Express & Star

Sheffield United v West Brom - Match preview

A routine 2-0 Sheffield United victory at The Hawthorns late last October is noteworthy for a couple of Albion reasons.


It was Carlos Corberan’s first match in charge. Baggies chiefs had secured their new man a few days earlier and there was a strong internal sense it would be a significant appointment for the club.

His debut in charge against the Blades, already among the division’s higher reaches at that stage, ended in defeat and saw Albion slip to the foot of the Championship table.

A club expected to push at the other end of the table, with financial concerns ahead due to next-to-no investment and disappearing parachute payments, were in very choppy waters.

Those have eased somewhat – in that Corberan quickly secured wins to ensure relegation to League One was no longer feared – and quickly the prospect of promotion became realistic. The few months since have had more ups and downs than a trip to the theme park but results have played out as such that, given fixtures elsewhere, Corberan’s men have the top six in their own grasp with wins from their final three games.

That is a huge ask, especially as tonight’s hosts Sheffield United – them again – know a win is enough to seal automatic Premier League promotion.

The challenge is great but there is no bigger motivator than the 40-year-old Spaniard, who will believe his troops can make it until mathematically impossible. Corberan was encouraged despite defeat to Sunderland on Sunday, because he saw battle in his squad.

Tonight’s trip to Bramall Lane is also a landmark fixture in Albion’s proud history as founder members of the Football League.

It is the club’s 5,000th league fixture – a feat only achieved by five before them – Preston, Burnley, Wolves, Derby and Bolton – and only first achieved by North End in 2020.

The Blades scored two easy first-half goals to condemn Corberan’s Albion to defeat on October 29 and the boss’s immediate memory is on his words to the squad afterwards.

Corberan recalled: “I remember my words exactly from after the game – I say to the players that a defeat is a terrible feeling in football always.

“But it is not the worst feeling you can have, the worst feeling is not the defeat, it’s to suffer a defeat feeling you did not give your best.

“That’s what you cannot pardon to yourself, the other day we lost and it was a negative feeling but it was not the worst feeling, because I saw my team compete a lot and making enough things on the pitch to win the game.

“After that sometimes you are going to win and sometimes you are going to lose, that’s why everybody loves football, because it is unpredictable. We have to do more things better than the opponent.

“The other day for example Sunderland were better than us in the first half but we went into the rest time winning the game. But in the second half we saw a very good level, if you count the number of chances, analyse the expected goals – a very important value in football – our expected goal was two point something, and Sunderland’s was less than one. But expected goals means nothing in football, it means being close to the goal. Being close to scoring is a big difference.

“We played against a team with a style I like to see, a braveness I like to see and they were fighting with their resources against ours and it was more positive for them.

“But I saw my team competing, which is more positive because it gives more belief and positive feedback to the players, because you find a way to be a competitive team.

“In the first game with them everything was very new, it was a game that maybe similar to this one we don’t have many days to prepare, but now we have much more work with the team.”