Nottingham Forest and Sheffield United are seeking their first Premier League wins of the season as they prepare to clash at the City Ground on Friday night.
Forest play their first home match a week on from an encouraging 2-1 loss at Arsenal.
The Blades, meanwhile, will be desperate to improve on a poor performance on their top-flight return which saw them lose meekly 1-0 against Crystal Palace.
|What||Nottm Forest v Sheff Utd|
|Where||City Ground, Nottingham|
|When||19:45, Friday 18th August, 2023|
|Odds||Nottm Forest 17/20, Draw 5/2, Sheff Utd 7/2|
Fifteen months have passed since Nottingham Forest and Sheffield United last clashed, but it was an occasion which should ensure some spice when the first whistle blows on Friday night.
Back in May 2022, Forest and United were meeting in the Championship play-offs.
Forest won 2-1 in Sheffield with Brennan Johnson among the scorers and then it was all back to Nottingham for part two.
Johnson scored again to seemingly put Forest out of sight only for Morgan Gibbs-White – then a Blade – and John Fleck to strike in the second half, taking the game to extra-time and then penalties.
The ensuing pitch invasion was unpleasant but Forest went on to Wembley to beat Huddersfield 1-0 in the final.
Fifteen months may seem like a long time but rest assured neither set of fans – and many of the players – will have forgotten the drama and controversy of those play-off clashes.
Forest boss Steve Cooper has every reason to be heartened going into this Friday night dust-up.
First, his Tricky Trees were excellent on home soil last season where Forest's passionate fans turned the City Ground into a wall of noise.
Forest beat Liverpool and Arsenal at home last season, drew with the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City. They only failed to find the net against Spurs and Manchester United.
Early on in the campaign they were exposed occasionally for some tactical naivety and never fully figured out how to play on their travels – they chalked up 30 points at home, just eight away.
The other source of encouragement for Cooper was the manner in which they lost their opener at Arsenal last weekend.
They were 2-0 down in half an hour and could have been 5-0 down at the break.
But they bravely stuck to their tasks, eventually got to grip with Arsenal's attacking midfielders and forwards and almost turned the game on its head when first Taiwo Awoniyi and then Anthony Elanga were introduced to add even more pace to Forest's front line.
Awoniyi scored for a fifth successive game – he's 5/1 to open the scoring against the Blades – and Forest frightened the life out of the Gunners.
Sheffield United boss Paul Heckingbottom, on the other hand, had much to mull over after watching his side slide to a fairly drab 1-0 loss at home to Crystal Palace.
That was the type of game United would have been looking to win if they are to avoid instant relegation – they are 4/9 for that fate – and equally, leaving the City Ground empty-handed will be seen as an opportunity missed.
This weekend, though, the Blades will have a different look to them with very likely two new midfielders in Gustavo Hamer and Tom Davies, the former bringing a bit of sparkle after shining at Coventry, the latter an energy and work-rate which was arguably under-appreciated at Everton.
Heckingbottom also has Oli McBurnie in contention and certainly a physical presence at the top end of the pitch would have been useful to ruffle some Eagles' feathers last Saturday. The Scotland international is 17/2 to open the scoring.
Heckingbottom has won on both of his two previous trips to Forest as a manager, once with Barnsley and infamously in the play-offs with United the season before last.
United, however, have not managed to win any of their last 11 opening away games of a new season and they will find Forest a tough opponent.
If we know anything about Cooper is that he is flexible, quick-thinking and meticulous and while he would doubtless love to have a few more talents at his disposal, they already look stronger than a week ago with Awoniyi, Elanga and Moussa Niakhate all fit from the start.
Forest's best moments will come from the pace in their side but there is no way United will do anything other than close down space in midfield and ensure there aren't huge holes for Johnson, Gibbs-White and the rest to race into.
To that end Forest might be short enough at 17/20 in a game which could well be tight.
A couple of statistics you might want to mull over. Nine of the last 10 games between these sides have seen four or more cards. Over 4.5 cards is a 4/6 chance.
There have been more goals in the second half of each of United's last nine matches and it's 11/10 the second half delivers more goals on Friday evening.