Wolves 3 Sheffield United 0

With the night sky thick with smoke from the pyrotechnics, you’d have been forgiven for thinking the early minutes of this match were taking place at the San Siro.

Ruben Neves wouldn’t look out of place at any of Europe’s premier venues and as soon as his dreamy opener kissed the post on route to goal, everybody knew this contest was heading in one inevitable direction.

The Rossoneri can but dream of scoring a goal like Diogo Jota’s these days, with four of our best and brightest ping-ponging the ball around before ruthlessly dropping the axe.

After that, it was the familiar stranglehold to which we’ve grown accustomed.

Complacency was the only danger, but once their keeper was correctly dismissed for attempted decapitation the last quarter hour was spent in full warm down mode.

Benik Afobe got his run out in ideal circumstances and nearly scored too. Bonatini also looked sharp again as the bonus balls kept rolling out of the machine.

Nuno grinned like a cheshire cat from the touchline, the South Bank hit the high notes and everyone just had a jolly good time.

If the Blades managed a shot on target all night, I don’t remember it and despite enjoying some possession and territory, lets be honest, they never laid a glove on the league leaders.

Chris Wilder was magnanimous enough to admit as much in his post-match comments.

They deservedly came out on top in the reverse fixture, but I think this victory lays down yet another marker about just how much this team has evolved since those early months.

There’s more cohesion, better organisation and a total understanding of what it takes to win games in the Championship.

We’ve always had the quality but quality alone isn’t enough.

Meanwhile, the chasing pack are doing an admirable job of chasing, so there’s a hefty workload still to undertake.

But the message booming out of Molineux remains the same – catch us if you can.

Wolves Vs Sheffield Utd Preview

After tonking Brentford, I was probably a bit optimistic with my ‘we could win every home game’ assertion.

Forest soon put pay to that.

But there are nine matches still to contest at Molineux and a solid return will all but guarantee promotion.

This looks, on paper at least, like one of the tougher challenges but in this helter-skelter division, who knows?

We comfortably saw off Villa and Fulham, but toiled against Forest and Sunderland. There’s no second-guessing how these games will unfold.

Sheff Utd

I watched the Blades fall to defeat against Villa in midweek and felt they were desperately unlucky. They were the ones pushing for a winner before Snodgrass administered the last minute sucker punch.

Bristol City stitched them up in similar fashion earlier in the campaign and those two moments alone are the difference between chasing the top two and drifting outside the play-off places.

Chris Wilder has really got it going at Bramall Lane. They play on the front foot and press high, which sometimes leaves them exposed at the back. An away record of won six, lost six and drawn two underlines their ‘all or nothing’ approach.

They completely overwhelmed Wolves in the reverse fixture. Even before Coady was sent off they were swarming over our midfield and forcing mistakes.

Several new faces were brought in during the window to refresh their flagging promotion hopes including Lee Evans. He’s started well and will return with a point to prove.

Richard Stearman is another likely starter, along with Leon Clarke who scored twice against his former club back in September. It’s a right old reunion.

Wolves

Does he start? That’s the immediate dilemma facing Nuno. You would assume Benik Afobe hasn’t come to sit on the bench, but I reckon that’s where he’ll begin his second stint at the club.

We played so well against Ipswich, the same starting eleven seems the logical choice. And I think the power of N’Diaye will be important for winning the midfield battle and freeing up Neves to do his thing.

The more fluid, interchanging front three is better suited to away games, but if it’s not working there are now a couple of options at the head coach’s disposal.

Someone pointed out you can only have five loan signings in your matchday squad, so that means one of Afobe, Jota, N’Diaye, Boly, Bonatini and Vinagre will always miss out. That’s something else Nuno will have to contemplate on a game by game basis. Vinagre seems an obvious choice but he’s the only cover we have at wingback.

Predictions

I know I always predict a win these days, but this season you can’t question the logic. Wolves have won 20 out of 29 matches.

They’re going to push us hard and ask a lot of questions. If they do what they did at Bramall Lane and cancel out our midfield, it will be another long night.

But I think Wolves are more streetwise these days and the more cohesive unit.

2-1.

Up The Wolves!

Sheffield United 2 Wolves 0

We were never in this one.

Even before Conor Coady was sent off for hauling down Leon Clarke the home side were well on top.

They were quicker to the ball, snappier in the tackle and effervescent in their efforts to stop Wolves playing out.

That enthusiasm forced the mistake and from that point on it was one way traffic until they made the breakthrough.

For all their intricate build up play, the goals that won it were meat and drink, with Clarke inevitably there to connect with the crosses.

