James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: If only there were six more games

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Patience, as David Moyes discovered earlier this week, is an increasingly precious commodity in English football.

Players, most right-thinking folk accept, must be given time to settle before any meaningful judgement on their worth can be made. When it comes to managers, though, we now seem to adhere to an entirely different set of rules.

Of course, if targets are not met, directors should only stick to their guns if they are confident the right appointment was made in the first place. Across the Pennines, Sheffield United have failed to qualify for the end of season play-offs but, unlike Moyes, Nigel Clough has made a huge impact at Bramall Lane in a short period of time.

And, having inherited a squad languishing in League One’s relegation zone, avoiding the drop rather than reaching the Championship was his brief after being appointed six months ago. So job done.

Clough and his staff, including Gary Crosby, Andy Garner and Chris Morgan, have transformed United from a disparate bunch of dispirited footballers into a formidable team. Statistics illustrate exactly why and demonstrate what might have been possible had there been five or six more games, rather than three, left to play.

United would be fifth in the table, three points clear of Leyton Orient in seventh, is the campaign had started following Clough’s arrival in October. They would be third, level on points with runners-up Rotherham and nine ahead of seventh placed Peterborough, according to results since February 1 when, as everyone knows, a 3-0 defeat at Crewe Alexandra sparked a 10 match winning streak.

United, who average two points per game in their previous 17 outings, recorded just one clean sheet during the opening 13 fixtures of the present season.

They now boast 21 with 19 of those claimed under Clough. Who, incidentally, enjoys a win percentage of 52.6 and has recorded positive results from 78.9 per cent of his 38 fixtures at the helm.

United have the fifth best defence in the division and the joint second best at home with only Wolverhampton Wanderers proving more miserly.

Eighth in the ‘real’ rankings entering tonight’s match at Port Vale, they nevertheless know 19 of their rivals possess more prolific attacks which, if everything else remains equal, suggests the addition of a quality centre-forward or forwards should turbo-charge them next term.

*Twitter: @JamesShield1