Sheffield United: Blades told to stay calm

Mark Howard has called on United to keep cool heads in their derby tussle with Rotherham
Mark Howard has called on United to keep cool heads in their derby tussle with Rotherham

Goalkeeper Mark Howard has warned his Sheffield United teammates they must keep their cool in this Saturday’s South Yorkshire derby at Rotherham United.

United will be without the services of Febian Brandy for the trip to the New York Stadium, which promises to be a feisty encounter in front of a sell-out crowd, following the winger’s red card against MK Dons.

The former Walsall forward will serve the second of his three-match ban, having missed the club’s nail-biting Johnstone’s Paint Trophy success at Scunthorpe United in midweek.

Brandy’s pace, trickery and invention will be sorely missed as United chase their first win since the opening day of the season.

“Discipline is going to be vital,” Howard told The Star. “It will be a typical derby. It will be a real scrap.

“It is a sell out so it will be good for the fans.

“Whoever can get the ball down and keep the ball better will probably come out on top.”

In the absence of George Long, who remains on international duty with England’s Under-21s, Howard is poised to make his first league start since last October when United take on their neighbours this weekend. A trip to Rotherham brings back good memories for Howard, with United keeping a clean sheet and beating their local rivals 1-0 in a pre-season friendly last summer.

“It will be a very tough test,” he said. “Rotherham are getting stronger and stronger. They are probably better than they were last year.

“They’ve got a fantastic stadium and they are a club who are going in the right direction. It’s one for the fans to enjoy certainly.”

Blades manager David Weir said he “couldn’t fault” Howard’s display against Scunthorpe and has challenged the 26-year-old to make the number one jersey his own.

“With George away, this is an opportunity for Mark,” admitted Weir. “His performance versus Scunthorpe was spotless.

“Mark kicks the ball very well and he was confident with his handling. He pulled off a couple of good saves and saving a penalty in the shoot-out was the icing on cake for him.

“His performance gives us a nice dilemma for when George comes back. Mark has got the jersey now so it’s in his hands. We will see how that progresses. We want competition for places all over the pitch and quality in every position.”

Weir rotated his squad at Glanford Park, making six alterations to his starting line-up, one of which was bringing in Howard in between the sticks.

“It was a good chance for some of us to get a game,” said the shot-stopper. “The team changed quite a bit and the gaffer wanted to see as many players as he could, especially in a tournament like the JPT. It was great to get a game. I enjoyed playing again. You miss playing, especially with the season I had last year with injury.”

Howard added: “Beating Scunthorpe gives us momentum and hopefully we can carry that through to Saturday’s game. We are all looking forward to it.”