If a few months ago, one of Sheffield United and Queens Park Rangers were in a prime position for a playoff spot, most people certainly would have assumed the latter. Whilst QPR having fallen away though and now sit tenth in the Championship, the Blades are currently sixth. All is still to play for in and around the playoffs – Paul Heckingbottom’s men have their fate in their own hands as they try to ward off the efforts of the chasing pack.
Sheffield United Looking to Hang on to the Final Playoff Spot
Is All Still to Play for for Both Teams?
It is nigh on impossible that QPR will be able to fight their way back into the picture. They are six points behind their opponents for Friday with an inferior goal difference. On top of that, there are three teams in between the Londoners and Sheffield United who will surely pick up some points along the way. It is hard to believe that QPR won’t be playing playoff football given that they were knocking on the door of the top two around Christmas time.
Whilst the R’s have nothing to play for at this point, as previously mentioned, this is a massive fixture for Sheffield United. The Blades themselves have experienced somewhat of a drop-off, partially due to injuries, which will be explored in more detail later. The ramifications of this fixture and then the final game of the season can and will be seismic for the visitors.
Luton Town are the only other playoff team that Sheffield United can manage to catch up to. Whilst the Hatters will play title-chasing Fulham next time out, they finish the season with a visit from Reading, who are now safe and so have no jeopardy available. This means that instead, they just have to keep ahead of those currently below them.
— Sky Bet Championship (@SkyBetChamp) April 26, 2022
Blackburn Rovers and Millwall are the two closest challengers with Middlesbrough not far behind. Blackburn will host second-placed Bournemouth this weekend. Meanwhile, it will be Bournemouth against Millwall and Sheffield United against Fulham on the final day, when the title will surely be wrapped up by Marco Silva’s men.
The Tale of the Tape
As previously mentioned, this clash will take place at Loftus Road, or as it is now known, the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium. The reverse fixture, strangely enough, took place just a few weeks ago. In a battle of two blunt attacks, a lack of goals was hardly shocking. Blades midfielder Oliver Norwood netted after just nine minutes, and this strike proved to be the difference. A well-worked John Fleck corner clearly from the training ground led to Norwood curling home from the top of the box.
Straight off the training ground. 😍
Ollie Norwood's goal wins it for the Blades against QPR. ⚔️ pic.twitter.com/BiAfFXdvaP
— Sheffield United (@SheffieldUnited) April 5, 2022
1-0 has actually been a common scoreline for Heckingbottom and co. Due to the absentees in the final third, the defensive stability has been a welcome addition, particularly in recent outings. Prior to the win over QPR, Sheffield United beat Barnsley 2-0 before then losing by a single goal to Stoke City. In February they beat both Millwall and Blackburn, the two sides hot on their heels, 1-0. Then, more recently, in the last outing, Iliman Ndiaye scored the only goal of the game when Cardiff City visited Bramall Lane.
Focusing now on QPR and they have experienced a lot of tight games. Since the beginning of February, they have been involved in nine fixtures that were won by a single goal (either 1-0 or 2-1). Out of these nine, only two saw Mark Warburton’s side prevail. One of which was of course the defeat to Sheffield United and both of their last two matches also ended 1-0. They first beat Derby County despite having ten men before falling to a Jacob Brown goal at the bet365 Stadium.
Will Injuries Continue to Plague Sheffield United?
As has previously been alluded to, injuries have been a big worry for Paul Heckingbottom and his coaching staff over the past few months. Having just hit some impressive form in front of goal, the much-loved Rhian Brewster suffered a hamstring injury back in mid-January and hasn’t featured since. Along with young Brewster, David McGoldrick, Oli McBurnie and Billy Sharp have spent prolonged periods on the sideline. Scottish international McBurnie just recently got injured once again whilst club legend Billy Sharp is now back amongst it, finally.
In the absence of all of these strikers, the likes of Morgan Gibbs-White, Iliman Ndiaye and Daniel Jebbison have been turned too. Ndiaye has looked very good at times and Gibbs-White has definitely been the standout. Gibbs-White impressed on loan at Swansea City from Wolverhampton Wanderers and now with Sheffield United, he has gone up another level. Ten goals and eight assists in league play is a sign that he is Premier League ready. Along with the offensive injuries, fullbacks Jayden Bogle and Enda Stevens haven’t been in action for months and Jack O’Connell hasn’t once touched the field this term.
No Morgan Gibbs-White in the @SkyBetChamp Team Of the Season??
— The72 – We Love the #EFL (@_The72) April 24, 2022
It hasn’t been all doom and gloom for Sheffield United as they still have something to play for despite all of these injuries. QPR on the other hand, have been completely marred themselves. Goalkeeper Seny Dieng is expected to be back in action soon but remains doubtful for this Friday night clash under the lights. Rob Dickie and Lee Wallace are two other defensive players still out injured whilst Chris Willock is sidelined from the attacking third. At times, the likes of Charlie Austin and Lyndon Dykes have also been unavailable.
QPR hosting Sheffield United in front of the Sky Sports cameras promises to be an enticing affair. Even more so given the importance that this game holds for the away side. The Blades can all but secure a playoff spot with a win on Friday night, piling the pressure onto the chasing pack at the same time too.