United are in front of the Sky camera’s once again this weekend as we head to the Black Country for a 17.30 kick off against the Championship’s 18th placed side. After a weekend of positive results (we were the only side in the top four to win) it’s likely we’ll be closer to the chasing pack by kick off as the rest of the teams in the top six have winnable games before we kick off. Brighton face lowly Burton at home and Reading entertain Barnsley while Leeds and Huddersfield and QPR and Cardiff respectively.
Wolves haven’t had the season their new billionaire Chinese owners will have hoped for. Sacking Kenny Jacket just a week before the season started they hired Walter Zenga to lead the promotion charge and spent £27 million on new players from the likes of Monaco and Benfica. Zenga failed to ignite anything like a promotion bid despite just two defeats in his first seven league games. One of those games featured a handy win at St James’ Park back in mid-September for Zenga’s side. That was probably United’s worst display of the season so far, just days after we’d won six nil at QPR. We managed to turn Wolves over convincingly three days later at SJP as we knocked them out of the League Cup. Wolves’ win at our place put them within three points of United in mid-September. They find themselves 27 points off the pace as we head into Saturday.
Like many sides in the lower reaches of the Championship (but not in any real relegation trouble) their form is utterly inconsistent and illogical. They lost to Burton last time out after beating 8th place Barnsley days before hand. However their home form is poor. They seem far more suited to playing away from home with wins coming against us, Stoke and Liverpool. Only Wigan have collected less points at home and only Blackburn have conceded more than their twenty home goals (yet Blackburn conceded 0 against us at home). They’ve only managed four wins at home, two of which under their old manager. Their most recent home win came hilariously against relegation strugglers and Europe’s biggest football club to have to close a stand, Aston Villa. In thirteen league games Lambert has won three, drawn three and lost seven games. When they finally won their first against Bristol City in December, they’ve lost just two of seven, which suggests an improvement. There’s no doubt that after sacking two managers and investing big money into the squad, the owners will be disappointed with the season to date.
There’s no doubt they’re capable of beating us. Our results and performances have been mixed against the league’s worst sides, of which Wolves in 18th must be considered one. We’ve lost twice against Blackburn, lost at Forest (through no fault of our own, but still) and drew at home to QPR and away to Villa. We need to put these sides away. Ten wins from our 17 remaining games will see us on 93 points and promoted. I’d really like to win them all in in succession and just piss about in the last seven games (but still win them) but I have to accept that it’s likely we’ll be dropping points soon. I want six points against Villa and Bristol at home, which follow after we face Wolves and Norwich away this week. That’s two of our ten wins down (hopefully) so anything else generated between now and the middle of next week would put us will on our way. The easy solution would be to win at Wolves and draw with Norwich. This division isn’t as simple as that and we’re as likely to lose at Wolves and then draw at Norwich and then win at Brighton and Reading.
Team selection wise I back Mitrovic to start over Murphy as it looks like Gayle will miss both of these games. It’ll be interesting to see whether Lascelles returns as Hanley has never let us down when playing. I’ve heard no news on Hayden or Coback, but one of them needs to be fit. Presumably Mbemba and Atsu return to the bench. A win would set us up great for the month ahead. This is the big month and if we’re still on top by the end of it, promotion will all but be assured. Our away form is very good, and it’ll need to remain so with five of seven away from St James’ Park this month. 4,200 mags will be there to see this – I think we’ll sneak a win.
Prediction: 2-1 United
ALEX HURST – Follow Alex on @tfalex1892
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