CHAMPIONSHIP specialist James O'Rourke (@JamesOR1) takes a look at Friday night's Steel City derby showdown between Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday.
Sheffield United v Sheffield Wednesday | Friday 9th November 2018, 19:45 | Sky Sports
Whilst it looks as though the fireworks are being put away for New Year, we can expect plenty of them on the pitch at Bramall Lane on Friday night. The Steel City derby remains one of the most eagerly anticipated clashes in the football calendar.
This hasn’t been a top-flight game since 1994, but the footballing public should be turning on their TV screens in their number to view this one. It is a match which rarely disappoints, even if the last head-to-head meeting did finish 0-0!
Let us set the scene in the Championship for these two sides. The Blades are having a fine campaign by their standards, and victory prior to the weekend’s games would climb them to the top of the table. Their form in more recent weeks has been a little edgy, winning just once in their previous four. However, they were on a four-match winning streak prior to that, so Chris Wilder will be glad to have this Sheffield derby at this time to really get them going again.
Matters are certainly not so bright at Hillsborough these days. Jos Luhukay is a man coming under huge pressure on the back of a very poor run of results. The Owls find themselves 17th in the standings, losing their last four games in succession; conceding 12 goals in the process.
Conceding goals has the Owls' issue all season long. Alongside Preston, they possess the joint-worst defensive record. Wednesday recently earned back-to-back victories on the road at Aston Villa and Bristol City, but the back end of October has certainly hit them hard. Nevertheless, they always say form goes out of the window going into local derbies, and Sheff Wed will be hoping that is the case.
Blades good for goals
Finding the back of the net has contributed greatly to Sheff Utd sitting where they are in the table. Only current league leaders Leeds have scored more than they have. Sixteen of their 27 goals have come at Bramall Lane as well, so they certainly enjoy the comforts of home surroundings.
After losing their league opener versus Swansea, the Blades have since gone unbeaten at Bramall Lane, defeating the likes of Norwich and Aston Villa. They have however only earned two clean sheets in front of their supporters this season, coming against Birmingham (who were struggling for goals at the time) and lowly Hull.
Since their last meeting with Wednesday, only Aston Villa, Nottingham Forest, Preston and Birmingham have prevented United from scoring in a league home match.
Owls allow too many
We’ve touched upon the fact that goals leaked are an area of concern for Luhukay. Quite remarkably, they are yet to keep a clean sheet in the Championship, although they did earn one in the 2-0 win at Sunderland in the EFL Cup back in August.
Sheff Wed ended last season keeping three clean sheets in their final four matches of the campaign. Only on three occasions have they failed to score however. Two of those came within their last three, versus Norwich and Queens Park Rangers, the other being the August setback at Brentford.
With Sheffield United averaging 2.00 goals scored per-home game, they’ll need some major improvement on Friday to deny their offensive opponents.
Chris Wilder will have key defender Chris Basham back after serving a one-match suspension in the Nottingham Forest defeat after yellow card accumulation. He will instantly dislodge Martin Cranie from the back-three. It is hoped that Mark Duffy is back after injury, and early signs are that he will indeed be in the squad.
Luhukay will consider look to make some changes following the 4-0 defeat to Norwich. They are still minus the likes of Marco Matias and Fernando Forestieri. Keiren Westwood and Sam Hutchinson, two favourites, remain out of favour under the Dutchman.
This is clearly quite a unique fixture and whilst last season’s two meetings were the first time they faced off since the 2011/12 campaign in League One, there is still lots to be learned from past meetings.
The most recent clash ended in a goalless draw. This was back in January, which was Luhukay’s first game in charge. He adopted a very defensive style, designed to earn them a clean sheet. It worked, but clearly matters have gone backwards since then on the defensive front.
The Owls won the Bramall Lane meeting last back in February 2009. We then have to go back to the 1960s for the occasion before that in which they emerged victorious on enemy soil.
There has been 18 meetings in league action between these two since 2000. It reads six wins for Sheff Utd, five for Sheff Wed and seven draws. If we include the EFL Cup meeting in November 2000, we can add another victory in the Owls category.
Again, across those 18 encounters, 10 have resulted in both teams scoring. The nine at Bramall Lane ended with both netting on six of those occasions.
