Neil Robertson begins the defence of his world title at the Crucible tomorrow.
Eighty miles away, in the equally intimate surroundings of Preston North End’s Deepdale Stadium, Sheffield United will attempt to prove they are not completely snookered in the battle for Championship survival.
“Nobody here is giving up,” manager Micky Adams insisted last night. “We don’t want to give that impression.”
Timing has not proved United’s forte of late.
Just as a stagnant global economy meant they could not have chosen a worse moment to be relegated from the Premier League in 2007 or, two years later, lose a Wembley play-off final, so confirmation that television revenues shared among Football League clubs will soon shrink by around £23 million per season means sliding into the third tier for the first time since 1988 will give Bramall Lane’s hierarchy some tough choices next season.
There will be a price to pay in both human and sporting terms.
With relegation seemingly unavoidable - they kick off against Phil Brown’s side eight points adrift of safety with only five matches left to play - moves to reshape Adams’ squad must start now.
A flurry of big names and big earners are certain to depart with striker Darius Henderson already understood to be the subject of interest from other clubs. But with several members of the squad which has reached the FA Youth Cup final set to be rewarded with chances on the senior stage, so opportunities exist for bright up-and-coming names currently plying their trade elsewhere to catch Adams’ eye.
With money likely to be in short supply, United would be well advised to draw up a shortlist of the top two or three players, preferably under the age of 25 or 26, operating in every position at lower league level where their otherwise tarnished reputation will still prove a powerful weapon in the transfer market.
Recruiting personnel who know the division and, more importantly, whose careers are on an upward curve rather than downward spiral appears the most sensible course of action. Providing, of course, some elder statesmen remain.
Adams, speaking after Tuesday’s defeat by Cardiff City, made little attempt to disguise his frustration with some of United more established performers.
His assessment of the way the handled Craig Bellamy - “Everyone knows he’s got a strong right foot so we kept letting him cut inside. Hello. Is anybody there?” - was in stark contrast to the praise heaped on debutant Harry Maguire’s shoulders following his appearance in the second half.
Hinting that “four or five” youth or development players could make the trip to Preston, Adams continued the theme yesterday.
“If you are a defender then you can’t let forwards dictate everything can you? You’ve got to go out there and make a statement. Harry did that when he put Bellamy on his backside.
“He handled the situation well because I’m sure, with Bellamy and Jay Bothroyd out there, it was quite daunting. Yes, we protected him a bit by going to three centre-halves but Harry did everything we could have asked of him out there.”
PRESTON: Turner, Nicholson, Morgan, Khumalo, Jones, Johnson, Ashbee, Carter, Treacy, Hume, Brown (4-4-2).
UNITED: Simonsen, Lowton, Collins, Maguire, Lowry, Doyle, Montgomery, Quinn, Riise, Henderson, Bogdanovic (4-4-2).
Steve Tanner: Will be making the long journey from Somerset to Lancashire. His last visit to Preston produced seven yellow cards and one red as the hosts were beaten 2-0 by Doncaster Rovers. Tanner also sent off Shane Lowry when Sheffield United threw away a comfortable lead to lose 3-2 at Scunthorpe in February. The 40-year-old was added to the FIFA list in 2008 but relinquished his position nearly two years later.
Tale Of The Tape
United have not won at Deepdale since August 2004 but did win 1-0 when Preston visited South Yorkshire in August. Having played three successive games on the road, North End will be looking to maintain their impressive form on home soil. Both Coventry and Swansea have lost in Lancashire recently. United, meanwhile, have not taken a point away from Bramall Lane since January’s goalless draw with Coventry City.