Sheffield United identify how to stop Middlesbrough dangerman

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Sheffield United have been told that Chuba Akpom is not the biggest threat to their hopes of beating Middlesbrough tonight, even though the former Arsenal trainee has scored 17 goals in only 26 appearances so far this season.

With three of those efforts coming in his last three outings, Akpom is regarded by many observers as being the most dangerous forward in the Championship, although United’s Iliman Ndiaye and Oli McBurnie might dispute that assessment.

Although Paul Heckingbottom acknowledged Akpom’s capabilities during his pre-match media conference, the United manager said: “He isn’t just effective because he’s on the pitch. He’s effective because they have a way of playing which makes him effective. It’s the things they do and the people around him. So that’s what we have to stop, whilst hurting them ourselves.”

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A £2.7m signing from PAOK Salonika, Akpom has found the back of the net in exactly half of the matches he has contested since August. Two of his strikes came when United visited Teesside six months ago, when Heckingbottom’s predecessor Chris Wilder was still at the helm.

“It doesn’t make the game different,” he continued, outlining his respect for the man who twice led United to promotion. “Obviously it can feel different when you know the guy across the touchline, but the game itself? No.”

Carrick, the former Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham midfielder, has enjoyed a flying start to his first permanent posting in the technical area after replacing Wilder in October. The 41-year-old, who spent a brief spell in caretaker charge at Old Trafford before joining Middlesbrough, travels to South Yorkshire having won 11 of his 16 outings at the helm so far. However, the third placed visitors are still 10 points behind United who enter the contest occupying the division’s second automatic promotion berth.

Middlesbrough striker Chuba Akpom: Stu Forster/Getty ImagesMiddlesbrough striker Chuba Akpom: Stu Forster/Getty Images
Middlesbrough striker Chuba Akpom: Stu Forster/Getty Images

“You can see how he wants to set his team up,” Heckingbottom said. “Each game, they’re getting better and better. There’s always an anxiety when someone new comes in. He’s changed formation, to a 4-2-3-1 and it’s working well for them. He’s getting his ideas across really well.”