The Championship’s stand-out performers look to go one step closer to clinching their respective fates as the top two face-off in this 8pm BST kick-off on Easter Monday. Burnley mathematically rubber-stamped promotion on Good Friday, with a 2-1 win at Middlesbrough, a result which also pushed Sheffield United closer to the promised land after they beat Wigan 1-0 earlier in the day.
The Blades have an eight-point cushion on third with a game in hand, and need a maximum of 13 points from their remaining seven matches to finish the job, but their hosts have unfinished business themselves: win this, and Vincent Kompany’s side need at most five more points from six to clinch the crown.
2022’s Good Friday for Burnley was a tough day, with the sacking of club legend Sean Dyche. 365 days later, the club are celebrating an instant return to the Premier League, secured with as many as seven games to spare.
With six of the Clarets’ 10 senior summer signings arriving from across the continent, two-stepping up from League One and a further two arriving from Man City’s development squad, it was unclear whether an instant return would be in the offing.
Many neutrals looked elsewhere for likely title-winners, and some thought this young team would need a year to acclimatize, before kicking on the following season, especially seeing as manager Vincent Kompany’s stint at Anderlecht had been mixed.
Kompany deserves huge credit for imposing his style of play so quickly on a club that had been used to a different approach, and the Belgian’s excellent man management qualities have been crucial to their success.
It’s not mission accomplished just yet, though: Burnley still have the title to wrap up, they can still realistically hit a century of points, and mathematically, Reading’s 106-point Championship record of 2005-06 can be matched or beaten.
United Getting Closer
Sheffield United enjoyed a 10-point gap to third-placed Middlesbrough in mid-February before a run of four league defeats in six saw that lead cut to four points, with their promotion rivals in irresistible form, but nerves at that point have since been eased.
The Blades have won three on the bounce, and now enjoy an eight-point gap to third, and a nine-point gap to fourth-placed Middlesbrough, who have just lost back-to-back games.
Anel Ahmedhodzic’s return to the defence has coincided almost directly with this improvement in form, which includes tight away wins at Play-Off chasers Sunderland and Norwich, before victory over strugglers Wigan.
Meanwhile, Man City loanees Tommy Doyle and John McAtee have become a more permanent fixture, bringing craft, vigour and exuberance to Paul Heckingbottom’s side in midfield and attack respectively.
The Tactics Board
Heckingbottom will be boosted by left wing-back Max Lowe’s return from illness, so the manager will not have to take on the champions-elect with George Baldock on his unnatural side.
Doyle hasn’t yet started two games in the space of four days for the Blades, and there’s a thought that his fitness could be managed, with Heckingbottom perhaps calling on the experience of Oli Norwood.
Another Oli, McBurnie, could come in for veteran Billy Sharp, with the task of holding the ball up to link up with McAtee and Iliman Ndiaye, but Burnley will give them plenty to think about in the other direction.
Speedy, agile and elusive, Nathan Tella has been one of the Championship’s top individual performers this season and will be out to continue his outstanding campaign, while Josh Cullen threatens to run the midfield once again.
Burnley vs Sheffield United Betting Tips
Burnley are out to avenge November’s 5-2 loss at Bramall Lane, but otherwise, they’ve had their main cake and need only put the cherry on top of it, whereas Sheffield United are still to check out at the Delicatessen. The Blades are 8/13 to avoid defeat at Turf Moor, while Iliman Ndiaye is an appealing 15/4 to score anytime, after his 13th of the season in all competitions against Wigan last time out.
Sheffield United Double Chance @ 7/10 with Unibet
Anytime Scorer: Iliman Ndiaye @ 15/4 with Bet365
Odds are accurate at the time of writing.
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