There will only be one winner in this Steel City Derby.
There’s an old footballing cliché: “the formbook goes out of the window for local derbies.”
Sheffield Wednesday, if they wish to avoid humiliation against their neighbours, will be praying this is the case. The Owls have lost four Championship matches in-a-row, conceding 12 in the process, and they head into this crucial derby looking totally ragged.
That’s not to say Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United are in imperious form themselves; one win in their last four has seen them slip from the Championship’s summit, though the three sides they dropped points against (Derby, Stoke and Nottingham Forest) are all far better sides than Wednesday – yes, even Stoke.
It’ll be a long time before Blades fans forget that famous 4-2 win at Hillsborough last season, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see an even more emphatic scoreline on Friday evening.
Wednesday’s defensive issues have been plain to see all season: Jos Luhukay’s men have the joint-worst defence in the league (30 conceded) and are yet to keep a clean sheet. To make matters worse, while the goals have been flying in (at the wrong end), Wednesday’s best goalkeeper – and undoubtedly one of the best in the league – Keiren Westwood, has been inexplicably frozen out of the squad entirely.
Only West Brom and Leeds have scored more than United’s 27, and this could be the perfect storm for some derby day delight.
I’m not going to push the boat out and tip a hammering – mainly due to the fact that Wednesday have only scored six fewer than United – but I’m confident The Blades will end up comfortable winners, so I’m backing them to win with a -1 handicap.
Next up, I have Billy Sharp to score at any time.
United’s infectious captain has been brilliant this season, and is currently the Championship’s second-top scorer with 10 goals.
In The Blades’ last home match against Wigan, Sharp netted a hat-trick, and oh how he’d love to score again against the old enemy.
My final tip is for Sheffield United to score over 1.5 goals in the second half.
Ten of United’s last 15 league goals have been scored in the second period, while 21 of the 30 goals Wednesday have conceded have also come after the break.
The stats heavily point towards United cashing in during the second 45.