It’s disappointing in that sense they didn’t have to play through us to win the day. It all felt too easy.

Ruben Neves should have made life significantly more uncomfortable by tying things up from the spot, but truthfully he never looked like scoring.

It was one of those jittery half-baked run ups that rarely inspires confidence and the contact was then less than perfect.

Had Helder Costa still been on the pitch he might well have taken responsibility but on a night of disappointment he was hooked in the tactical reshuffle after Coady headed for the shower.

Still, it’s good that he’s now considered fit enough to feature and you would think he’ll get a relaunch on Saturday.

Beyond that crumb of positive news you’re hard pressed to find anything else.

The lesson to learn is start faster.

Teams will press high and try to force mistakes. Wolves have to show more tenacity, more imagination and a greater appetite to establish a foothold so they can play their game.

This was a blip but it was a blip you could see coming.

Take the medicine and go again.

Sheffield Utd Vs Wolves Preview

Will I ever be able to think about Sheffield Utd without thinking about 2003?

Probably not.

The Blades haven’t had too many opportunities for vengeance since with both clubs ducking and diving around the top three divisions.

But in our last two promotion campaigns, in the Championship under McCarthy and League One under Jackett, we’ve landed good victories at Bramall Lane.

They’re formidable opposition again these days so a third consecutive victory at this famous old ground would be another impressive statement of intent.

Sheffield Utd

Chris Wilder’s newly promoted team ran riot in the Steel City Derby on Sunday, overcoming their nearest and dearest 4-2 at Hillsborough.

That’s their sixth victory from nine matches and puts them in fourth place, just two points behind their opponents tomorrow.

To say that Wilder has done a splendid job for the club he supported growing up would be an understatement. Where various high profile managers failed he succeeded in getting them out of League One.

Now they’re back they look well set to push for the top six again, doing what so many others have done before, carrying that winning momentum into the Championship.

Midfielder John Fleck is earning rave reviews and he scored a belting free kick to put them ahead at the weekend. He’s one to watch.

Leon Clarke scored twice in the same game and we all know everything there is to know about him. You can bet he’ll be itching to make an impact again.

Wolves

Nuno may choose to reward the players who won us the game on Saturday. That would mean the following team:

I like Vinagre but Douglas is the senior pro and we looked much tighter defensively after half time with him down the left.

Saiss and Cavaleiro didn’t do much wrong but the impact of N’Diaye and Enobakhare was clear. That said, it  comes down to what the head coach needs for this particular game.

N’Diaye is a bigger physical presence, whereas Saiss is more considered in possession. Some have suggested Neves needs resting, but I’d be loathe to leave him out.

Cavaleiro is the type of player home supporters dread seeing, all pace and quick feet around their penalty area. But Bright’s confidence is up so I’d expect to see him get a good chunk of the action.

They’re nice problems to have though and I genuinely don’t mind who plays. The tantalising prospect of Helder Costa’s return is also imminent. He might get some minutes tomorrow.

The betting odds

It’s no surprise that Wolves are 6/4 to win this one with a home victory fancied at 9/5. Visit the Ladbrokes free bet offers page for details about how you can enhance your winnings. An aggregate of all the betting sites still shows Wolves as favourites for the title if you’re interested in the longer game, while Diogo Jota for Championship top scorer still looks enticing.

Predictions

We have the best away record in the division and have also beaten Premier League Southampton in the cup so I shouldn’t be that nervous.

But I smell danger in this fixture. At some point we’ll come up against a fired up home team and will have to manage buoyant opposition and a hostile home crowd. This could be that test.

A 4 point return from the next two would be more than satisfactory and I suspect this one might be the draw.

2-2.

Up The Wolves!

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Sheffield United 0 Wolves 2

When the Sheffield skyline suddenly blackened and emptied its contents on our heads as we ran to make kick-off, it was understandable to fear the worst.

Batth Sheffield Utd

No Dicko, Sako, Price or Ricketts and the nation’s form team lying in wait, on a ground that has thrown up more misery than most over the many years we’ve visited it.

Thankfully, only the Blades’ 125 year celebrations were dampened on a glorious away day, as both their 11 game unbeaten run and eight straight clean sheet stat came to an end.

When you’re flying high at the top of the league with your own winning run etched into the history books, anxious glances to the heavens – if not the teamsheet itself – should be the last places we seek inspiration.

In Kenny Jackett however, we have a man for all seasons who would evidently keep calm to navigate us through whatever choppy waters lie in wait.

