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Michael Taylor 7th May 2009 - 15:40

Preston have the form to cut down the Blades

The Championship play-off lottery is once again upon us and if the winner is based on momentum then Sheffield United must be terrified of making their trip to Preston's Deepdale.

With twelve points out of twelve, impressive victories against Birmingham and Cardiff and a side seemingly bursting with goals, Alan Irvine's Lilywhites look impossible to ignore at 6/5 to grab a place in the Wembley final on May 24.

By no means will it be easy for them though.

The Blades are well-organised, strong, physical and experienced; everything you need for a play-off run but while Preston thrived when the pressure was on, Sheffield United stuttered and that could be the difference in Friday's first leg.

Kevin Blackwell will be more aware than anyone of his team's poor record in the big ones this season. Two losses against Steel City rivals Sheffield Wednesday and a costly away defeat at Burnley a couple of weeks ago is not the stuff stern teams are made of.

True they have not lost to Preston this season, and Blackwell has managed a team to the play-off final in the past but, at 8/13 to progress, they look very hard to back in a tie that could go either way.

Everything could have been so different just three weeks ago after Preston suffered an embarrassing 1-0 home defeat to Blackpool on Easter Monday; a loss that looked to have ended the Lilywhites promotion charge.

However fate was on their side, as their own excellent form, mixed in with Cardiff's woes, saw them sneak into the final play-off spot on goals scored (in large part thanks to a 6-0 drubbing of Cardiff).

The key is that every player in Irvine's relatively small squad has been involved, whether it is Neil Mellor or Jon Parkin causing problems up-front, Paul McKenna or Ross Wallace scoring wonderstrikes, or Sean St Ledger popping up with rare, season saving goals.

So they might not have the big names of their richer opponents but they have peaked at the right time and they are extremely hard to break down while remaining dangerous going forward.

Jon Parkin in particular has been a monster this season and he looks a great shout to open the scoring at 7/1.

The big striker is a threat from crosses and set pieces and he even has decent touch for someone his size. So anyone he could be the man to batter down the Blades tough backline then he could be the man.

It really could take a battering ram as well as United's defence has been extremely solid away from home and in Paddy Kenny, Chris Morgan and Matt Kilgallon they have arguably the most solid base in the Championship.

However, the loss of Gary Naysmith is huge and his replacement, Kyle Naughton, is not naturally left-sided.

The Blades other big issue ever since James Beattie's departure has been the lack of a natural goalscorer - but then it's never going to be easy to replace a £4 million striker in the Championship.

Darius Henderson, despite all of his good work, has too often become a lone figure up front and Jamie Ward has failed to ignite since a January move from Chesterfield.

One player who has looked dangerous since coming back into the side though is David Cotterill who could be an interesting propostion at 5/1 to score anytime but I wouldn't be banking on the Blades getting a goal at anytime during the first leg.

I think the 15/8 about Preston keeping a clean sheet could be the bet of the day if this one goes to the form book, while the 6/1 about a 1-0 home win is another that should draw attention.

There may not be the free-flowing, passing football that has been on show in this week's Champions League semi-finals but then again the likes of Manchester United and Barcelona aren't attempting to reach the richest game in world club football.


11/8 Preston win

15/8 Preston clean sheet

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