IF SKY Sports really ‘did’ League One – tackled the third tier of English football with the same razzmatazz and enthusiasm they do the top-flight – then tonight would be ‘Terrific Tuesday’.
A potentially season-shaping evening when the division’s leading six teams all face each other in sporting combat.
Sheffield United’s involvement in this tremendous trilogy sees them travel to the Galpharm Stadium for what, on paper at least, seems destined to be a mouth-watering Yorkshire derby with Huddersfield Town. Even Danny Wilson, United’s usually modest manager, felt compelled to admit “a compelling 90 minutes” appears in prospect before sounding a customary note of caution during his media briefing at Shirecliffe yesterday.
“If I wasn’t involved then this is a match that I’d pay to watch. Without a shadow of a doubt,” he said.
“Lee (Clark) will go into it thinking his team will score. I believe the same about mine.
“It promises to be absolutely fascinating. There’ll be a lot of interest in this one, that’s for sure.
“People will look at the result and draw assumptions,” added Wilson. “But, whatever happens, nothing is going to be decided.
“There will be some happy clubs. There will be disappointed ones.
“But the run-in is still going to be very tight.”
With Jordan Rhodes, Town’s coveted centre-forward, likely to spearhead their attack, United could be forgiven for entering the game in a defensive frame of mind. The 22-year-old, who won his first Scotland cap in November, has scored 29 goals in only 27 appearances for Clark’s side since August.
But, as United discovered to their cost five months ago, Rhodes is not the only dangerous striker at Town’s disposal. Indeed, it was only after Lee Novak had netted twice during their 3-0 success at Bramall Lane, that his services were required as a second-half substitute.
But United possess formidable firepower themselves. And, as Will Hoskins’ intuitive finish against Wycombe Wanderers demonstrated, multifarious options.
Having hit the target three times without reply last weekend – a result which saw United climb to third in the table – only the two Manchester giants have been more prolific on home soil this term.
Ched Evans combined industry and invention to claim his 19th of the campaign against Wanderers while combative duo Richard Cresswell and Chris Porter also impressed.
“We’ve got good competition there now,” Wilson said. “To have that, especially at this stage of the season, is really nice and it’s going to get even fiercer because James (Beattie) is back soon after suspension.
“The games are coming thick and fast now and we’ll need that freshness. The lads who are in one week might not necessarily stay in the next because we’ll need to keep people sharp and available.”
“We won’t be making any special arrangement for Jordan,” added Wilson. “We’ll have to be aware of him and show him respect. That goes without saying.
“But, as we know only too well, he’s not the only person at Town who’s is capable of scoring.
“And who is to say they’re not going to have to think about doing something special for Ched anyway?”
Evans had only just returned from a long-standing knee injury when Town condemned United to a rare home defeat.
Wilson insisted at that time that a sluggish start contributed to his team’s downfall - “We had chances and arguably better chances than them but not found the back of the net” - and returned to the subject again yesterday.
“They gave us a mountain to climb before the break by getting three,” he said. “But we put them under the cosh in the second-half even though we didn’t score.
“We know we’re going to have to be at our best if we want to take something from this one and that’s what we aim to be.”
Discipline could also be a factor. Saturday’s contest with Wanderers, who deployed three centre-halves in a five man rearguard, resembled a training ground exercise of attack versus defence. Fourth-placed Town pose a far greater threat.
“We were patient and stubborn against Wycombe,” Wilson, who insisted he has little interest in tonight’s other matches involving Sheffield Wednesday, Charlton, Stevenage and MK Dons, said. “And the fans were patient too which really helped us to get the outcome we wanted.”
One to watch
Who else but Jordan Rhodes. The in-demand centre-forward will be searching for his 30th goal of the season when United visit West Yorkshire tonight. Twenty-seven of those have come in League One competition. Rhodes has scored three or more goals against Exeter, Preston, Sheffield Wednesday and Wycombe this term.
Town triumphed 3-0, with Lee Novak (2) and Oscar Gobern writing their names on the scoresheet, when these two sides met at Bramall Lane in September. However, United won their last visit to the Galpharm Stadium. Darius Henderson and Kyle Naughton both netted their first goals for the club in a 2-1 League Cup success.