WITH seven home games squeezed into just 40 days, the final few weeks of 2014 can potentially have a defining effect on Sheffield United’s season.
Tonight will bring the fourth of those Bramall Lane assignments in quick succession as Milton Keynes Dons head up the M1 for United’s second meeting with a play-off rival inside five days.
Friday’s clash with Notts County ended in a 1-1 draw, just as the Blades’ previous match on home soil had against Oldham Athletic on November 22.
Even allowing for the first of the current flurry of games at the Lane ending in a 2-0 FA Cup first-round replay victory over Crewe Alexandra, it is not quite shaping up to be a magnificent seven for Nigel Clough’s men on home soil in the final weeks of the year.
Chris Basham, however, is adamant that United can yet string a few wins together and ensure their season heads into the new year in fine shape.
“I have never had as many home games in such a short space of time,” said the 26-year-old summer arrival from Blackpool. “And we need to take it by the scruff of the neck.
“We have to start winning at home if we want to get promoted. The last three home games (in the league, starting with a 1-0 defeat to Barnsley) have been a bit disappointing, even if we did come from 1-0 down against Notts County.
“Teams do come here and make it hard for us. Once a visiting team gets in front, they tend to sit behind the ball.
“Oldham did it and so did Notts County.
“Both of them scored and then changed their formation.
“We have to learn how to break teams down.
“The gaffer has us working on it all the time in training. Once we manage it, we will be perfect and, hopefully, the goals will come.”
Slow starts have been a major feature of United’s home games this season, with Clough’s men having scored during the first half in just two of their nine league outings at the Lane.
In the last three of those they have also fallen behind and Basham appreciates this unwanted knock has to be ended if the South Yorkshire club are to win promotion back to the Championship at the fourth attempt.
“We have to stop falling behind,” he said. “It happened against Notts County again. We were on top but they got a corner and scored from it. It was so disappointing, especially as we knew from then on it would be a case of them defending and us having to break them down.
“In the second half we managed that and looked more dominant. Notts County were cheering at the end, almost as if they had won. That said a lot about the second half.
“But, in many ways, Friday was a bit like the Oldham game. I don’t think we played that bad in the first half, we just couldn’t get the goal. So, when they did go ahead from a set-piece, that was very frustrating.
“Then, after half-time, we came out of the traps really well and looked like scoring again and again. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite happen in terms of getting a winner and that was frustrating.
“Notts County are a good team. But where they were cheering at the end, as if they had won, for us it felt like a defeat because it was so disappointing not to get all three points.
“I suppose if it feels like that after drawing against a team who have not been beaten away all season then it shows how high we are aiming.”
Chris O’Grady is expected to start tonight having not made the matchday squad against Shaun Derry’s Magpies due to a slight hamstring strain.
Whether the one-time Barnsley forward’s arrival on loan brings about a tweak of formation remains to be seen, but there was little doubt on Friday night that United carried much more attacking threat when fielding two men up front and getting forward in numbers from midfield.
“MK Dons is a massive game for us,” said Basham about the fourth home game in a row for a team who then face Cup ties against Plymouth Argyle (FA) and Southampton (Capital One) in the coming week.
“You would expect it to be a more open game. Though maybe because we are both in and around each other, they might not want to lose ground.
“League One is so tight; if you win two games, you go second or third. But then if you lose two games, you can slip out of the top six.
“It just needs someone to grab the league by the scruff of the neck and we need to make sure it is us.
“Everyone can beat everyone else. But we aren’t on a bad run and we are picking up points.”
Last six games: Sheffield United DLWWDD, MK Dons LWWWDW. Referee: L Collins (Surrey). Last time: Sheffield United 0 MK Dons 1; August 31, 2013; League One.