Sky Sports pundit Charlie Nicholas has identified what Newcastle United boss Steve Bruce must look to utilise in order to beat Sheffield United on Thursday night.
Bruce takes the Toon to Bramall Lane on the back of holding Manchester City to a 2-2 draw, while Chris Wilder’s Blades were held to a point away to Wolverhampton Wanderers at the weekend having moved into the lead inside the second-minute.
The result was the Blades’ third-straight draw in the top-flight and are unbeaten in their last seven Premier League games, including a 1-0 win at home to Arsenal in October and a 1-1 draw at Tottenham Hotspur.
Sheffield United also hold one of the most resilient defences in the division, having allowed an average of just 9.9 shots against them when at Bramall Lane this season – the sixth-best average.
Nicholas suspects chances will be at a premium on Thursday night for Joelinton, Allan Saint-Maximin and co., and has suggested that Bruce ought to be focusing his efforts on organising a powerful counter-attacking set-up to boost our chances of taking a result.
“They are very impressive away from home, but lack a bit of the cutting edge,” Nicholas said of Newcastle in his mid-week predictions for Sky Sports. “Bruce has brought the passion back, and they are nicking points here and there. I think the Newcastle fans are accepting what Bruce can do with a fairly average bunch. He is doing a much better job than what Rafael Benitez did.
“These are the types of games which the Premier League throw up. There are only three points between them, so it is not as clear cut as some people might think. It is incredibly tight at the bottom. It tells you how well some of bottom teams have done.
“Bruce is clever, he is going back to Sheffield where he will get plenty of abuse but he will have his players pumped up. If their shape is good, the counter-attack will be a strong weapon for them.”
What will the result be against Sheffield United?
Sheffield United have been playing 26% of their league matches in their defensive third on average so far this season, while only venturing into the opposition’s third for 24% of proceedings – the joint-second lowest per cent, only we are averaging less with 23% when at St. James’ Park.
Our time in the opposition’s defensive third is reduced to just 20% when on the road, too, while playing 35% of the game in our third – suggesting Nicholas’ anticipation of a backs-to-the-wall counter-attacking game not being far wide of the mark.
In other Newcastle United news, a 5 ft 7 Toon man is keen to leave St. James’ Park.