Nigel Clough, the Sheffield United manager, has warned Stevenage to expect no favours when his team return to League One action following their remarkable FA Cup adventure.
Friday’s visit of Graham Westley’s side marks the first instalment of a five-game series Clough, whose players produced a heroic effort during last weekend’s semi-final against Hull City, regards as a crucial part of their preparations for next term.
United have enjoyed a dramatic upturn in results since the former England international’s appointment six months ago, but United’s faint hopes of qualifying for the end of season play-offs are likely to end in disappointment with sixth-placed Peterborough opening up an 11-point gap between themselves and the South Yorkshire club following the previous round of games.
But Clough said: “How you finish one season can set a tone for how you start the next.
“We definitely won’t be switching off ; that’s not going to be allowed to happen. We want to be challenging for promotion next season and, with a few improvements here and there, we believe we’re capable of doing that.
“But the key is to keep on improving the group we have as well, that they continue to show the same attitude they have since we came in.
“We want more big games, more occasions like the one we have just experienced. And, the higher we go, the more of those we are likely to have.”
United banked over £1 million in prize money en route to their 5-3 defeat by Hull at Wembley, including the £450,000 cheque they were guaranteed simply for reaching the last four of the tournament.
With some of that money earmarked for use during the summer transfer window, Clough’s words will come as a disappointment to Stevenage who are languishing at the foot of the table - four points from safety - after a 3-2 defeat by Colchester.
Although Clough expressed “disappointment” at United’s failure to win a match they led 2-1 at the interval, he insisted it was important to put events against their Yorkshire rivals into their proper context.
“Hull are two divisions above us and, for long periods, we were able to bridge that gap,” he said.
“We did that through hard work but also ability and that’s something we want to build on.
“It’s important we view this as the start of something.
“Although we wanted to win, we’ve also got to acknowledge what an achievement it was to get so far.
History, the fact that only nine teams from this level have done it before, demonstrates that.”