Sheffield United give Alex Neil plenty to ponder after ringing changes ahead of Preston North End's visit
Although a scouting mission is never wasted, Preston boss Alex Neil does not think he saw the true Sheffield United side when he watched them on Wednesday night.
Neil was at Bramall Lane to cast an eye over their goalless draw with Birmingham City ahead of him taking North End there on Saturday.
The Blades side showed five changes to the one which had last taken to the field, with Neil fully expecting them to revert to type for PNE’s visit.
“Sheffield United are a good side and I think they have improved this season in terms of the players they have brought in,” said Neil.
“David McGoldrick has added something up front and Oli Norwood is obviously a good passer of the ball.
“They made quite a few changes the other night so I think they will go back to a more tried and tested side come the weekend.
“But we will have to wait and see what their line-up is.
“On Wednesday they were up against a Birmingham side who were in a rigid 4-4-2, sat behind the ball and made it difficult.
“Sheffield United should have been one or two goals up by half-time, they played well in the first half.
“Then Birmingham grew more into the game during the second half.
“I don’t think that match will have much bearing on our one.”
The Blades were busy in the transfer market over the summer, the £11.5m sale of David Brooks to Bournemouth funding incoming deals.
Centre-back John Eagan came from Brentford in a £4m deal, while McGoldrick, Kean Bryan, Martin Cranie and Conor Washington also came in on permanent deals.
The loan market has been used well, Ben Woodburn the marquee temporary signing from Liverpool.
Keeper Dean Henderson is on loan from Manchester United, midfielder Norwood coming from Brighton.
A fourth loan arrival came in the shape of Middlesbrough winger Marvin Johnson.
This will be the 117th time United and Preston have met.
Three of those games were last season, PNE winning both league games 1-0, while the Blades won by the same score in the FA Cup.
It was North End’s win at Bramall Lane on April 28 that ended the hosts’ chances of making the play-offs while carrying their own top six hopes into the final day.
Said Neil: “Both league games last season were really difficult.
“We were probably slightly better than them at our place and they were better than us at their place but we managed to win the game.
“Sometimes you have to grind out a win and we did that at Bramall Lane – we actually changed shape to match them in the second half.
“Josh Harrop had a shot which the keeper saved and Alan Browne popped up to score.”
The Blades sit sixth in the table, with four wins, a draw and three defeats to their name.
Billy Sharp is their leading scorer with three goals.