Nigel Clough doesn’t do personal tributes, writes James Shield.
Instead, as members of Sheffield United’s first team squad will testify, he believes a pat on the back or quick thumbs-up is usually sufficient reward for an exemplary individual display.
But Clough, the League One club’s manager, has broken with tradition ahead of this weekend’s visit to Preston North End with Marc McNulty and Mark Howard both namechecked after making “excellent” contributions during Tuesday’s dramatic victory over West Ham.
McNulty, a summer signing from Livingston, ploughed a lone furrow up-front against Sam Allardyce’s side before dispatching his penalty when the Capital One Cup tie went to spot-kicks and Clough said: “I thought Marc was excellent out there. It’s a difficult job but he showed great maturity and dedication to his role.
“Winning games like that, scoring in the shoot-out, should provide him with invaluable experience going forward.”
“He never stopped running and one of the things we like about him is that fact that he’s got this knack of getting himself into the right areas as the right time,” Clough added. “And there’s a nice levelheadedness about him too. Now, he’s got to work hard to keep improving.”
United triumphed 5-4 on penalties when Howard denied West Ham’s £12m striker Enner Valencia with a superb reaction save. The goalkeeper had earlier thwarted the Ecuadorian and substitute Stuart Downing as the second round tie ended 1-1 after extra-time.
Clough said: “Mark has shown great authority for us. He looks strong on all aspects of his game and is always looking to improve.
“But it’s important to remember you only get results at difficult places like West Ham, or even Preston for that matter, if you stick together as a team. If everyone out there contributes and puts the group above themselves.
“There are no guarantees but that does give you a better chance.”