Top host bottom on Saturday as we once again at St James’ at the start of the serious part of the season. The news has been released today that United will face Brighton, Huddersfield and Reading in the space of six days. All of them away from home. As the season progresses and we have genuine cup run, fixture congestion will become the norm and we may find ourselves falling behind some promotional rivals but racking up games in hand. I say ‘may’ – it’s conceivable that that we keep far enough in front of the chasing pack that the games in hand don’t affect our place in the top two. The win at Brentford was absolutely huge and we’ve now got three home games in a row in the league before five in six away from home (should we qualify for the FA Cup 5th round). It’s a good job we’re better away from SJP this season then, but it’s still a difficult run including games at Norwich and three of the top six.
I’ve argued all season long that two goals and a game and two points per game on average sees us promoted and that’s
where we find ourselves. I think 89 points will absolutely do it for automatic promotion and maybe 86. Looking at the twenty games left we can secure automatic promotion with 11 more wins. Winning these three home games allow us the chance to approach the difficult period away from home needing just 8 wins from seventeen games and it all but sown up. So what a chance to get us well and truly on a ‘run’ by picking up our third win in a week against a rock bottom Rotherham side who are destined for League One.
Rotherham started the season under new manager Alan Stubbs badly and have been in the relegation zone since. They let Stubbs go replacing him with Kenny Jacket, who lasted just five games and 39 days. Since then they appointed former player and coach Paul Warner to the manager’s position and he’s collected some improved results, most recently beating Norwich City at home last weekend. He’s won three of his eight games in charge in the league which is some improvement. All of his victories have come at home. Rotherham have drawn one and lost twelve of their thirteen away games this season. They have conceded more goals than anyone else in the division. All of this sounds great (and is in reality) but I remember typing such statistics on two occasions against a Blackburn Rovers side who we failed to score against this season. There are no easy games and we’ve only really hammered QPR and Birmingham this season and maybe Ipswich.
Jon Jo Shelvey will make his first league appearance since Burton on the 17th of December and Wednesday night’s three assists proved why he’s so important to this team. It’ll be great to have him in the side for the rest of the season provided he stays clear of injury and suspension. Regardless of what was or wasn’t said, he needs to keep his head down and stay out of trouble. Yedlin came off on Wednesday with an injury but should be okay. It was great to see Hayden fit enough to come from the bench as it signals he should play in this game, with Perez supporting Murphy up front. Paul Dummet and the centre backs and goal keeper will all be back.
When we played Rotherham at their place it was a physical battle where we saw our box bombarded with long throws and crosses. Darlow was excellent that day and we may rely on him again. Shelvey being back comes just as we lose Dwight Gayle, so it’ll be interesting to see how Murphy does in his place. Two goals in two starts is a good return so far and we may see our game plan change slightly. I expect United to win but perhaps it’ll be hard work. A win is essential so regardless of how we win or score, three points by 17.00 is the aim. Rotherham are bringing 3,200 – credit to them and it should be a sell out from our perspective as well. We laboured in the last home league game against lowly opposition in Notts Forest. A fast start would be nice and a return to the performance against Birmigham in December (or on Wednesday, to be fair) would be nice and we could all look forward to Oxford in the Cup. Brighton face a tricky home game with Sheffield Wednesday on Friday so there’s a chance we could pull further away from them and the chasing pack should we win this game.
ALEX HURST – Follow Alex on @tfeditor1892
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