Sheffield Untied v Crystal Palace
Saturday May 8 15:00
Live on Sky Sports
Recent home form gives Heckingbottom hope
After a fantastic return to the Premier League last term, which saw Sheffield United threaten to qualify for Europe before they eventually finished ninth, the Blades have suffered second season syndrome in a convincing fashion.
They haven't quite matched Ipswich's fall from fifth to 18th in the 2000/01 season, but it's every bit as bad as Reading's fall from 8th in their first season to 18th in their second, and United won't get close to the 36 points that both Ipswich and Reading finished their relegation seasons with. The Blades have just 17 with only four to play and 19th place looks beyond them. They trail West Brom by six.
Sheffield United have been poor since the get-go this season but their away form has been truly awful. The Blades have lost 15 of 17 played on the road, with a draw at Brighton back in December and a win at Manchester United at the end of January their only positive results. As bad as they clearly are, they're slightly better at home...
Bramall Lane being empty has most certainly hindered the Blades but they have found a semblance of form there of late - winning three of their seven Premier League home games in 2021.
Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Southampton have all beaten the Blades at Bramall Lane this year but West Brom, Brighton and Aston Villa have all left there with nothing and Paul Heckingbottom will certainly believe his side can get the better of an out-of-form Crystal Palace team.
Poor Palace looking to avoid four defeats in-a-row
Roy Hodgson's Crystal Palace aren't yet mathematically safe. Should Fulham win their remaining four games, Palace will finish a point behind them if they lose all of their last five but nobody's interested in taking the 1000.0 available about them in the Relegation market and I'm not surprised. They're as good as safe and it's a good job too given their current form.
A 1-0 home win against West Brom is Crystal Palace's only victory since they beat their bitter rivals, Brighton, back in February, in a game in which they probably didn't even deserve a point.
Over the course of those eight games, they've scored just five times (and never more than once in a game) and they're on a run of three straight defeats - although they have been facing some stiff opposition having lost to Leicester away and to the two Champions League finalists, Chelsea and Manchester City, at home.
With as many as 14 players out of contract at the end of the season and with the rumour mill suggesting that Hodgson won't be in charge next season, it's probably not too surprising to see Palace's form dropping off and if last season is anything to go by, an imminent upturn can't be relied upon. The Eagles lost seven in-a-row at the end of the 2019/20 campaign before drawing 1-1 with Spurs on the final day.
Blades can edge tight affair
It would be quite a shock if this game developed into something of a goal-fest. As many as 62% of Palace's away games have produced three or more goals but most of them have been scored by the hosts and Sheffield United home games have seen three or more scored only 33% of the time this season.
For those that don't mind taking odds-on, Under 2.5 goals at around 1.75/7 in the Over/Under 2.5 Goals market and No in the Both Teams to Score market at circa 1.910/11 look more than fair given both outcomes have occurred in seven of the last eight games between the two but this is such a tricky looking match I'm not keen on taking odds-on about any outcome.
Both these teams have picked up just six points in their last eight Premier League games so neither side can be relied upon.
Palace haven't lost four in-a-row all season and they have a decent record against sides in the relegation zone - losing just two of the last 20 such encounters - but is it enough to back the favourites in the outright market? I don't think it is and my preference is for the hosts.
Now that they're down, the Blades can freewheel until the end of the season and they have a decent record against Palace (won their last three at home). The return to the side of Chris Basham and their best player, Sander Berge, who's been absent since December, is a big plus and in what looks a very difficult match to call, a small play on the home side at odds of over 2/1 makes sense.