Nigel Clough has vowed not to gamble with Sheffield United’s hopes of reaching the Championship next season by adopting a cavalier approach towards tactics or team selection, writes James Shield.
But Clough, whose side enter tomorrow’s game at Crawley Town fifth in the table and seven points above sixth-placed Bradford City, concedes the demands of a gruelling fixture schedule, which will see his team play 13 games in 42 days, means it could prove impossible to name a settled starting eleven between now and the end of the campaign.
United travel to west Sussex tomorrow three days after winning a hard-fought encounter at Rochdale. However, the final outcome apart, Clough insisted the draw with Coventry City 72 hours earlier illustrates the qualities required to secure a top six finish.
“The effort the lads showed in that match was phenomenal,” he said. “They were down to 10 men and two goals behind but came back to get what was, given what had gone before, an excellent result.
“I know people were screaming for us to get men forward to try and get back into the game. To throw caution to the wind and pile into the box but that’s exactly how you end up losing four or five nil rather than taking something from the match.
“You’ve got to show the right discipline which, to their credit, the boys did. Albeit after a red card which probably cost us two more points. That just shows how important discipline is, especially at this stage.”
Jose Baxter, who received only the second red card of his professional career following a poor challenge on City’s Adam Barton, misses both the visit to the Checkatrade.com Stadium and Tuesday’s clash with Peterborough after United elected not to contest referee Darren Drysdale’s decision.
His absence places further pressure on a squad which has already asked several of its members, including centre-forward Matt Done and midfielder Paul Coutts, push themselves through the pain barrier in recent weeks. Baxter’s most obvious replacement, Stefan Scougall, is recovering from a knee complaint.
“Often, especially because we’re playing so often, it’s a case of managing people through,” Clough said. “You’ve got to look at the bigger picture and think one of them has got to sit a match out if it means keeping them available for a longer period of time.”