Sheffield United v Preston North End: Team news, predicted line-ups, form, referee, betting odds and man to watch

Chris Wilder manager of Sheffield Utd
Chris Wilder manager of Sheffield Utd
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Sheffield United will look to get back to winning ways this afternoon when they face Preston North End at Bramall Lane.

Here’s what you need to know about today’s match.

Team news: Chris Wilder has promised to make changes for the visit of North End, and could recall Enda Stevens, Billy Sharp and David McGoldrick. Defender Jake Wright, Kean Bryan and Paul Coutts are United’s only unavailable players.

Ryan Ledson is expected to return after suspension for Preston, but Ben Pearson is still banned. Alan Browne came through his return from injury against Leeds unscathed.

Predicted teams – Blades: Dean Henderson, George Baldock, Chris Basham, John Egan, Jack O’Connell, Enda Stevens, Oliver Norwood, John Fleck, Mark Duffy, Billy Sharp, David McGoldrick.

Preston: Declan Rudd, John Earl, Tom Clarke, Darnell Fisher, Ben Davies, Alan Browne, Daniel Johnson, Josh Harrop, Callum Robinson, Louis Moult, Tom Barkhuizen

Referee: Scott Duncan. From Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Duncan will be taking charge of Sheffield United for the second time this season having overseen their visit to Queens Park Rangers earlier this term. He cautioned two players, including Ben Woodburn, during that match but averages exactly three per game since the beginning of the season.

History lesson: United lost the corresponding fixture last season; a result which ended their hopes of reaching the Championship play-offs. Alan Browne scored the only goal of the game early in the second-half but David Brooks and Leon Clarke went close for Chris Wilder’s side. Earlier that term, Preston triumphed by the same margin when the two clubs met at Deepdale. Jordan Hugill, now of West Ham United but on loan at Middlesbrough, scored.

Match odds (at time of writing): Blades 17/20, Draw 11-4, Preston 7/2, Bet365

Who should United keep an eye on? Alan Browne.

The Republic of Ireland international has hit two goals this season from midfield and has established himself as one of the most consistent performers for the Lilywhites since making the move to England from Cork City  nearly four years ago. Whoever plays in United’s midfield will have a battle on their hands.

Tale of the tape: United are sixth in the table while Preston North End, managed by Alex Neil, are  23rd.

Chris Wilder's squad has not been beaten at Bramall Lane since the opening day of the Championship campaign while their opponents have lost all of their away fixtures so far, conceding eight goals in the process.

Three of these, however, came during Tuesday's trip to leaders Leeds. Preston have also failed to score in exactly half of their outings this term. Although United are averaging over two-and-a-half more points per game than Preston, Neil and his players will be encouraged by the fact that they have kept a clean sheet in only a quarter of their first eight fixtures since competition resumed in August.

Team shape: Only three teams in the division have scored fewer goals that Preston so far this season. Although Callum Robinson and Alan Browne have scored two league goals apiece, Jordan Hugill's departure midway through last season has hit the visitors hard.

This should encourage United to press forward although, as their meeting with Leeds earlier this week demonstrated, Neil's side is not content the sit back and simply invite pressure despite its slow start to the campaign. So Wilder and his staff face something of a conundrum as they devise their game plan for this match. Team shape, especially in the transition phase, will be vital here.

The tactics: There is no secret to how United approach matches, with Wilder demanding his side attacks hard, fast and goes straight for the throat. Six of their goals in the Championship have come during the first-half of games and, when they score before the break, United boast a 100 per cent success rate.

By nature, Neil is not a cautious manager but, given this statistic, he will be tempted to try and keep things tight during the opening exchanges. If the contest does unfold in this manner, Oliver Norwood and Mark Duffy could become key players for United.

Their wing-backs, including Enda Stevens, must also press forward to drag Preston out of position and prevent them from settling into a solid shape.