The sight of a centre-half marauding forward would send most managers apoplectic with rage, writes James Shield.
But Harry Maguire and Neill Collins were last night encouraged to make their presence felt in the opposition box as Nigel Clough, the Sheffield United manager, outlined his blueprint for survival.
United enter today’s League One fixture at MK Dons searching for a seventh straight victory in all competitions having won just once in their opening 14 games and Clough, who took charge four months ago, said: “We want people to play with freedom. We want people to enjoy and express themselves so long as they remember their roles and do so within the remit of the team.
“Going forward we like plenty of movement and during our last match (against Colchester) even Michael Doyle, Harry and Neill were looking to get forward too.
“At Nottingham Forest, dad (Brian Clough) always used to tell the centre-halves: ‘finish in the box. If you make a run forward then do it and end up there.’
“People can get far too regimented these days but, as we keep telling the lads here, everything they do has to stay within a basic framework and respect for the group as a whole.”
United climbed to 12th in the table after triumphing at the Weston Homes Community Stadium but remain just six points clear of the relegation zone. Maguire, who injured a knee attempting to score his seventh of the season during that match, is expected to feature against Karl Robinson’s side while Stephen McGinn (back) returned to training yesterday.
“They say football is 90 per cent in the mind so that’s why it’s lovely to see a centre-half getting forward,” Clough said. “It tells you that everyone is feeling positive.
“We could tell that’s how the lads felt even arriving at Colchester. They were of the mind that, come what may, they had nothing to be scared off and that was reinforced even further afterwards.”
“We’ve found a pattern that suits us,” Clough added. “But, really, it’s down to the lads’ hard work.”