FA Cup opponents Sheffield United will be a familiar foe for Preston North End

Preston and Sheffield United cross swords for the second time in five weeks when they meet at Bramall Lane in the FA Cup on Saturday.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 26th January 2018, 10:00 am

Such familiarity could present its own problems with the teams having sussed one another out in the last game.

That went the way of North End at Deepdale on December 16, a goal from Jordan Hugill settling the league encounter.

Jack O'Connell in action for Sheffield United against rivals Sheffield Wednesday earlier this month

It was a victory which was deserved although they had to graft hard for the three points.

PNE boss Alex Neil wants to see a similar work-rate for the fourth-round clash.

Neil said: “I thought we had a really tough match the last time we played.

“Sheffield United are very good at home, they have an awkward shape which they play and which suits their players well.

Jack O'Connell in action for Sheffield United against rivals Sheffield Wednesday earlier this month

“It can be tactically very difficult to deal with and I think we have been one of the better teams to deal with it in terms of performance.

“That was pleasing and we are going to have to put in a such like performance again to try and get a positive result.”

A cup draw against a team in the same division is never one to get the pulse racing.

It happened to the Blades in the previous round, when they won 1-0 at Ipswich.

PNE thumped League Two side Wycombe 5-1, the reward for that a trip to the Steel City.

Said Neil: “As soon as the draw was made, you think, ‘Okay, that is the draw, let’s go and get the job done’.

“I’m looking forward to the game and hopefully we can get through to the next round.

“We have a relatively large squad when everyone is fit so it is good to give some people a chance without risking league points. We want to stay in the FA Cup and have a good run.

“When the draw was made we were hoping to land one of the big Premier League clubs to show ourselves on a national stage.

“If we are to go on and do that, we have to beat Sheffield United,”

Since losing at Deepdale last month, United have lost only one of their last seven matches.

That run has included away draws against Aston Villa and Derby, while they won 2-1 at Norwich last week.

James Wilson scored their opener at Carrow Road, the striker having been signed on loan from Manchester United for the rest of the season.

Wilson is one of four new signings made this month, the others being Ricky Holmes (Charlton), Ryan Leonard (Southend) and Lee Evans (Wolves).

While Wilson is free to face North End on Saturday, the other three new boys are cup-tied.

The Blades have built their success over the last couple of years on a 3-5-2 system, with the defenders encouraged to bring the ball out from the back – something North End counteracted well in the league game.

A mainstay of that back-line this season has been former Blackburn centre-back Jack O’Connell.

Signed in the summer of 2016 from Brentford, he has started every Championship game for United this season.