James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: New regime quickly lays down the law

Nigel Clough (right) with members of his coaching staff � BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
Nigel Clough (right) with members of his coaching staff � BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY

He has been in situ for less than eight weeks but the basic tenets of Nigel Clough’s Sheffield United regime are already starting to emerge.

Discipline, pragmatism plus a willingness to confront and then solve some pretty taxing problems being chief among them.

United, as their position in the table ahead of tomorrow’s League One fixture against Swindon Town demonstrates, are a team with issues.

Not as many as a spotty teenager perhaps. But enough to have so far prevented them from fulfilling their potential.

However, the fact Clough’s squad prepared for this match unbeaten in four outings and having lost only twice in 10, suggests progress is being made.

The former England international inherited a side shorn of confidence when he was appointed 51 days ago. Chris Morgan’s contribution during an impressive spell in caretaker charge duly noted, its reserves of self-belief are now being replenished.

United remain far from the finished article. Indeed, speaking after the FA Cup success over their namesakes from Cambridge, Clough acknowledged it could be “years” before that task is achieved.

I’ve got no interest or desire to compare and contrast the 47-year-old with David Weir. A thoroughly decent, courteous and principled individual who remains destined for a successful career in management.

Nevertheless, there are some stark differences between this administration and the one led by Clough’s predecessor. The most obvious being a perspicacity borne from experience.

United, now adopting a more simplistic style, have scored an average of 1.25 goals per game under Clough compared to 0.53 during their opening 13 matches of the campaign. Their starting eleven is now also more settled with changes down from 3.12 to 2.25; a quarter of which have been enforced.

Curiously, given his recent admission the standard “age of a promoted squad is 26,” Clough’s selection picks have been slightly younger with a mean figure of 25.2 rather than 25.7. Perhaps his biggest achievement so far, though, is instigating a near three fold increase in United’s points return despite inheriting options fashioned for someone else.

Clough has also insisted he “wants to build a club” rather than focus on short-term gains. This is a necessity not a sounbite.

United have signed 13 players since last term and six of the 14 deployed at Leyton Orient were new arrivals. Twenty-nine have already been used this term while the Londoners, who lead the table, have relied on 22.

*Twitter: @JamesShield1