Sheffield United: Day at Cheltenham Races can help Blades get back in the saddle, says boss Clough

Jay McEveley will be given every chance to prove his fitness for the Scunthorpe game
Jay McEveley will be given every chance to prove his fitness for the Scunthorpe game

Manager Nigel Clough is hoping a day out at the Cheltenham Festival this week will help his Sheffield United side overcome their own latest hurdle in the race for promotion from League One this weekend.

Clough, whose fifth-placed side make the short trip to Scunthorpe United on Saturday, revealed that United’s players - enjoying a rare week without a midweek fixture - enjoyed a team-building day at the races on Tuesday.

“The trip down there came at a good time for us,” Clough, whose side go to Glanford Park aiming to end a mini-run of two defeats in a row, said.

“It’s been good for squad morale; it’s been planned for a few weeks now and that spirit in the squad will be vital for us over the final few weeks of the season, so it was important for the players to be able to go down there and relax.

“Sometimes, relaxation is excellent preparation and, with the amount of games we’ve played recently, the last thing we want is more running sessions. We’ve certainly got no problems with fitness, or anything like that.

“Bob Harris came off against Fleetwood with ten minutes to go, because he was shattered. And I can’t remember the last time Bob Harris missed a minute of football for us; that’s the Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday schedule for you. Which is why things like the Cheltenham trip are so important, for morale and relaxation.”

“Everyone gets despondent and a bit down when we lose a game or two,” Clough added.

“So it’s important to try and keep everyone’s heads up. Remember, we were on a six-game unbeaten run before we lost to Peterborough but if you listen to some voices around us, it’s all doom and gloom and we’re finished as a side.

“We’re far from finished, and we’re still in good shape. Everything that has been and gone now is irrelevant - we now have 12 games to focus on, and hopefully we can make that 15 with the play-offs.

“That’ll take a lot of mental character from the players... they have to forget the good times so far this season, too, like the Tottenham cup semi-final and the away wins at places like QPR and West Ham. We need total focus, simple as that.

“The aim now is to get promoted from this division... nothing else matters now.”

Clough’s side will travel to Glanford Park looking to end a near-60 year hoodoo; their last win at the home of their opponents came in March 1959, in the old English Division Two.

But of far more importance to Clough will be arresting United’s current slump in form, which has seen them lose successive home games against Peterborough and Fleetwood Town.

To further complicate the situation, the Blades boss has seen injury and suspension decimate his team; Chris Basham will miss the next two games after picking up his tenth booking of the campaign, Terry Kennedy is missing for the next month and Jay McEveley will not be risked in training until Friday as he recovers from a shoulder injury sustained against Fleetwood.

Winger Ryan Flynn, midfielder Jason Holt and goalkeeper Mark Howard are all rated as doubtful for Saturday’s game, while Stefan Scougall is pencilled in to play for United’s U21 side next week.

“We’ll see how a couple of lads react in training on Friday,” Clough said, “but we’ll balance that against the fact that we need to get a result on Saturday. So we need to pick a team which is capable of doing that, because Scunthorpe will be another really difficult League One fixture for us.

“There are no easy ones.”