Contrasting halves expected
Quite often matches of this nature tend to start very tight and cagey. Whilst the form guide clearly favours with Sheffield United, and also the fact they’re the home team, clearly there will be lots of emotion on show. These two teams are in the ‘top half’ of the fair play table, meaning they’re two of the more combative sides at this level.
Of course, the most recent meeting finished goalless, in a rather low-key encounter. With Wednesday struggling for form and conceding plenty of goals, Luhukay could look to revert to type here. Making a team hard to beat, when they’re conceding so many goals, is never easy. However, motivation won’t be in doubt for the players, and this is probably the perfect game for them at this moment in time.
One thing that is common is that these two sides tend to experience more goals (for or against) during the second half of their matches.
Sheffield United have witnessed 19 goals during the first halves of their league action, whilst it is 27 in the second period. For Sheffield Wednesday, it reads 19 to 32. Both also score over half of their goals in the second half, as well.
Quite worrying for the Owls is that 67% of goals conceded occur in the second 45. They’ve conceded seven times within the final 15 minutes.
For all that Sheff Utd are scoring plenty of goals this season, they don’t tend to replicate that too often across each halve.
Only 44% of the time in the Championship this season have they netted in each half. Sheff Wed have only conceded in each halve 31% of the time, which is a surprise. However, the number increases rather drastically to 62% when we focus purely on matches played away from Hillsborough.
Only in 5/16 have Sheffield United been leading at half time. Sheffield Wednesday have only been behind at the break in 6/16. All things point towards this match really opening up in the second half.
With that being the case, we’ll have a little interest in the 0-0 Half Time Score market. This is best-priced at 41/20 (Marathon).
Also, focusing on the statistics mentioned above, it may come as a bit of a surprise if we didn’t have some goals in the second half. Therefore, I am pleasantly surprised to see we can get odds-against odds of the Highest Scoring Half – Second Half market. 11/10 (Betfair) to be precise.
Caution backing overs
It always plays in the back of my mind to avoid backing too many goals in a game of this nature. This is despite the fact that when it comes to the 2.5 line in the Championship, matches involving Sheffield Wednesday has beaten in 13/16. This means their matches average 3.2 goals, the most of any side in the division. Sheffield United aren’t too far behind, with their averaging 2.9, witnessing 10/16 end over 2.5.
Despite this being the case, it is amazing how many times the two cancel each other out. Bear in mind Sheffield Wednesday have been conceding plenty of goals of late, which is why a lot of their games do indeed end over 2.5. The Blades have only netted six more goals than their city opposition, conceding only 19.
Three of the last five played at Bramall Lane have ended under 2.5. Two of the last three to be even more precise. Only once away from Hillsborough has one of the Owls’ matches not ended above 2.5.
These stats may point us in the direction of goals, but remember that the last head-to-head meeting ended 0-0, and stats going into that were of a similar nature to this. Four of the last six head-to-head has actually ended below 2.5, so bare that in mind if you’re jumping on the goals front.
A goal route we can explore
There is an avenue we can go down regarding goals, if that is your thing.
We’ve already mentioned how Sheffield United rarely fail to score at home. Only a handful of clubs have managed to do so in the 2018 calendar year. Luhukay’s side aren’t famed for proving too hard to beat at all this season, not keeping a single clean sheet in the league.
In 11 of those most recent 18 league head-to-head meetings between these two, Sheffield United have also scored over their local rivals. Only on three occasions throughout that period too have the Blades managed to score more than twice in any single game. Seven times did Sheff Utd fail to score too, but five of those came away from home.
Focusing on this season, just 5/16 times have Sheffield United scored 2+ goals in any one match.
Clearly Sheff Wed are conceding plenty of goals. They’ve conceded ten within their last three, conceding at least three times in those. However, it is rare for them to ship too many goals in a single match. Besides the most recent three, only one other time have the Owls conceded 2+ in a game. That came away to Wigan when losing 3-2 on the opening day of the season.
We’d be a little surprise if Sheffield United fail to finally score here, even if they have to be patient.
Sheffield United to score 1 or 2 goals is priced 8/11 (Betway).