The penultimate Championship game before Christmas sees Sheffield United travel to the DW Stadium to face Wigan on Monday night. Wigan come into this with new manager Kolo Toure who replaced Leam Richardson over the World Cup break, on the back of a creditable 1-1 draw at the Den in his opening game in charge of the Latics. Sheffield United are flying at the moment and start this round of fixtures in second, on the back of five wins in the last six. Last time out they beat a poor Huddersfield side as they returned from a few weeks off.
There was a divide between Wigan fans after Leam Richardson was sacked. He hadn’t been backed following promotion and some felt that it was harsh to sack him having given him a new contract just two weeks prior. However, they were on a run where they had just one point in seven games and looked destined for relegation if they kept him in charge. Since then, they have picked up four points with a 2-1 win over Blackpool and a draw at Millwall. However, if people were surprised to see Richardson leave, they were amazed when Kolo Toure was announced as the new boss. With no experience as the main man, Toure spent all his previous coaching career with Brendan Rodgers, primarily at Leicester. His brother was also considered for the role but he has stayed with his coaching job at Spurs, but the former Liverpool, Arsenal and Man City defender has an uphill task on his hands as they sit in 23rd. One thing that they will need to do is improve their record at home, where they have picked up a league low nine points in 11 games with just two wins and eight goals scored. Wigan will be without Jason Kerr, who is a long term absentee with an ACL injury, and Tom Pearce and Ryan Nyambe are doubts coming into this one. It is likely that Toure will stick to the same side that managed a point at Millwall in his first game.
Paul Heckingbottom was under pressure at the end of October following a run where they were winless in six and they only picked up three points but since then they have really turned a corner, winning five of their last six, keeping four clean sheets. The only game that they failed to win was when they hosted Rotherham, where they were unfortunate to lose. The most impressive win on this run of games was a 5-2 victory over the league leaders, Burnley, in which they put on a show and had over five expected goals. The Blades injury list is lengthy with John Fleck, Rhian Brewster, Rhys Norrington-Davies, Daniel Jebbison and Jack O’Connell all likely out for this game, but they should be able to bring back Sander Berge and Oli McBurnie who both came off the bench last weekend against Huddersfield.
Wigan come into this one in trouble sat in 23rd. Their recent form has not been good and as a result Richardson lost his job. Their home form in particular has been woeful, and their win against Blackpool just before the break was just their second win at the DW all season. Strong teams like Burnley and Middlesbrough have come here and won 1-5 and 1-4 respectively this season and Sheffield United could do the same here, given the obvious gulf in the quality of the squads. Their performances have been a big concern too. In their last nine, they have won just two games on expected goals – one of which was against a team that had a man sent off after 17 minutes. Whilst they managed to pick up a point last weekend, they were perhaps fortunate to do so after losing the game 1.33-0.70 on expected goals and Voglsammer and Bradshaw both missed big chances for the home side at the Den. Sheffield United will prove an even sterner test for Kolo Toure’s men here.
Sheffield United continued their winning form at home to Huddersfield last weekend and whilst they weren’t at their brilliant best, they got the job done without some key players. That win was their fifth in six, and they have won each of their last three on the road by an aggregate scoreline of 0-4. They have become a tough team to stop from scoring, and the data shows this. They have had at least one expected goal for in all but one of their last 11 games and the results have shown this – only failing to score in three games. They have become difficult to score against too, as seen with their recent results on the road and they have conceded a league low 19 goals in 22 games. Wigan have only managed to score 22 so their defence could come out on top again here. Away from home, the Blades have picked up 20 points in 11 games, only conceding eight and winning six.
Oli McBurnie has been on fire this season and is starting to show his form from Swansea that saw him sign for the Blades when they were in the Premier League. He sits one goal behind Viktor Gyokeres in the race for the golden boot this season having played significantly fewer minutes. He has only started 12 games, but he has scored in seven of those, hitting 47 shots in those games. 28 of those have been on target meaning he averages over two shots on target per start (available at 6/4 as an alternative market). He is really starting to find form, and given that he came off the bench last week he should be available to start here. When fit and firing he is one of the best strikers in the division and he will be afforded plenty of chances here against a poor Wigan defence.
Sheffield United have had 112 shots on target in 22 games so far this season, averaging 5.09 per game. A big part of that is the front two of McBurnie and Ndiaye who have combined for 44 attempts on target and they both should start here. This selection has landed in five of their last nine games and they have managed 9, 8 and 11 attempts on target in different games in that period of time. They should dominate the ball and they will create plenty of chances. They should have Sander Berge back and he should manage to create even more opportunities for the front two.
Both of these sides average a high number of cards. Wigan average 3.77 cards per game, rising to 4.00 at home, and Sheffield United average 4.09 away from home, and 4.68 in total. 55% of Wigan games at the DW this season have seen four or more cards and 64% of Sheffield United’s away fixtures have seen four cards shown, including four of their last six.
The referee for this game is Dean Whitestone. So far this season in the Championship, he has shown four or more cards in six of his ten games, including in each of his last three. Last week he took charge of a stalemate between Watford and Hull which saw four bookings. Situationally, this is a big game for both teams. This is Kolo Toure’s first game as Wigan manager at home, and he will want to show the fans that the team has passion and fight and are desperate to stay up knowing that a win would take them up to 19th. They will try to frustrate the away side. The Blades are rightfully favourites and will see this as a big opportunity to pick up some more points on the road and should draw plenty of fouls.
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