Feeling just a tad sorry for Nigel Clough. He really only had to finish fifth bottom to pass muster this season. “Only” was quite a big word when Clough arrived with Sheffield United in 21st place.
Instead, Clough has “just missed out” on the play-offs! Okay, that’s not the way anyone around Bramall Lane will view it but to the wider world the Blades – shock FA Cup semi-finalists to boot – are near certainties to win promotion next season.
That’s pressure and you could say it is entirely self-inflicted. Not that Nigel would want it any other way after achieving such a terrific turnaround, but there are times when football’s sense of perspective goes haywire and, as the team to beat, let’s not forget United will be facing another huge challenge.
They’ll confront it with what defender Neill Collins calls “a certain style.” More goals will be sought but Clough has shown that a 4-5-1 system can be a vehicle for free-flowing football on top of a sound base. “Managers take enough stick when things aren’t going well so they’re entitled to the credit when they do,” Collins told me.
“The gaffer’s given us the platform to play in a way you like to play. To go and express yourself. Everyone can see we play to our strengths and are hard to beat but, as we’ve shown against higher teams in the Cup, we have developed a certain style.”