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Thursday, 7 August 2014

The Inside Line: Sheffield United (09/08/2014)

Welcome back to a new season's set of 'The Inside Line', a (usually) weekly view of the opposition. We may mix up the format a little more this week but if last season is anything to go by then there will be plenty of interest for you to keep coming back and checking it out each week.
Stu Radnedge has also returned to The Exiled Robin to take you through this opening fixture.

There could be no doubt, from anyone, that Saturday’s opening fixture between Bristol City and Sheffield United should be a classic encounter.  Both teams have been widely tipped by pundits, supporters, bookies and punters alike to be in the promotion race after all 46 league games have been played.  Both teams were around the bottom four at the festive period last time around but, obviously, beat the drop when they found their form – albeit United achieving this sooner than City.
But the summer has been kind to us.
City have cleared the books, letting many of the big earners go, and have managed to recruit some of the better talented members of the opposition from last year - in the shape of Freeman, Little and Smith - signed Ayling from Yeovil, Wilbraham from Palace and got Wade, in the words of Take That – Back for Good. There’s a buzz back at the Gate.
What’s more, at the time of writing this, a £1.5m bid from Brighton was not enough to sign Baldock! So Cotts’ warning shot of “Baldock and JET are not for sale” on the club website in the summer is still a mandate to anyone sniffing around.
The same can’t be said for United. A quick look indicates what’s happened to United, but rather than copy and paste a transfer tracker’s stats and pass it off as my own – why not ask an expert?
Ian Rands, from A United View, said the following when asked about Saturday’s encounter. And as you’re about to learn, playing this fixture first game of the season could be a blessing in disguise.
"Picking out a key man for United this season is a difficult task. With many new faces to fit in, there is still an element of doubt regarding who will make Nigel Clough's first choice XI. The first half selection in the 2-0 defeat at York last Saturday would be a good bet, but with another arrival since then, that's not guaranteed.”

“As far as the fans are concerned there was one key piece of recruitment this summer; the signing of a striker who will score the 20+ goals that would make the difference between top 6 contenders and automatic promotion possibilities.”

“This urgent need has led to embarrassing Facebook posts and tweets to co-chairman Jim Phipps, telling him what the club needs to do and who the manager needs to sign. As if the club aren't already aware of the requirement and fully prepared with a list of options that meet salary and budget requirements.”

“To that end I would pick the two new strikers as the most important as things stand. However, I suspect that another striker will be signed, maybe on loan towards the end of the window, and the rumours of a post-incarceration return for Ched Evans won't go away.” 

“The return of the latter would surprise me. The rumours have largely been fuelled by statements from the Evans camp, with United's limited statements adding further kindling to the fire. However, I don't see how Evans fits the mould of a Clough player, given that the manager has already seen the back of Marlon King, Fabian Brandy and Lyle Taylor for a combination of attitude, ill-discipline and off field history.”

“The two new strikers have different facets that will add to the club's current skill set and a lot will depend upon whether Clough will change his set up from the 4-4-1-1 used last season.”

“An early summer signing was Marc McNulty, who has joined up with former Livingston colleague and supply line Stefan Scougall who has impressed hugely since joining in January. McNulty had a good scoring record at Livi, the question remains as to whether he can convert that sharpness to League One, or will fail like United's last striker signing from Scotland, Lyle Taylor.”

“This week also saw the arrival of a second striker with a good Scottish record. Michael Higdon continued his Motherwell form at NEC Nijmegen, scoring a goal nearly every two games in a struggling side. He will provide physical strength and finishing to the front line and should bring other attacking talent into play as well as benefiting from their supply line. Higdon previously linked well with Jamie Murphy at Motherwell and with Ryan Flynn, Jose Baxter, Jamal Campbell Ryce and the aforementioned Scougall, United have plenty of scoring and creative options.”
“I never usually like to back the Blades publicly. It just doesn't seem right. Better to manage expectations and aim lower.”

“In some ways I feel a positive prediction shows a degree of over-confidence and arrogance, which I know it shouldn't. But when you are across the city from a club whose fans made cringe worthy and disparaging comments about other clubs being small and tinpot when they were in this division you try and be a little more self-aware.”

“Three seasons in this division have been enough, not because we are "too big" for the division, but because I think we have finally found the right formula. I think we have the right manager in place. A strength in depth to last a season competing at the top of the division. The club is finally on a stable financial footing, from losses of £13m two financial years ago, though some fans rather ridiculously question why we aren't spending Saudi millions on players in League One.” 

“The feeling amongst fans is largely positive, swayed by boardroom openness and a feeling that they listen, a strong end to last season and pride in defeat at Wembley.”

“There may be a period of bedding in, as the eight new players Nigel Clough has recruited slot into place, but hopefully nothing like the start to last season.” 

“With new faces in half of the defence, additional midfield strength and two further striking options, in McNulty and Higdon, it will be interesting to see what Nigel Clough sees as his strongest XI and who will start the season against City at lunchtime on Saturday.”

“I honestly feel we will be up in the automatic slots and I expect City and Preston to be up there challenging with us.”

Huge thanks to Ian for taking time out of his holiday to write this for us. It's clear both sets of fans head into Saturday's encounter with high hopes for the season ahead. 

It's nearly time...COYR!

The Exiled Robin

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