Defensive deficiencies hinder duo’s challenge

Harry Maguire
Harry Maguire
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STATISTICS don’t always tell the whole truth or a necessarily a fair and accurate reflection of a team’s standing.

But, the facts are Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday have to start keeping clean sheets on a more consistent basis to catch the top two in League One.

Rob Jones

Rob Jones

Table-topping Charlton Athletic and second-placed Huddersfield Town have suffered just one defeat between them in the 2011/12 campaign and boast the meanest defences in the division. The Addicks have conceded a miserly 14 goals and recorded seven clean sheets while the Terriers, who are unbeaten in 43 outings, a Football League record, have shipped in just six goals on the road, leaking one more strike than the leaders overall.

Followers of the two Sheffield clubs should not be unduly concerned by the gap at the top. The law of averages say Charlton and Huddersfield are bound to slip up at some point and drop points. Indeed, something will have to give when the two collide at The Valley on Monday in a Sky televised showdown, handing Wednesday, United and MK Dons the opportunity to move closer to the automatic promotion berths. In Wednesday’s case, they could leapfrog Huddersfield by beating Leyton Orient at Hillsborough this Saturday.

“Monday is going to be an intriguing game,” said lifelong Huddersfield fan and chairman Dean Hoyle. “It is probably the first time this season we will go into a game as underdogs so that will be a new experience.

“Charlton have started extremely well and their manager has to take great credit for galvanising his players into such an impressive team. It will be a good test and being on television there is bound to be a lot of interest in the game.”

He added: “It is looking like a five-horse race for promotion.

“I am not being derogatory to the others but a gap has opened up with Charlton, ourselves, the two Sheffield clubs and MK Dons looking like being the challengers for automatic promotion.”

The clubs who challenge in the upper echelons of the table are inevitably the ones who are well organised and difficult to break down. A solid defence provides the platform for flair players to strut their stuff and cause havoc in the final third.

There is no question United are heading in the right direction after registering back-to-back shut outs at home to Oxford United and Carlisle United. With Johnny Ertl nearing full fitness after a lengthy spell on the sidelines due to a serious knee injury, manager Danny Wilson has competition for places at the back. Andy Taylor is another on the mend and he is expected to be pressing for a first-team recall next month to further enhance the options at Wilson’s disposal.

On the blue side of the city, Wednesday have managed only one clean sheet away from home this year and have shipped in 19 goals on their travels. Owls boss Gary Megson has opted to sign Miguel Llera and James Tavernier on loan to ease his defensive worries.

Case for the defences

Goals conceded

Charlton 14

Huddersfield 15

MK Dons 18

Stevenage 18

Tranmere 18

Brentford 19

Blades 22

Owls 24

Hartlepool 24

(figures after 18 matches)

Clean sheets

Tranmere 9

Brentford 7

MK Dons 7

Charlton 7

Huddersfield 7

Blades 6

Bournemouth 5

Stevenage 5

Carlisle 5

Owls 5