In this week’s Opposition Focus, Matt Wiggins spoke to Ben Meakin from BladesPod to get a Sheffield United perspective ahead of this weekends crucial clash at the Cottage…
Fulham vs Sheffield United, what comes to mind when you think of this fixture from years gone by?
Winning in the last minute of extra time in the FA Cup on our way to the semi-final in 2014 was a great memory – terrible game but a brilliant moment for a pretty average League One team at that time. A young Harry Maguire got the assist for that one. And although we ended up on the losing end of it, the 5-4 at Bramall Lane in 2017 was one of the wildest games I’ve been to. We were 5-2 down and had one cleared off the line that would’ve made it 5-5 – pretty much all 22 players were laid out on the floor at full time.
Back in October, we drew 1-1 at Bramall Lane with Fulham missing a crucial penalty and Billy Sharp putting one away for the Blades. What’s your reflection on the reverse fixture?
I think a lot of United fans had looked at that fixture as the opportunity to get off the mark in terms of our first win, and not only did that not happen but then we had to wait several more months before it arrived. It was a frustrating one because we were great in the first half and should probably have been a couple of goals up, but by full time I was very relieved with the point as Fulham finished much the better team.
Recently your form has started to turn, with the Blades picking up a massive win at Old Trafford not too long ago. How does a result like that help confidence going into some crucial games in the remainder of the season?
I think most of us have accepted quite a while ago that we’ve just dug too big a hole for ourselves this season, so are trying to enjoy each individual match on its own merits rather than worrying about the bigger picture. The Old Trafford win was fantastic, and we have put in some better performances of late, but there’s still the odd frustratingly poor game thrown in there.
Have you felt as though a change was necessary in management this season or have the club been right to stick by Chris Wilder?
It was the right thing to do – ultimately no manager was going to turn around our season to overcome the historically terrible start, and there’s no better manager out there to reload and get us promoted again. He isn’t above criticism and there has been a lot of things that could have gone better this season – lack of tactical flexibility and poor recruitment probably top of the list.
Last time we spoke about Sheffield United’s summer transfer window. How would you describe the new signings performance this season as we head into the middle of February?
Even acknowledging that a lot of our signings were with an eye on the future, I’ve been disappointed with how few of them have impacted our team this season. Aaron Ramsdale has been up and down in goal, Rhian Brewster is yet to score and Ethan Ampadu took several months to show what he could do. Jayden Bogle is one of the few bright spots of our season but for some reason didn’t even make the squad for the first three months. Our inability to find adequate cover for the injured Jack O’Connell, or to have any other midfield options, meaning we’ve had to keep out-of-form players in the team due to lack of alternatives, has really torpedoed our season.
Who’s one Sheffield United player that Fulham need to watch out for on Saturday?
I’ll say Bogle who is notionally a right wingback but seems to constantly pop up in the penalty area. He’s got three goals in limited game time and is one of our few players to try something different on the ball.
Who’s one Fulham player you feel can threaten Sheffield United at Craven Cottage?
With John Egan injured for the foreseeable future, Mitrovic could potentially have a very nice day against a backline that cannot defend set-pieces. It feels like we concede from a corner every couple of games. Actually, that’s because we do – at last count I think we’re up to double figures for the season.
Last time we spoke you gave us your predictions of a top 4 of Man City, Liverpool, Man Utd, Chelsea and a bottom 3 of Newcastle, Fulham and West Brom. Are there any changes you’d make to these predictions as we’re further into the season?
I feel pretty good about most of those, although I naturally didn’t foresee Liverpool’s injuries. Obviously, we will be replacing Newcastle in the bottom 3. I guess Fulham will feel like they have a fighting chance at survival but from where I’m sitting the league title is over and the bottom three will be the bottom three.
Finally, how do you see the game panning out and what do you think the score will be?
Our already-decimated team is now without Egan and probably John Fleck, who had finally discovered last season’s form before unfortunately being hospitalised with illness before our last game. We’re still fighting but just really feeling the lack of quality at both ends of the pitch at the moment. I’ve felt much more optimistic since the turn of the year when we finally got our first win, but I think a narrow home win is probably on the cards here.
PREDICTION: FULHAM 2-1 SHEFFIELD UNITED