Championship Gameweek 45: Can Sheffield United handle the pressure?5 min read
Pressure on United
Sheffield United’s 3-0 win at Hull on Easter Monday, combined with Leeds’ 2-0 loss at Brentford later that day, means the automatic promotion race could be concluded this week.
Victory for Sheffield United over bottom-placed and already-relegated Ipswich would leave them six points clear.
Although Leeds could make up that gap mathematically with two games left including Sunday’s trip to Aston Villa, United currently have a +11 superior goal difference which could prove a key factor.
Leeds were 3 pts clear of Sheffield United going into the Easter weekend
Leeds lost both games, Sheffield United won both games
Sheffield United are now 3 pts clear of Leeds going into the last two games of the season.
Best Easter comeback since Jesus ⚔️ #sufc #twitterblades pic.twitter.com/Jqgp04wqGv
— Smiggy (@Smiggy) April 22, 2019
Realistically, therefore, Chris Wilder’s side are promoted if they win this match – but it will not be the easy game some are suggesting.
We have seen at Norwich how the pressure of the finish line being so close can influence performance levels. The Canaries, who have played outstanding football all season, have drawn their last four games against middling opposition in Reading, Wigan, Sheffield Wednesday and Stoke – would that have happened if that sequence of fixtures came in early February, rather than mid-to-late-April?
Sheffield United should be credited massively for being in this position, but their performances have not always been especially convincing. They were struggling to break down an ordinary Nottingham Forest side before Yohan Benalouane helped them towards a 2-0 victory, albeit with an excellent opener from Mark Duffy.
United have lost the Expected Goals (xG) count in four of their last seven matches, with a Ratio (xGR) of 50.58 preceded Hull away.
Can Lambert vindicate faith?
There are many reasons behind Ipswich Town’s relegation – and of course it is a fate they deserve.
However, the Tractor Boys have only actually lost five of their last 13 games; so the external expectation that this game represents a nailed-on win for Sheffield United is perhaps slightly distorted.
Although this match does not change the outcome of Ipswich’s campaign, it is more important to them than it might look on the face of things. Manager Paul Lambert has re-energized Portman Road by showing appreciation for supporters far more than his predecessors did and in that sense, fans desperately want him to succeed.
In calculated terms though, three wins in 29 games is not good enough, even factoring in mitigating factors including the mistakes those before him made.
Lambert doesn’t have an unlimited free pass from me, but what he does have is the right to put his own team together over the summer and then the first 12-15 games of next season before I will judge. Not easy supporting a team when they are bottom – very proud of #itfc fans 👍
— Martin F (@PakefieldITFC) April 19, 2019
We have seen glimpses of potential for romance between Lambert and Ipswich, but the goodwill many fans have shown him can only last so long without on-field evidence to back it up.
It’s therefore important that Lambert and the team gives supporters that bit more to cling onto over the summer with competitive performances in the final two games.
Crucially, Lambert has shown a willingness to freshen up the midfield – energetic talent Flynn Downes has laid down a marker while there’s encouraging signs of the excellent but injury-prone Teddy Bishop getting minutes.
In Kayden Jackson and Collin Quaner meanwhile, they have raw but speedy forwards capable of posing a counter-attacking threat – which could be a handy weapon should Sheffield United throw caution to the wind.
Tip: Ipswich +1 handicap –