DCSIMG

Progress can be fast for Nigel Clough’s Blades

Alan Biggs

Alan Biggs

It stands to go down as the season when the tide turned for Sheffield United. Nigel Clough is eager to catch the wave.

It stands to go down as the season when the tide turned for Sheffield United. Nigel Clough is eager to catch the wave.

Results might not always have washed with that analogy but Bramall Lane is enjoying its biggest surge of enthusiasm for several seasons, arguably since the club’s all too fleeting flirtation with the Premier League seven years ago.

And yet it will still be recorded as a catastrophe if the basic and modest requirement of staying in League One is not achieved. All the euphoria of last Sunday’s stirring victory over Nottingham Forest – setting up an-all Sheffield FA Cup quarter-final if Wednesday beat Charlton – was replaced by a necessary sense of realism this week.

Last night’s game at Gillingham (which took place after this went to press) is followed by a home date with fellow strugglers Bristol City and a Tuesday trip to Colchester where, of course, the Cup adventure started.

But providing the necessary is done – and with these players it certainly should be – then progress can be startlingly quick.

Clough is convinced that, with a debt-free base and Prince Abdullah’s backing, United can far outstrip the timetable he worked to at former club Derby.

He told this column: “We’re going to try to build it quicker and better than we’ve done at previous clubs. The advantage from my last club is that we don’t have to cut the wage bill by up to 60%. And we don’t have to spend the best part of two seasons getting rid of a stack of players.”

Clough sees only a tight, talented group who can be infused with more quality, as he has done with Stefan Scougall, John Brayford and Bob Harris. Right back Brayford is a beacon at this level and how United must hope there is some way of signing him permanently from Cardiff. Equally, midfielder Conor Coady is showing terrific quality on loan from Liverpool.

Scougall was billed by the Blades boss ahead of signing him from Livingston as “more for next season than this.” Well, that is going to be some spectacle on the basis of his exciting early impact.

Scougall is something of a will-o’-the-wisp . He’s just 5’ 7” and so slight he simply disappears behind other players.

But what a talent, a quick runner from deep, smoothly skilled and with a tenacity that belies his build.

With wide men Ryan Flynn and Jamie Murphy finding some of their most effective form and Jose Baxter continuing to demonstrate his prowess, United have more attacking talent than their goal record might suggest.

Where they are short is in a consistently scoring central striker.

But with Shaun Miller and Chris Porter – both cup match-winners from the bench – weighing in, the armoury seems to be in place.

One more thing. When you mention a prince the word “playboy” is often not far behind.

But United’s Saudi backer has stayed deliberately and studiously out of the limelight.

To me this can only indicate that favourable first impressions – of a man who meant business – were entirely the right ones.

ANTONIO STILL HAS PLENTY TO OFFER

Michail Antonio can divide opinions just as fellow flank flyer Jermaine Johnson has always done. But I tell you this: there is no-one likelier to give Sheffield Wednesday’s season a finishing flourish.

His first touch often frustrates you, even when – understandably perhaps – it’s a comeback to the starting line-up as in Tuesday’s unlucky 1-0 home defeat to Derby. But who was it who posed the Owls biggest threat on goal? Who was it who repeatedly worked former Wednesday keeper Lee Grant?

These weren’t in-the-box strikes either. Antonio carved out a sight of goal for himself through his constant willingness to take on defenders.

I’d say that speaks highly of his character and his ability to shake off the frustration of a stop-start season.

It’s players like him and the out-of-favour Johnson (now unlikely to earn a new deal) who have made the Owls different - and difficult to beat in big games like (dare I say)

Sheffield derbies.

Timely too has been the influx of loan players, even though Leon Best looked ring rusty in his latest Hillsborough loan. Gary Gardner and Sam Hutchinson made more favourable opening impressions. But I’d still like to see a club – any club – backing its own talent for a change. Caolan Lavery, a chance surely awaits. Liam Palmer is your inspiration.

LONDON-BOUND AND LOVING IT

Fans talk of “owning” things these days. Well, there must be a monopoly board with Wembley on it and that’s not a bad place to land.

With Chesterfield again booking their place in the JP Trophy final, the thought occurs that it could be the first of up to FOUR visitations by teams from this region. An FA Cup semi-final there is within reach of both Sheffield clubs and maybe the final even for one of them.

Then there’s Rotherham United. Take a bow, Tony Stewart and Steve Evans. To be well set for the League One play-offs immediately following promotion is a a wonderful achievement.

Finally, an explanation for this unbiased column donning a blue white striped shirt recently. I should add for those of a red and white persuasion that these were the colours of Huddersfield Town (hosts to the Owls on Saturday) where I’d gone to report for the BBC’s Final Score 25 years on from my first game on the national airwaves.

Huddersfield’s pre-match presentation of a specially printed shirt was an absolute stunner and very humbling. I mention by way of heartfelt thanks and as an example that a surviving spirit of goodwill within the football family even extends – surprisingly – to journalists occasionally! Oh, and Huddersfield won without a debut appearance from the bench!

 

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