Last chance for Sheffield United and PNE in top-six quest

Preston and Sheffield United have met twice this season and Alex Neil wants a repeat of what happened at Deepdale rather than in the meeting in South Yorkshire a month later.

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Leon Clarke is Sheffield United's leading scorer with 18 goals

Leon Clarke is Sheffield United's leading scorer with 18 goals

In December, Neil’s men beat the Blades 1-0 thanks to a Jordan Hugill goal.

It was the same scoreline but in United’s favour in the FA Cup at the end of January.

Both managers rang the changes for the fourth-round tie, league games a few days later taking priority.

Neil was blunt in his view of the quality on show in that game and it was no exactly complimentary.

“Let’s hope Saturday is not like the cup game,” said the North End boss.

“That was one of the most boring matches I have been involved in – it was rubbish wasn’t it?

“We want to try and make it a more entertaining game this time, hopefully it is a lot more entertaining for us and not them.

“At our place I thought we played particularly well, I thought we deserved to win and should have scored more goals.”

The Blades’ 3-5-2 system is not anything unusual but the way they operate it is rather different.

It has clearly served them well in their first season back in the Championship since 2010/11 when they went down with North End.

Chris Wilder’s team have been at the top end of the table for most of the season, only to slip back in recent weeks.

Preston go there a point and two places better off than their hosts.

Said Neil: “It will be a tough match, Sheffield United are a hard-working team, their shape is unusual – I spoke about that before they came to our place.

“They are hard to break down and I think they are very similar to us in that they have a lot of hard-working, honest players.

“I think they’ve had a good season, Chris will be happy with what they have achieved but at the same time he will be frustrated as we are.

“They will be thinking, ‘Could we have got there?’.

“That is like us and both teams will be looking for the win tomorrow to make sure there is something riding on the last day.”

At the same time North End’s hopes of making the play-offs were being a dealt a blow by their goalless draw with Norwich, the Blades lost 2-1 at Birmingham – giving away a lead given to them by Mark Duffy.

Post-match, United boss Wilder posed the question of whether some of his squad were ‘too comfy’.

He wants a response to that when they face Preston and Wilder will be tempted to make changes.

Leon Clarke could return to the side after a back spasm sidelined him at Birmingham.

Clarke, a one-time North End loanee, is the Blades’ top scorer with 18 goals.

At Birmingham, Clayton Donaldson played up front with Duffy – 12-goal Billy Sharp on the bench.

Sharp scored their winner against PNE in January from the penalty spot.