The £22million man Sunderland will have to stop against Sheffield United plus verdict on Paul Heckingbottom

Sunderland are preparing to face Sheffield United in the Championship – but what can they expect at Bramall Lane?

The Blades were beaten in the play-off semi-finals by Nottingham Forest last season and have taken four points from their opening three league games under manager Paul Heckingbottom this term.

To find out more, we caught up with James Shield from our sister title The Sheffield Start on the latest episode of The Roar Podcast:

Hide Ad
Hide Ad
Sheffield United player Sander Berge shoots to score the opening goal during the Championship between Middlesbrough and Sheffield United at Riverside Stadium. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

How would you assess Sheffield United’s start to the season?

JS: “I think it’s fair to say it’s been a solid rather than a spectacular start but probably a start that a lot of us would have expected Paul Heckingbottom’s team to have had.

“I don’t think there is any disgrace in losing to Watford. They then beat Millwall, a well organised Millwall side as is always the case under Gary Rowett.

“Then I thought Sunday’s result against Middlesbrough, obviously it’s quite an emotive fixture for Sheffield United with Chris Wilder being at the Riverside, but I thought that was a really good game and there were some positive signs.

“Coming into it off the back of a big disappointment losing in the play-offs last season, when you assess what they have done in context it has been fairly encouraging.”

What’s the view on Paul Heckingbottom?

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

JS: “I think he’s got an awful lot of good will in the tank amongst Sheffield United supporters.

“The club was struggling in November when Paul was appointed and there is no point in pretending otherwise, eyebrows were raised when he was given the job.

“He’s done really well because Slavisa Jokanovic had tried to change the whole ethos of the football club.

“What Paul Heckingbottom did was go back to something that was broadly similar to the strategy which had brought Sheffield United all that success under Chris Wilder.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“It was a system and a way of doing things that the players knew and he delivered some really good results taking them up from 16th to fifth in the table.

How important is midfielder Sander Berge, and who are the other players to look out for?

JS: “Sander is hugely important.

“He’s spent an awful lot of time adjusting I think to the physical aspects of English football, which might seem slightly surprising for someone who is 6 ft 4 and is built like a heavyweight boxer.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“Now he has grasped that and now is playing a slightly different role to the one he was brought in to play, he is playing a far more offensive role now, he looks like the player that Sheffield United thought they had spent £22million on while they were still in the Premier League.

“Reda Khadra, if he plays and has a really good game that could be a case of the one that got away for Sunderland. I like players like him because I think they just bring something out of the ordinary to the table.

“The other one that maybe some Sunderland fans haven’t heard a lot about is a forward called Iliman Ndiaye, he’s a little bit like Khadra and I just think he’s a joy to watch.”

Predicted Sheffield United XI: (3-5-2)Foderingham; Ahmedhodzic, Egan, Norrington-Davies; Baldock, Norwood, Berge, Fleck, Lowe, Ndiaye, Brewster