The Saddlers travel to South Yorkshire tonight with our recent slump beginning to overshadow the excellent start to the season made by Smith & O’Kelly’s young team. It’s now five games since we last registered a win and we couldn’t have asked for a tougher place to attempt to break the sequence than a trip to Bramall Lane. After Tranmere’s loss on Saturday, United are now the only unbeaten team in the Football League and sit third in League One. Bedevilled by financial problems over recent years, the Blades embarked on another round of cost-cutting measures in the summer in order to comply with the new financial fairplay rules. This has seen the entire ticket office staff replaced by a three-year old child with a Fisher Price abacus and a telephone. How else to explain the risible arrangements for this game – “we might tell you if we’re going to sell tickets to away fans on the night but we might not. Don’t try ringing us the day before because it only confuses us.” Poor.
Even so, they were still able to spend the money they saved on a couple of ‘undisclosed fees’ for two strikers in the close season – Nick Blackman from Blackburn and Shaun Miller from Crewe as well as our own Darryl Westlake who, just in case the League haven’t sorted the compo out yet is THE BEST DEFENDER WE HAVE EVER HAD AND WILL UNDOUBTEDLY CAPTAIN ENGLAND IN THE NEAR FUTURE. Couple of million should do it, cheers. Ginger-haired assassin (he hates you referring to his ginger hair) Dave Kitson has also washed up on a life raft from the wreckage of HMS Portsmouth although there are doubts about the flame-tressed frontman’s fitness. He was substituted at half time at Preston on Saturday and has been suffering from a virus.
Kitson is notable as the current favourite to be ‘The Secret Footballer’ – whose unusually eloquent and honest assessment of life as a professional footballer has led to lots of men with no girlfriend spending ages trying to work out his identity. I know for a fact that it’s actually written by Ishmel Demontagnac, but SHHH! – don’t tell anyone. Danny Wilson’s only other injury concern is defender Marcus Williams who is struggling with ankle and back knack. Dean Smith will probably continue with Will Grigg up front on his own but may elect to bring James Chambers back at right back following his recovery from injury and Richard Taundry’s torrid second half on Saturday.
Predictions? On the surface this seems a straightforward ‘home win’ but dig a little deeper and there’s some room for cautious optimism. United may be unbeaten but they’ve also drawn more than their fair share – especially at home. Oldham, Bury and even Burton have ruined a few people’s fixed-odds coupons so far this season and although they don’t concede many they’re not particularly free scoring either – apart from a 5-3 tonking of a Bournemouth side in turmoil they are yet to score more than one goal at home in the league this season.
Add the fact that we saved our best performances of last season (and, arguably, this) for games where we’ve been the underdog and we may well have a better chance than many think. The most important factor may be how much the recent poor run has taken out of us mentally and physically – as many have noted we have started to look awfully tired in the last twenty minutes of games. But if the lads can’t get themselves up for a game at Bramall Lane then there really is something wrong.