Sheffield United vs Birmingham City Preview: Can the Blades return to the automatic promotion places?

Sheffield United will be looking to get back to winning ways in The Championship as they take on Birmingham City at Bramall Lane on Saturday evening.

Sheffield United vs Birmingham City Preview: Can the Blades return to the automatic promotion places?
Sheffield United vs Birmingham City Preview: Can the Blades return to the automatic promotion places? (picture: Getty Images / Mark Cosgrove)

Sheffield United will be looking to get back to winning ways in The Championship as they take on Birmingham City at Bramall Lane on Saturday evening.

The Blades suffered defeat on Tuesday as they were beaten by Slaviša Jokanović's Fulham side 5-4 at Bramall Lane. It was an extraordinary game in which both Leon Clarke and Ryan Sessegnon scored a hat-trick. It was a disappointing result for the Blades and they will be looking to put that right on Saturday. 

As for Birmingham, they fell to another defeat as Middlesbrough moved back into the play-off places with a 2-0 win at the Riverside. Britt Assombalonga scored both goals for Boro in the first-half and Blues manager Steve Cotterill felt that he made the difference for the home side.  

How they've fared so far 

No-one connected with Sheffield United could have possibly predicted the start their side has made to their 2017/18 Championship campaign. After ending their six-year absence from the division by winning the League One title last time out, many supporters would have been happy to just consolidate in the division.

However, they are now among the strongest contenders for promotion to the Premier League next May due to the superb start they have made to the campaign under the management of Chris Wilder.

As a supporter of the club himself, Wilder has created a really positive atmosphere around the club and he is without doubt the key reason behind their recent success. They have won 12 of their 18 league matches this season and this sees them currently sat just outside the automatic promotion places by one point.

If they can claim the three points against Birmingham on Saturday, they will move back into the top two but could be leapfrogged by Cardiff City on Sunday if they go on to win away at Nottingham Forest.

Another key reason behind United's early success this season is in-form striker Clarke. The 32-year-old striker's success this season has come somewhat as a surprise considering he is arguably entering the latter stages of his career after featuring for a significant number of clubs.

However, he has proved his doubters wrong so far as he has already found the back of the net 12 times and sits top of the goalscoring charts. This has given him an impressive average of a goal every 103 minutes of playing time. He will certainly fancy his chances of adding to his tally on Saturday evening. 

As for Birmingham, they have really struggled once again in The Championship this season and look set for another relegation dogfight. The club's hierarchy made the decision to dismiss manager Harry Redknapp early on in the season and his replacement in the form of Cotterill, has not been able to turn their results around so far. 

The Blues have won just two of their last seven league matches, coming against Cardiff City and Nottingham Forest last weekend. However, these were both narrow 1-0 victories and their main issue does seem to be their inability to find the back of the net on a regular basis.

This is something they must look to improve on if they are to have any chance of avoiding relegation down to the third tier. 

Last time they met

The Blades last played Birmingham in The FA Cup in a 4-0 defeat in January 2012 at Bramall Lane. Goals from Nathan Redmond, Wade Elliott and a double from Adam Rooney were enough to secure Blues a comfortable passage into the fifth round of the competition. 

However, the Blades did manage to get the better of Birmingham the last time the two sides met in The Championship. Goals from Danny Webber and David Cotterill secured a 2-1 win for United in March 2009. 

Adam Rooney scored twice the last time these two sides met in The FA Cup. (picture: Getty Images / Jamie McDonald)
Adam Rooney scored twice the last time these two sides met in The FA Cup. (picture: Getty Images / Jamie McDonald)

Team news 

Despite picking up a knock in the 5-4 defeat to Fulham on Tuesday, Wilder should still have influential midfielder Mark Duffy available for selection after he received treatment. Wilder could also be boosted by the return of full-back George Baldock who is another very important player for the Blades. 

Midfielder Paul Coutts will again miss out after suffering a broken leg in the 3-1 victory against Burton Albion last weekend. It will be interesting to see how his absence will impact on the Blades in the remainder of the season. 

As for Birmingham, there are doubts over the fitness of both midfielder David Davis and striker Che Adams. 21-year-old Adams will be desperate to feature against his former club after leaving only last year. Both Craig Gardner and Stephen Gleeson are also doubts, leaving Cotterill short of options in central midfield. 

Blues goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak could also be dropped having been given painkilling injections before their last few matches. This could present an opportunity for summer signing David Stockdale to step up and prove he is deserving of a place in the starting line-up on a more regular basis.