It seems a little fanciful to think Blackburn could still gazump Sheffield United’s second spot at this late stage, with Paul Heckingbottom’s side nine points clear of their hosts with a game in hand.
Rovers, though, have won their last three league games and are unbeaten in 10 in all competitions, so it wouldn’t do any harm for the Blades to put a would-be challenger to bed at the start of the month, as victory for Jon Dahl Tomasson’s side would add a hint of intrigue to the automatic promotion equation.
The Blades will not be sweating over their Premier League return quite so much now, however, after last week’s 1-0 victory over Watford, with the more realistic rivals of Middlesbrough falling 2-0 at West Brom.
Blackburn’s pressing identity
Rovers have had a few no-shows this season, but heavy defeats to Reading, Sheffield United, Burnley, Rotherham and Preston arguably give their campaign a distorted feel, because otherwise they’ve made serious progress.
Tomasson has homed in on aggressive, counter-attacking playing style, with his side playing through the thirds quickly, and some of their passing moves in recent weeks have really taken shape.
The Lancashire outfit have put in some good performances in the absence of Ben Brereton Diaz, which has allowed Tyrhys Dolan and Sammie Szmodics to dovetail delightfully on the left, combining with right-sider Sorba Thomas and target man Sam Gallagher – Rovers have won 87% of their games when the latter has played.
After a 2-1 FA Cup win at Leicester, Tomasson’s troops are not to be underestimated.
Sheffield United back on track
Also successful in the FA Cup, defeating another Premier League side in Tottenham in midweek, are Sheffield United.
The Blades will have to cope without key defender Anel Ahmedhodzic through injury, and will need a big performance from Chris Basham, whilst leaning on the likes of Oli Norwood and Iliman Ndiaye, who may come back into the XI after being on the bench against Spurs, with the latter bagging the winner.
The performances of Ismaila Coulibaly, Tommy Doyle, Andre Brooks, Ben Osborn and James McAtee will give Heckingbottom food for thought, though, as to their credentials when it comes to starting over more experience, go-to options.
That depth could be valuable for United, who have a slight backlog of fixtures from their FA Cup run, and need everyone on their game to get over the line.
The tactics board
If Norwood starts for Sheffield United, Blackburn’s approach might be to put Szmodics on the 31-year-old in hope of stealing the ball in the opposition half, then bringing in Thomas, Dolan and Gallagher. The movement between Szmodics and Dolan could unhinge Basham, who isn’t quite at the peak of his powers, while John Buckley has the passing range to cut the visitors open in transition and Gallagher’s aerial strength will cause problems too.
The betting angle
Sheffield United have been consistent all season and deserve to be favourites, but Blackburn are in sumptuous form and shouldn’t be as big as 11/4 for the victory. Rovers are 8/11 to avoid defeat on Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off, while Dolan is an appealing 7/2 to score anytime, with the inventive forward having bagged two in his last three in all forms.
Double Chance: Blackburn or Draw – 8/11 Betfair
Tyrhys Dolan to score anytime – 7/2 Betfair
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All odds correct at time of writing.