Luton vs Sheffield United predictions: Blades should have measure of Hatters
Two teams who suffered Championship play-off semi-final heartbreak last season meet at Kenilworth Road.
The pair could only be separated by goal difference in 2021-22 but it seems unlikely they will both be vying for top-six spots this term.
Sheffield United are again flying high, topping the early second-tier standings with 10 points despite having had to negotiate a tricky run of fixtures.
Their hosts on Friday night have not fared so well, with Luton crashing out of the Carabao Cup to League Two Newport and having to wait until the fifth game of the Championship campaign to pick up their first win of 2022-23.
Last weekend’s 2-0 victory at fellow strugglers Swansea lifted the Hatters out of the bottom three but Nathan Jones' men will need to prove themselves against better opponents before supporters can start dreaming of another play-off push.
Jones looks set to be without seven players as goalkeeper James Shea is continuing his rehabilitation programme following a serious knee injury in April and midfielder Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu also misses out on Friday with a knee problem.
Winger Fred Onyedinma and new signing Alfie Doughty both have hamstring injuries that will keep them out until September.
Harry Cornick, Glen Rea and midfielder Henri Lansbury are also likely to again miss out through injury.
Blades boss Paul Heckingbottom had nine players absent against Blackburn last weekend and of those nine only defenders Ciaran Clark and Enda Stevens are close to returning.
Midfielder Ismaila Coulibaly is out for at least four months following knee surgery, goalkeeper Adam Davies and defender Jack Robinson have both damaged medial collateral ligaments so are absent too.
Ben Osborn is expected to be another fortnight or so recovering from an ankle injury.
Defender Jack O'Connell has missed almost two years with a knee problem and is still some way from returning to full training, while right-back Jayden Bogle also faces a long road to recovery following knee surgery in February.
Captain Billy Sharp rolled his ankle against Sunderland a fortnight ago and the seriousness of that injury is still being assessed.
Injuries and fitness have played a significant role in Heckingbottom’s team selections this season and that has particularly been the case in the forward line, with six different players featuring in the front two of his 3-5-2 formation.
Of those six, Rhian Brewster, Reda Khadra, Oli McBurnie, Daniel Jebbison and Billy Sharp have all failed to score or assist – with three-goal Iliman Ndiaye the exception – but that has not stopped the Blades being the most prolific team in the division with nine goals in five games.
Hosts Luton are towards the other end of the Championship goalscoring charts, with only Preston netting fewer than the Hatters’ three so far this term and Jones' men yet to score a league goal at home.
Luton have also failed to score in four of their last five meetings with Sheffield United, drawing 0-0 at home last season and losing 2-0 in Sheffield.
Luton will be hoping to kick on now they have finally picked up their first win of the season, but they could not have picked many worse opponents next up.
The Hatters have not been quite as bad as results suggest but nor were they particularly impressive in their only victory – a horribly out-of-form Swansea side dominated 75 per cent possession and had twice as many shots as them.
While that win will ease pressure on Jones and boost confidence among his squad, the visiting Blades have picked up from where they left off last season and are building into the season nicely.
The return from injury of Oli McBurnie is important to Heckingbottom’s plans and even though the Scotland striker has yet to score, he was hugely influential in last weekend's demolition of Blackburn.
Behind him there is top-class quality in the form of midfielder Sander Berge, who was linked with a move to Liverpool but now looks set to stay at Bramall Lane, and Sheffield United should control the match against a team who have struggled for possession against the better passing sides.
The loss of Sharp is a blow, but the Blades put together their most impressive attacking display of the season without him last week and should be able to cut through a frail Luton outfit.