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Sheffield United get another chance to get one over on their bogey team

Tuesday 8th August 2017
Sheffield United Football Club was one of the highlights of last year's football league season. They amassed 100 points, which saw them win the League One title and gain automatic promotion to the Championship. Yet, one team dared to defy them – Walsall, as the Saddlers beat the Blades three times last year. Now a division apart, the teams meet in a cup game – can the Steel City Saints finally get the better of the Saddlers?

Mention Walsall to any hardened Sheffield United fan and they will give you look of perplexity, before reminding you that they still won the league. The record will always be there though, that Sheffield United lost to Walsall, three times last season – twice in the league and then once more in the Johnstones Paint Trophy.

Sheffield United only lost six games in their entire league campaign, meaning that Walsall is responsible for a third of their defeats. Which does raise unusual questions for Chris Wilder and his team. In earnest, however, the blades faithful will be happy enough to leave the third tier after a prolonged stay saw them contest that level of football for six years.
Adjusting to life back in Championship will be a curious case for the Sheffield club, given the nature of change during their absence (generally how much more expensive the league has become!) and of course, the cut-throat nature of the second tier and all of the club's assumed entitlement, dynasty and mutual martyrdom to get to the Premier League.

Sheffield United open their doors at Bramall on the first day of the season, to Brentford, as they start to ponder what life will be like back in the Championship. That comes before making preparations for their wry opposition in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday evening.

Thus making the visit of Walsall at Bramall Lane as late leaving present from the West Midlands club, and a reminder of where they came from – as they size up the remaining 45 games in the season.

So just how did Walsall get the better of the Red and White Wizards so many times? The answer is unclear and most likely an odd combination where the underdogs have an unnatural advantage over the favourites. When trying to apply any kind of science to unravel the equation of their success, the square root is surely Amadou Bakayoko. (Not the player by the same name at Chelsea). The Walsall namesake from Sierra Leone made his breakthrough season last year, after having spent a lot of his career on-loan with non-league sides like Worchester, Telford and Southport. Last year, he was deemed to be worthy of League One by the manager Jon Whitney.

Bakayoko only scored 10 goals all season, but three of them came against Sheffield United, a goal in each game he played against them. Yet when analysing the teamsheets you can't even say he just had the back line's number. The defensive rosters for the Blades varied heavily in each game. In fact, the only static was Jack O'Connell; as the only defender to play every game against them. Simon Moore, the keeper played two out of the three games – but other than that Bakayoko played pretty much a different defence every time he played them.
No matter how hard you look into the stats, it just seems like Bakayoko and company just managed to get the better of the Steel City Reds every time. The games at Bramall Lane were close affairs, with just one goal in them. Although the last game at the Bescot, the result was a lot more empathic. The Saddlers took to the field with great confidence and thrashed the eventual league champions 4-1.

With the teams now a league apart, another meeting between the two sides wasn't on the cards until the league cup draw – forcing Chris Wilder to field another team against this obvious bogey side for him. Whilst normally the higher league team might pity the lower side and think the lower tier side is beneath them; the mindset could be very different. There's a certain amount of pride that Wilder will want to restore. Losing three times to a club like Walsall (no offence) in a title winning season is unheard of.

Yes, his brain will say: “play the kids, it's the cup – let's focus on the league” but can he really let this run of losses to Walsall to continue? Can he face Bakayoko tapping another one away at the Kop End and allow Jon Whitney the pleasure of another smarmy handshake at the end of the game, as he laughs all the way back to greater Birmingham? No. This is his chance to eradicate the bogeyman which defeated him all last season.

The game takes place on Wednesday, 9th of August at 7:45 pm.
Warren Smith

Yokohama F•Marinos supporter. Seen it all in the J.League, relegation fights and being crowned champions. Play five-a-side, pretty good too. Once scored an overhead kick.

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