Sheffield United v Nottingham Forest Friday April 19, 12:30 Live on Sky Sports
Sheffield United drop crucial points
Sheffield United's automatic promotion hopes were dented last Saturday as Millwall scored an injury-time equaliser at Bramall Lane, a result that saw the Blades fall three points behind Leeds in the race for a top-two finish. Gary Madine's goal looked like it would be enough to win the game for Chris Wilder's charges before a dramatic finale in South Yorkshire.
With five minutes remaining, John Egan was red-carded for handball but Millwall's resultant penalty crashed against the crossbar before the relegation-threatened Lions eventually levelled in the 94th minute. Blades boss Wilder pulled no punches post-match, saying "As soon as we scored we went backwards. We went safe and I've said to them (the players), if you do that you don't deserve to win games of football."
The contest also came at a cost for United, who saw utility defender Chris Basham, plus top goalscorer and captain Billy Sharp limp off. Both key players picked up hamstring complaints and look increasingly unlikely to feature in Good Friday's fixture, along with the suspended Egan. Madine, Martin Crainie, Kieran Dowell and Paul Coutts are all hoping for inclusion.
Nottingham Forest already on the beach?
Nottingham Forest's faint play-off hopes were all but extinguished at the City Ground last weekend as the Tricky Trees suffered a 2-1 defeat to Blackburn despite firing in 22 efforts at goal. Martin O'Neill's men were only able to land a solitary shot on-target as they dropped eight points adrift of the Championship's top-six ahead of the Easter double-header.
Rovers started the brighter and deservedly broke the deadlock before the half-hour mark, doubling their advantage following a Sam Byram mistake shortly after the interval. Forest hit back almost immediately when Ryan Yates bundled in after a goalkeeping mistake and Darryl Murphy could have grabbed a late equaliser, but scuffed his effort wide.
Out-of-form Lewis Grabban and Matty Cash both spurned opportunities as the Reds pressed for an equaliser and O'Neill was left frustrated by his side's prolificacy post-match, saying "The game should have been out of reach." The Forest boss has said he will continue to experiment with his starting line-ups ahead of the campaign's conclusion.
Blades can beat the Asian Handicap hurdle
Sheffield United have registered only two league triumphs (W2-D6-L5) in their last 13 league fixtures with Nottingham Forest, a run that dates back to the duos play-off battles in 2003. Peculiarly, the Blades have also been able to score more than a single strike against the Tricky Trees just once in that run 13-game sample.
Sheffield United 1.58 are short-priced favourites to put that aforementioned head-to-head record to bed with a cushy home success on Friday. The hosts have W13-D4-L4 at Bramall Lane this season, including W11-D4-L2 when welcoming sides outside of the top-six. Chris Wilder's charges are also comfortably nestled in second in the Expected Goals (xG) table.
Travel-sick Nottingham Forest6.80 were trounced 3-0 on their last road trip at Sheffield Wednesday and a return to the Steel City looks a tall order for a visiting team that's lost their last three and claimed only three victories on their travels. The Reds have W0-D5-L6 in their 11 away days since December with four of their last five losses by at least two goals.
With the hosts too short to support in the Match Odds market, it may pay to venture into the Asian Handicapwhere United are 1.75 with a -0.5/1 hurdle. This selection would make money from a home win, earning us a half-stakes pay-out should the Blades win by exactly one goal, and a full-stakes profit if United are victors by two or more goals.
Contrastring goal trends
Twelve of Sheffield United's last 16 matches featured Under 2.5 Goals1.88, with the Blades' tremendous defensive record bearing fruit. The home side have shutout nine of those 16 opponents, only conceding twice or more on three occasions. And with leading light Billy Sharp unlikely to feature, goals could be thin on the ground at Bramall Lane.
However, Six of Nottingham Forest's past seven outings have broken the Over 2.5 Goals1.99 barrier, whilst both sides scored in all five of their trips to the top-six already this season, providing enough evidence to steer clear of the goals markets.
Mark O’Haire says: back Sheffield United -0.5/1 @ 1.75 in Sheffield United v Nottingham Forest