Sheffield United, Nigel Clough insisted, learnt a valuable lesson at Swindon Town last weekend, writes James Shield.
And we learnt something about his management style too.
The former England international does not ‘do’ spin. He speaks his mind and, effectively accusing the visitors of being naive towards the end of their match in Wiltshire, has no time for massaging egos either.
Given that United, who drew with Brentford three days later, had just suffered only their second defeat in 14 outings, Clough is clearly relentless in the pursuit of excellence too.
Which explains his willingness to defend Michael Doyle in the face of some vehement criticism from sections of the terraces soon after taking charge six months ago. Because, whether his detractors like it or not, the United captain possesses exactly the same qualities.
Doyle, as one of his colleagues revealed earlier this term, can be a demanding team mate. But that is because he cares.
So it came as no surprise to hear the former Republic of Ireland international warn against letting standards slip during the aftermath of that loss at The County Ground.
“It’s important to finish strongly,” Doyle said. “Because how you end one season can set the tone for the beginning of the next.”
He is right. United, as we know only too well, took only 10 points from their final 10 fixtures en route to May’s ill-fated play-off semi-final against Yeovil Town. It took them 14 to surpass the same figure at the start of the present campaign.
Leyton Orient, tomorrow’s visitors to Bramall Lane, averaged two per game during the same period last term. They recorded a figure of 2.6 when competition resumed in August and, despite suffering a slight wobble of late, head north in third place.
Rotherham (1.9 and 1.9) provide further evidence that the suspicions of Clough and Doyle are correct. Wolverhampton Wanderers, of course, are an obvious exception. But, still in receipt of a £16m FAPL parachute payment following two successive relegations, have to financial muscle to buck the trend.
United, who face Hull City in the FA Cup semi-finals next weekend, are unlikely to secure a top six finish. But there is no shortage of incentives for them to perform in League One.