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Michael Taylor 6th Aug 2009 - 13:31

Blackwell hoping to avoid opening day blues

Opening day last season and Kevin Blackwell appeared to be on the brink of guiding Sheffield United to a deserved away draw at Birmingham only for Kevin Phillips to break Blades hearts in the last minute - fast forward a year and the parallels between the now promoted Birmingham and Middlesbrough look uncanny.

Both of the sides were newly relegated, both have strength and experience in abundance and both grind out results rather than play expansive, flowing football.

So, if it worked for the Blues can it work for Gareth Southgate's 6/1 outright shots Middlesbrough?

On paper you would have to answer with a resounding 'yes' as you scan through a list of potential Premier League stars including Robert Huth, David Wheater, Emanuel Pogatetz, Gary O'Neil and Jeremie Aliadiere.

They're all experienced, tough, strong competitors who should thrive in the more physical Championship.

Whether they actually do excel though is another matter, especially as they attempt to get over the hangover caused by an eleven year Premier League party.

The 11/5 Blades probably wouldn't be Southgate's ideal opening day fixture either as they know as well as anyone what it takes to win in the ultra competitive Championship.

Blackwell's team also have a point to prove after a horror showing against Burnley in the play-off final at Wembley and they'll be determined to become the first league leaders of the new season.

Fitness concerns over Darius Henderson and new £3m man Ched Evans may leave the Blades rather blunt going forward but new signings Kyel Reid and Glenn Little will certainly provide some vigour from the wings.

Nick Montgomery and Lee Williamson are charged with winning the midfield battle while Brian Howard will be expected to create after a decent end to last season.

Signs that ex-Barnsley man Howard had finally settled into the Blades shirt came with some vital away goals towards the tail-end of last season and he could prove a snip at 12/1 to notch the first at the Riverside.

It could all depend on whether any goals are actually scored - something that is by no means guaranteed between two teams that famously fought out awful scoreless draws over two FA Cup ties two years ago.

Hopefully the Sky Sports cameras are treated to goals but, if they're not, then I'll be laughing knowing I grabbed hold of the 17/2 about a scoreless draw (any draw is priced at 11/5).

With first choice keepers unavailable you certainly have to believe both managers would be satisfied with keeping clean sheets on opening day.

The one thing Blackwell will desperately be hoping to avoid is a repeat of last year's St Andrews collapse (1-0 Middlesbrough is 11/2). Something that could be made all the more painful if United's long term transfer target, 6/1 last goalscorer shot Leroy Lita, seals the worst fate imaginable.

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