Sheffield United: This is the starting eleven - and bench - to help The Blades beat Stoke City

Eight games to go. Fifth in the table. It might have seemed improbable earlier this season but Sheffield United are on course to qualify for the play-offs.

Saturday, 2nd April 2022, 9:00 am

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Still, although a top six finish remains in their own hands, Paul Heckingbottom and his team know there is precious little margin for error between now and the end of the season.

Only six points separate them from Coventry City in 11th ahead of today’s visit to a Stoke City side which, despite sitting 15th, is capable of beating the best in the Championship.

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Ahead of United’s return to action following the international break, The Star’s James Shield identifies his ideal starting eleven for the trip to the bet365 Stadium. Plus the substitutes who should be on duty too.

The Eleven: Foderingham, Norrington-Davies, Baldock, B Davies, Egan, Uremovic, Norwood, Hourihane, Berge, Gibbs-White, Sharp.

The Bench: A Davies, Ndiaye, McBurnie, Jebbison, J Robinson, Fleck, Stevens.

Paul Heckingbottom (right) takes his Sheffield United squad to Stoke City today: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

The Thinking: Heckingbottom, and I don’t blame him, has been vague when it comes to who is available for selection and who isn’t in recent weeks. United’s manager doesn’t want to provide opponents with any clues about his game plans.

When he addressed the media earlier this week, he adopted exactly the same approach; suggesting the likes of Billy Sharp, Ben Davies and John Fleck are all closing in on returns to full fitness without totally committing to saying ‘yes’, they will take part. Maybe even the claim that Filip Uremovic was still waiting for international clearance after arriving from Rubin Kazan was part of the same ruse.

But if we take him at his word, United must pick their strongest possible line-up. This isn’t a time to try and over-think things or trust science over his gut instincts.

Heckingbottom probably did that at Millwall not so long ago, tinkering with a midfield which had helped United win two in a row en route to the capital. It didn’t work and rather than finishing the game only five points behind the automatic promotion places, they fell eight off the pace.

Sheffield United are hoping to qualify for the Championship play-offs: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

Uremovic won’t be fully up to speed with United’s strategies. But he’s a Croatia international and he’s been brought into play. So play he must.

The same goes for Sharp, if he has fully recovered from the hamstring strain he suffered against Barnsley last time out. And Davies as well, who has been receiving treatment for a calf problem. As well as Jack Robinson has done, United signed his fellow centre-half on loan from Liverpool because he was seen as being an upgrade.

The only one of United’s leading players I wouldn’t recall immediately is Enda Stevens. Not because he isn’t a damn good wing-back. Simply because I think Rhys Norrington-Davies doesn’t deserve to be dropped. Oh, and he knows all about City as well, having played for them on loan last season.

Robinson, in my opinion, should take Kyron Gordon’s place on the bench because Davies can also operate on the other flank if Uremovic tires. Daniel Jebbison, Oli McBurnie and Iliman Ndiaye provide United with a variety if different attacking options if they need to alter the dynamic of the fixture.

Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom will welcome the chance to make some selection decisions: Andrew Yates / Sportimage