Sheffield United v Nottingham Forest: The five men that can drive Blades to play-off glory

Given the amount of injuries that Sheffield United have suffered this season, the Blades have been the very epitome of a squad as they head towards a play-off clash with Nottingham Forest.

Friday, 13th May 2022, 1:30 pm

Each member, admittedly some a lot more than others, has played their part in taking United from the wrong end of the table to a position where they now stand – three matches from a Premier League return.

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However, while Paul Heckingbottom and indeed the players themselves, continually hammers home the mantra that this success has been about the collective, there have been some individuals who have stood out throughout this rollercoaster of a campaign.

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Oliver Norwood celebrates scoring for Sheffield United against QPR. Picture: Andrew Yates / Sportimage

And it is they who will be crucial to United potentially booking a place at Wembley by seeing off Nottingham Forest in a two-legged affair that kicks off on Saturday at Bramall Lane.

WES FODERINGHAM

No one saw this coming. Down the pecking order and seemingly unlikely to get much game time, Foderingham has been one of the stars of a season where his team mates voted the keeper as their player of the year. Big saves, notably some from the penalty spot including against this weekend’s opponents, have kept United in games and in some cases won them. If he continues in a similar vein then Blades fans will be confident about what’s happening at the back.

CHRIS BASHAM

Mysteriously unfancied by Slavisa Jokanovic, the Serb’s departure saw Basham thrust back into the side under Heckingbottom and he hasn’t looked back. Even after suffering a fairly serious injury at a crucial time in the season, there were no ill-effects and the defender kicked on yet again. As well all know, it’s not just his defensive prowess that marks out his importance but that ability to drive forward from the back and creating overloads in attacking areas that can unlock tight defences. With the two sides evenly matched, Basham, fresh from signing a new deal, could provide a spark if the games get attritional.

OLLIE NORWOOD

We’ve seen different sides to Norwood's game this season and that versatility has allowed United to change how they play depending on personnel. More often than not, it depends on whether Sander Berge is playing. If Berge isn’t in the starting XI, as has been the case for large periods through injury to the Norwegian, Norwood offers what we are most accustomed to from the midfielder – long raking passes that switch the play from one side of the pitch to the other, or find a runner on the flanks and getting the ball up the pitch as quickly as possible. However, with Berge, Norwood sits a little deeper and dictates the play in the middle of the park, allowing his team mate to use his strength to drive forward with the ball. It’ll be the latter version of Norwood that we see in these two games.

SANDER BERGE

In recent months we have finally got to see on a more consistent basis the player we expected when United forked out to bring him here from Belgian side Genk. When on the ball there are few who can stop him, such is his strength, with opponents almost bouncing off him at times. He has dovetailed well with Morgan Gibbs-White and Iliman Ndiaye, barging his way through defences to allow the young forwards the space to create chances. Forest’s midfield have a huge challenge ahead if Berge is on it.

MORGAN GIBBS-WHITE

Goes without saying, really. United have a recent habit of picking up loan players that become so influencial to the team and Gibbs-White is the latest to do that, becoming one of the best players in the Championship this season. With an ability to literally get fans off their feet, Gibbs-White’s pace and trickery will have him down as the biggest threat to Forest’s chances of progression when Steve Cooper is setting his team up for the two matches. His partnership with the equally exciting Ndiaye has been one of the biggest positives of the season and with his immediate future up in the air somewhat, he’ll be wanting to leave on a high a club he genuinely appears to have built a connection to.