Sheffield United vs Sunderland predictions: Blades and Black Cats set for a cracker
Reeling from a late QPR sucker punch in Saturday's draw at the Stadium of Light, Sunderland hit the road on Wednesday night in search of redemption against an up-and-down Sheffield United, with both teams winless in two matches across all competitions.
The squandering of a 2-0 lead over the R's on Saturday with four minutes to play, which involved a last-gasp headed goal from opposing goalkeeper Seny Dieng, has further raised questions of the Wearsiders' backline.
Sheffield United have also disappointed in the latter stages lately, most recently allowing Middlesbrough's Chuba Akpom to steal a point on Sunday in a contest that the Blades twice had the upper hand in.
Wednesday's clash marks a prime opportunity to get back to winning ways for two ambitious outfits.
Paul Heckingbottom finds himself relatively blessed with attacking options in that Rhian Brewster and Oli McBurnie are providing stiff competition for the Blades' out-and-out frontman Billy Sharp.
Further down the pitch, however, depth becomes more of an issue, with Enda Stevens and Chris Basham having recently joined long-term absentees Jayden Bogle, Jack O'Connell, Jack Robinson and Adam Davies on the sidelines.
Marquee loan signing James McAtee of Manchester City is yet to feature in league action, though he may be able to translate an EFL Cup cameo in the defeat to West Brom into a Championship appearance if the midfield continues to look stretched.
Sunderland will be without the services of Dan Ballard, who limped out of the defensive line early in the draw with QPR, with Luke O'Nien the most likely to deputise. West Ham loanee Ajibola Alese, pushing for inclusion, provides a further option at the back.
Sheffield United sit a middling ninth in the table after three matches, with Sunderland three places and one point better off after a win and two draws.
The key statistic for this encounter, as ever in football, is goals. Both Heckingbottom and Neil seem to have employed a high-risk, high-reward strategy that has led to inflated figures in both the 'scored' and 'conceded' columns of the Championship table.
The Blades have netted four times but shipped three, while their midweek guests have hit a massive six goals, but let in five.
With both teams held back by an inability to close out games, suffering from a lack of tightness at the back, it would be no surprise to see a high-scoring affair.
The 2-2 draw with Middlesbrough did showcase the Blades' accuracy in front of goal. Limited in possession, all four of United's shots hit the target, while Sunderland were beset by finishing issues in the QPR stalemate.
From 20 attempts, the Black Cats fashioned only as many shots on target as their Sheffield adversaries managed at the Riverside — in this light, their five-point unbeaten start to the season feels a slight underachievement.
Heckingbottom's men ruled the roost against Millwall in their only home game of the campaign so far back on gameday two, but finding that killer instinct in front of goal could tip the scales in Sunderland's favour — quite what they are capable of once they find that clinical edge is anyone's guess.