Sheffield United are poised to enter the most critical period of their season, Nigel Clough has admitted, as his team prepare for Boxing Day’s game against Port Vale.
Clough’s squad are scheduled to face fellow Championship contenders Preston North End, MK Dons and Swindon Town next month as well as Tottenham Hotspur in a two-legged Capital One Cup semi-final.
With an FA Cup third round tie at Queens Park Rangers also looming large on the horizon, the United manager said: “Some people might describe it as a daunting run but we view it as an opportunity. If we can pick up points in those league matches, because of who those games are against, then it would really see us put a mark on the division.
“Coupled with that, we have three huge cup games to look forward to. Our progress in the (Capital One) cup has been superb but, make no mistake, even though we know the challenge we face we want to go even further if we possibly can.
“The same goes for when we face QPR too. It’s going to be a time which could, very well, define the rest of the campaign.”
United head to Vale Park ranked fifth in the League One table - 10 places above Robert Page’s side - but having only won two of their previous seven outings.
Clough, who confirmed he will not ask his players to train or travel tomorrow, acknowledged last night that Ryan Flynn is doubtful for both that contest the meeting with Scunthorpe two days later.
However, Craig Alcock could return after recovering from a back complaint.
“The lads aren’t coming in over Christmas,” Clough said. “We will be training every day this week up until then and then we’ll have them in on the 27th before Scunthorpe come here.
“We think that’s enough. We trust the players to look after themselves and to do the right things.
“It’s important for everyone, no matter what walk of life, to have time off and spend it with their family, friends or both. Footballers are no different.
“Some years in the past we’ve brought them in. Then, at other times, we’ve not done that.
“Hopefully they’ll repay us by putting in a real shift at Port Vale.
“We’re not going to travel on Christmas night either because the journey isn’t too bad. They can spend it at home with their loved ones.”
“Ryan felt his hamstring during the match with Walsall,” Clough added. “But it’s not gone, it’s just tightened, but he’s still a concern for the next two.”