Nigel Clough is under no illusions about the threat Southampton will pose at Bramall Lane tonight, writes James Shield.
The Sheffield United manager described his team’s Capital One Cup quarter-final against Ronald Koeman’s side as the “toughest challenge” of his 14 month reign despite masterminding victories over the likes of Aston Villa, Fulham and Nottingham Forest last season.
Clough said: “This is the biggest test so far. Southampton have, I think, the most to their game out of all the opponents we’ve faced before.
“Even their set-plays are strong. They can play but they are also powerful athletes.
“So, if we come through, it will be on a par with anything else.”
United captured the public’s imagination when they claimed two top-flight scalps en route to a dramatic FA Cup semi-final with Hull City earlier this year. Clough’s team twice led their Yorkshire rivals before eventually succumbing 5-3 and the former England international warned Southampton his players are determined to exorcise their Wembley demons.
“To try and get back there is a huge motivation,” Clough said. “We are three games away.
“We had an exceptional day, despite the defeat, but it still rankles a bit, that 10 minutes after half-time. The motivation is there to try and put that right.
“That should be an incentive for our players. To experience it all over again.
“You shouldn’t be thinking, ‘I’ve had one great day out but I’m not bothered about another one.’ And they aren’t, I can assure you of that.”
United are fifth in the League One table following Saturday’s draw with Fleetwood Town but have already beaten West Ham in the earlier rounds of the tournament.
Southampton remained fifth in the Premier League despite losing 1-0 at Burnley three days ago and Clough said: “I don’t think many of their players will have experienced Bramall Lane before.
“There’s more of an element of surprise these days because there’s fewer players coming through the divisions.
“It’s different football, different pitches and a different atmosphere. It’s at our ground so hopefully that’s one small thing in our favour that we can play with freedom and exploit.
“There’s belief that we can compete with and perhaps beat anyone. We’re a League One team in the quarter-finals of the League Cup. We got to the semi-finals of the FA Cup last year and that’s highly unusual.
“Perhaps if we make another semi-final then the lads might get the credit they deserve for that.”