Sheffield United set for yet another pitch battle

Sheffield United have been warned they could be set for a difficult evening at Oxford on Tuesday, as they prepare to overcome both Oxford and the Kassam Stadium's pitch.

Sunday, 5th March 2017, 7:08 pm
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 10:06 am
Blades boss Chris Wilder

Michael Appleton, who guided Chris Wilder’s former club to promotion last season, expressed concerns about the quality of its playing surface last month and does not expect it the situation to improve until the summer.

“Between now and the end of this season I can’t see how it could improve that much,” he said. “It’s something that needs addressing in the summer and I know (chairman) Darryl (Eales) is on to that already.

Oxford United Manager Michael Appleton

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

“We have to adapt a bit, play in the right areas and don’t allow the pitch to slow us down. I don’t think it will ever be fixed unless we get some lamps.”

Earlier this season, Sheffield United became used to opposition teams parking the bus, applying the handbrake and, in some instances, hiding the ignition key.

Despite fading away over the Christmas period, this depressing trend could be set to rear its head again as Chris Wilder’s team attempt to seal promotion from League One.

“It might be something we have to get used to,” he said. “We’ll have to wait and see. If it is, then so be it. That’s something we’ll have to deal with.

Oxford United Manager Michael Appleton

“It’s important we don’t get frustrated if it does happen again because, I don’t care who you are, it’s difficult to break down a team that defends so deep and is intent on doing nothing but that.

“But you have to come up against and meet these challenges. Back yourself to do the right things, move the ball around well and then out it in the right areas. That self-belief is key.”

United, five points clear at the top of the table following last weekend’s draw with Rochdale, first received notice that rivals clubs are preparing to adopt more conservative tactics when Scunthorpe, despite being ranked second, visited Bramall Lane just over a fortnight ago. Graham Alexander’s side sat deep and, barring the odd foray forward, were content to curb their attacking instincts for long periods of the game. It was a ploy which, until Billy Sharp cancelled-out Paddy Madden’s opener, nearly worked.

Alexander’s suggestion that Scunthorpe had been unfortunate not to take more from the contest raised eyebrows among United’s coaching staff and the media alike.

But, speaking ahead of Tuesday visit to Oxford, Wilder said: “I’ve never criticised or had a go at how the opposition want to set up. If they want to come at us, then we have to deal with that. If they want to sit back, then that’s something we have to deal with as well.

“We won’t be bullied and we can play the other side of the game too. You just have to get on with it. I’m not going to have a pop at people for sitting back. What I’m interested in is how we overcome it.”