They don’t come much more tempestuous than Sheffield United in their own backyard and adding Matt Doherty, Lee Evans, Leon Clarke and in particular David Edwards proved to be a masterstroke.

The Welshman scored the decisive second with an uncharacteristically lethal finish, after making a more familiar lung-busting run to distract the goalkeeper for the first.

Edwards and Doherty aside, it wasn’t as if our surprise replacements were particularly impressive, but they combined to negate a feisty, mobile Sheffield United side which lacked nothing in quality.

Bramall lane

Goals change games alright, and having weathered an early storm when the hosts could easily have led (take a bow Carl Ikeme), James Henry burst into life at the other end of the pitch and whipped in a cross-shot that found its way into the far corner.

Undeterred, the Blades carried on as if nothing happened, with Jose Baxter catching the eye and causing no end of problems around a swarm of busy teammates.

Thankfully we held on until half-time and like Walsall at the Banks’s, we burst into life at the start of second half to catch the hosts cold.

Jacobs pinged a glorious crossfield ball to that man James Henry, who teased and tormented his opposing defender in customary swagger before crossing for the onrushing David Edwards, who dispatched clinically from close range, to the delight of us jubilant fans behind the goal.

Like the first goal, its debilitating effect was huge, as the Blades began to do unexpected things that we hadn’t seen all game…

…They made mistakes.

Lots of them, as they gave the ball away regularly, made the wrong choices and generally became ragged.

It was a testament to our purple performers that they arrived at such a stage, with stout defending, pick-pocket possession and a bullish appetite for a good old scrap all playing their part.

As this Wolves team continues to raise smiles on so many previously brow-beaten faces, a win at a previously impenetrable Sheffield United shouldn’t have been in doubt.

Whatever the sum of its parts, you sense that nothing – including a wet and wild Bramall Lane – is insurmountable.

Sheffield United Vs Wolves Preview

A difficult week ends with a difficult trip to Brammall Lane.

Wolves Sheff Utd

It’s never been a place where I’ve felt particularly confident about Wolves’ prospects and after coming unstuck in midweek, it’s now an even bigger examination of our promotion credentials.

We all hoped the team would continue to cruise towards a Championship return, but things rarely pan out that way in football.

10 games remain and I reckon 20 points must be the target. Hitting that well established 2 points a game average will take us to 97 points, which should be enough to see us home.

Sheffield United

Sheff Utd logoWhilst Wolves were racking up nine wins in a row, United managed seven of their own, whilst also booking a place in the last four of the FA Cup.

What looked like being a disastrous season for the Blades then, could yet turn out to be one of their best in recent memory.

The play-offs look a tough ask, but aren’t out of the question, whilst Hull City must also be considered beatable opponents at Wembley next month. Good luck to them I say.

Nigel Clough has done an excellent job of turning things around in such a short period of time and with 9 wins, 5 draws and just 3 defeats at Brammall Lane all season, they’re tough opposition on their own patch.

Their 2-0 defeat at Molineux earlier in the season was a closer game than the final scoreline suggested. They could easily have been up in that match before Wolves eventually wrestled it away.

Wolves

Kenny Jackett accused his side of not adapting to the conditions on Tuesday, but those that went suggested trying to adapt to the conditions was the problem. Too much long ball and not enough of the passing that’s taken us to where we are.

Wolves team for Sheffield Utd

Of course it won’t always be easy for Wolves to move the ball around effectively on slower, uneven pitches, but they’ve got to try. The moment we start playing long diagonals, we level the playing field and it becomes a scrap.

I’m hoping to see Wolves get back to what they do best tomorrow, which is getting on the ball and controlling the play with some possession.

Kevin McDonald can expect a hot reception on his return, so it will be interesting to see how he responds. I have a suspicion Kenny might hand Leon Clarke a start tomorrow, but would prefer to see the established first XI assuming all are fit and ready.

The odds

Despite recent hiccups, Wolves are favourites to win this one at 5/4. Sheffield Utd are 11/5 and the draw is 23/10.

We know from bitter recent experience that former players have a habit of scoring against their old clubs, so if you back Macca to get the opener tomorrow, he’s available at 11/1.

All odds here.

The gaffer

Predictions

Another defeat means another straightforward update for the PL table.

Three people foresaw the defeat in midweek so well done to woodywolf who picked up a single point and both Steve Howl and Jazzwolf who got the scoreline spot on to double up.

I’m expecting a very tough game tomorrow and the possibility of a bad week getting worse isn’t too hard to envisage.

But I still back this Wolves team because on their day they’re better than anyone else in League One. It’s just up to them to prove it.

2-1 to us.

Up The Wolves