.