EFL Championship preview and tips: Sheffield United can reignite promotion push at Reading

Getty Images

Reading welcome Sheffield United this evening in a game that could complicate matters further. However, a win for the visitors would feel like dangling one foot over the line at this stage of the season.

The Blades had looked like promotion certainties not so long ago, but after a tough run of fixtures which has seen them lose to Middlesbrough, Millwall, and Blackburn, the former of those have begun to close the gap, thanks to six wins in seven.

Manager Paul Heckinbottom will have to make do without the services of suspended Anel Ahmedhodzic this evening, which is a blow, whilst Rhian Brewster, Rhys Norrington-Davies, and Enda Stevens remain on the sidelines.

Given those injured players' minimal contribution so far this season, Sheffield United are now better off in the injury department, with George Baldock expected to return. Reading begin the evening in 15th place on 44 points, and while the threat of relegation no longer lingers, the playoffs also seem out of their reach at this stage. They've been in handy form at home and while they won't be a pushover, there's no desperation to win.

It's exactly the sort of game a promotion-chasing team should embrace at this stage of the season, because as the games run out, there seems to be no substitute for motivation.

Reading are also minus a couple of important regulars in Abdum Rahman Baba and Junior Hoillett, and it's the latter which hurts them defensively. Hoillett has played just about everywhere (not in goal… yet) and has provided a massive defensive contribution.

Regardless of their recent away form, the Yorkshire club have fared well on their travels this season, and Reading has been a happy hunting ground in the past. The Blades have been victorious in eight of their last nine visits to the Royals, and have also won 11 of the last 14 head-to-heads.

It also stands out that nearly all of the Blades' points on their travels have come against bottom-half teams. This will be their 11th encounter with a bottom-half side and they've managed to pick up 23 points by way of seven wins and two draws thus far, with their solitary loss coming at Stoke City.

United have now dropped points against seven of their fellow top-nine sides, so their recent form feels very much down to the fixture list rather than poor form alone. The fact that Reading have lost just three times at home this season can not be overlooked, but three of the six home games in which they have dropped points were against top eight sides and they've yet to welcome four of those in Burnley, Sheffield United, Millwall, and Luton. Motivation is such a big factor at this stage of the season, and combined with their need to get back on track, their form against bottom-half sides, and the importance of this game in hand, it all leads me to believe Sheffield United could be back to their best here.

The article EFL Championship preview and tips: Sheffield United can reignite promotion push at Reading appeared first on Planetsport.com.