Story so far...
Sheffield United are having a fantastic season despite recent struggles that have seen them not win for over a month. Manager Chris Wilder has been given plenty of praise, though that has waned as his team are beginning to look more like the mid-table side many predicted they would be.
The Blades are now sat in 7th place - the first time they have been out of the playoffs since the early days of the campaign.
The season began with a win against Brentford at Bramall Lane though was followed by two defeats. Three wins in a row followed at the end of August and start of September - including United’s win at the Stadium of Light.
The Steel derby was won by United in September after a cracking 4-2 victory, and the term earned great praise for their performance that day. The Blades followed that win up with a victory over high-flyers Wolves to keep the early season momentum flowing.
October was another good month for the Blades as they won three of four, including a Yorkshire derby win over Leeds United at Elland Road. United then won their following two games in November before going on their current run of six games without a win.
Last time out...
Clayton Donaldson was the hero for Sheffield United on Saturday - much like he was at the Stadium of Light earlier in the season.
Aston Villa had taken a early two goal lead through Albert Adomah and Mile Jedinak. John Lundstram then played through Birmingham City old boy Donaldson, who coolly brought the ball down before chipping it over a stranded Sam Johnstone to get Sheffield United back into the game on 12 minutes.
Donaldson was at it again just 14 minutes later as he capitalised on a Jedinak error to net his second of the game.
Villa dominated possession but lacked a real cutting edge. Chris Wilder was delighted that his team came back in such quick fashion from being 2-0 down early doors. United showed resilience which is impressive considering their current form, and will be looking to try and get back to winning ways today.
32-year old journeyman striker Leon Clarke is enjoying a renaissance in his career as he is currently the Championship’s top scorer. With 14 goals so far this season, including four against Hull City at the start of November, Clarke is high on confidence and Coleman’s men will need to be on their guard.
Clarke is currently playing for his 19th club and has seemingly found a place that he fits after bouncing around the Football League since he made his debut in 2003.
He is the obvious man to watch this weekend, though he has struggled recently with just one goal in his last four games.
Sheffield United fan Chris Wilder has now fulfilled his dream of playing and managing his boyhood club. His management career to this point has been a story of successes.
He began at Alfreton Town before moving to Halifax Town in 2002. His six year stay at Halifax was ended when the club went into liquidation, and he decided to move to Bury as assistant manager. In 2008 he took over Conference side Oxford United - where he guided them back to the Football League.
After six years at Oxford, a change was needed for both parties, and Northampton was where Wilder would really make a name for himself. He guided the club to a 99 point season - and the League Two title, before leaving to join Sheffield United at the end of the season.
Since moving to United, Wilder has gone from strength to strength. Initially there were calls to sack the Yorkshireman after a very poor start to the season - but Wilder turned it round and oversaw a very impressive promotion campaign. 100 points were gained, and United boasted the best offensive record in the league bagging over 90 goals. 30 wins, 10 draws and 6 defeats - a mightily impressive record.
Peter Bankes is taking charge of his second Sunderland game of the season this weekend - he officiated our home defeat to Cardiff City back in September.
Bankes has officiated United twice this season and has seen them win and lose. He took charge of their game against Boro that they lost - though he controversially disallowed their last minute equaliser. He also took charge of their home victory against Wolves.
On Saturday he took charge of United’s rivals Sheffield Wednesday where they were beaten 2-1 - hopefully he can dish out some more Sheffield heartache this week!
John Fleck, Ched Evans and Kieron Freeman are all going to miss today’s game through injury and suspension. David Brookes is a doubt for the game and Paul Coutts is out for the rest of the season, so will not play.
Let’s not beat around the bush here, Sheffield United have been miles better than Sunderland this season. But the fact that United are on a wobble gives me hope that we can get a positive result against them.
Anyone who saw United’s performance at Sunderland earlier in the season will know that this team will fight for every ball and play a good, firm game. They are a solid defensive unit and normally line up with a 3-5-2 formation - something our manager has been experimenting with since taking charge last month.
United have been clinical in front of goal and boast two strikers in Donaldson and Clarke that are in form - our defenders need to be sharp if they are to prevent either of these players from scoring.
Sunderland should be able to score against United as they have struggled defensively - they have no clean sheets in their last 11 games.
One thing that we can guarantee on Boxing Day is a hardworking performance by United. The hosts have also confirmed that tickets for the game are nearly totally sold out, so it should make for a great atmosphere.