Sheffield United will be looking to reach the fifth round of the FA Cup as they take on Championship rivals Preston North End at Bramall Lane on Saturday afternoon.
The Blades ended their winless run in the Championship last weekend as they beat Norwich City 2-1 at Carrow Road. It was a very important win for Chris Wilder’s side and one that kept them within the play-off places after a recent poor run of form.
As for Preston, they were held to a 1-1 draw at Deepdale by strugglers Birmingham City. Preston will have been frustrated not to have taken all three points after taking an early lead through Ben Davies only to be pegged back by the Blues midway through the second-half.
How they've fared so far
It has been a successful season for the Blades so far under the management of Wilder following their promotion from League One last season. They have carried the momentum from the title winning campaign into this season and that is the key reason behind why they currently find themselves sat in the play-off places despite a recent dip in form.
One positive for Blades supporters is that Wilder has been able to improve the squad further in this transfer window and there may even be further additions before the deadline. The likes of Ryan Leonard, Lee Evans, James Wilson and Ricky Holmes have already arrived at the club this month and really strengthened Wilder’s squad. It was vital that they added more quality players to the squad to ensure that they are still pushing for promotion come May.
It will be interesting to see how seriously Wilder takes this game, with the club’s main focus this season being on trying to secure promotion to the Premier League. Wilder made a significant number of changes to his side in the win at Ipswich Town in the third round and it would be no surprise to see him do the same again for this one.
As for Preston, they are also genuine contenders to finish in the play-off positions this season and have been fairly consistent under the management of Alex Neil this season. Many felt that the club would struggle following the departure of Simon Grayson to Sunderland in the summer, but Neil has been able to build on the good work that Grayson had done during his time in charge at Deepdale.
Preston are currently sat just four points off the play-off places and could have found themselves a lot closer to the top six if it was not for two disappointing results lately. They have been held to a 1-1 draw in their last two games against Millwall and Birmingham City. These are two games that you would expect a team challenging for the play-offs to win. However, Neil will make sure that his side do not lose confidence from these results.
Preston have not reached the fifth round of the FA Cup since the 2014/15 campaign when they were competing in League One. They have been knocked out in the third round for the last two years and Neil will be eager to take them as far as possible in the competition this time round. It is certainly not the glamour tie that supporters will have been hoping for but it is one that they are capable of winning.
Last time they met
The Blades last played Preston in the Championship in a 1-0 defeat at Deepdale in December. Jordan Hugill’s second-half strike was enough to secure all three points for the home side. Wilder felt that his side did not reach their usual standards in this match.
Wilder now has plenty of striking options to choose from with the likes of James Wilson, Billy Sharp, Clayton Donaldson and the Championship's joint top scorer Leon Clarke at his disposal. He may opt to include Wilson in his starting line-up for this one due to the lack of game time that he has had in recent times before joining the Blades due to injury.
The main danger man that the Blades will have to watch out for on Saturday afternoon is Hugill. Whether Neil will risk his main attacking player in this game remains to be seen but if he does start, he has the ability to cause the home side problems. New signing Billy Bodin is yet to make an appearance since joining from Bristol Rovers and Neil may be tempted to include him in his starting line-up for this match.