Reading V Sheffield United Match Preview

Last updated : 12 December 2002 By Rob Cooper
Sheffield United will be looking for a win in order to boost their Play-Off hopes when they visit the Madejski Stadium on Saturday.

It will be the Blades first visit to Reading's new ground and a crowd of in-excess of 17,500 will be hoping it will be a day to forget for the United side.

The Royals were due to face Sheffield United at Bramall Lane last month but referee George Cain took the decision to call the game off just hours before the kick-off, to the frustration of 1,500 Reading fans who had made the trip north.

Reading has no new injury worries ahead of Saturday’s game against Sheffield United. Darius Henderson is almost fit to return after making his comeback in the reserves in midweek. However, having not played in the first team all season it is unlikely that he will get even a place on the bench.

Defender Adie Whitbread is also almost ready to make a first team comeback. ‘Whits’, a former Pompey player, also featured in the reserve team game against Cheltenham in midweek, however, he is still a fair way away from a first team comeback.

After such an impressive performance against leaders Portsmouth last weekend there is likely to be just one change to the side. Matthew Upson has returned to Arsenal following the conclusion of his highly successful three-month loan spell at the club. He is likely to be replaced by John Mackie, who captained the side at the start of the season.

Our star man is undoubtedly Nicky Forster. The 29-year-old former England Under 21 international has been sensational playing on his own up-front this season. His searing pace is bound to put the fastest of United defenders through his paces. He has scored five times so far this season and is by far our most influential player going forward. Fozzy was recently named PFA Divison One Player of the Month for November.

Goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann, signed from Fulham in the summer, has gone a period of seven games without conceding. Indeed, since coming into the side at the end of August he has conceded just six times, making Reading’s defence by far and away the best in the league. The bald headed American has made some eye-catching stops in his time at the club; none more so than the stupendous penalty save against Watford last month.

With the side playing so well and exceeding all expectations laid out at the start of the season it is hard to identify a weakest link. However, if there is one it would probably be winger John Salako. In his heyday he was a fantastic player but at thirty-three he is beginning to look well past it. This season he has put in a series of below par performances, why he hasn’t be dropped for the popular but raw academy graduate Nathan Tyson is beyond many a Reading fan.

Question marks too surround John Mackie. The 26-year-old was a defensive mainstay for us last season and there is now reason why he won’t put in another superb display against United. However, he has spent the past three months on the sidelines with the colossal Matthew Upson winning rave reviews. To fill Upson’s shoes will be a tall order if not impossible task but he is certainly up to the pace of Division One football.

Meanwhile, the Blades go into this game having gained a good result away last Saturday. United travelled to Walkers Stadium, home of Leicester City where a point was awarded to both sides after a 0-0 draw. However, it was Blades striker Steve Kabba who came closest to scoring when he struck the post in the first half.

Other than the usual suspects of Robert Ullathorne and Iffy Onoura, Neil Warnock has no injury worries. Blades fans fear this could be on loan striker Dean Windass's last game if a deal can not be made with Middlesbrough about signing him full time or at least on another months loan.

PROBABLE READING LINE-UP (4-5-1): Marcus Hahnemann, Graeme Murty, Adie Williams (c), John Mackie, Nicky Shorey; Anthony Rougier, James Harper, Andy Hughes, Ricky Newman, John Salako; Nicky Forster.

PROBABLE SHEFFIELD UNITED LINE-UP (4-4-2): Paddy Kenny, Phil Jagielka, Shaun Murphy, Robert Page, Jon Harley, Peter Ndlovu, Stuart McCall, Michael Brown, Michael Tonge, Dean Windass, Steve Kabba.