Sheffield United: Mikele surveys cup clash

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Only a month ago they seemed dead, buried and destined for an immediate return to Championship, writes James Shield.

But now Reading, having won three of their last four outings, find themselves within touching distance of Premier League safety knowing survival effectively remains in their hands.

The much-improved fortunes of Brian McDermott’s side might not immediately seem of interest to those more concerned with Sheffield United’s affairs than events at the Madejski Stadium.

But Mikele Leigertwood’s explanation about how they came about should, given their present travails in League One competition, strike a chord in South Yorkshire.

“Honesty, absolute honesty, is important when things aren’t going well,” the Reading midfielder, speaking before tomorrow’s FA Cup tie against his former club, said. “We all sat down together and ironed a few things out such as identifying those areas where we could perhaps work even harder in an effort to improve.

“But the most important thing to remember in difficult situations is to stay positive. In football, if you don’t stay positive, then things can very quickly get you down and that eats away at confidence.

“Every single one of the lads thinks that way. And the manager is a positive guy too.

“Because of that, there’s always a really good mood around the place plus, we’d also been in the situation before when it seemed like we couldn’t buy a win a year earlier in the Championship.

“We ended-up finishing first which has meant we’ve stayed calm and not got drawn into any hype because things change.”

Leigertwood, aged 30, started his career with Wimbledon before arriving at Bramall Lane, via Leyton Orient and Crystal Palace, following United’s promotion to the top-flight in 2006.

He made 19 appearances for Neil Warnock’s side, featuring in famous victories over Newcastle and Arsenal, but niggling injury prompted his sale to Queens Park Rangers soon after the 64-year-old’s departure and controversy of the Carlos Tevez Affair.

“I had a great time in Sheffield,” Leigertwood told The Star. “I wasn’t looking to leave but that’s just the way things worked out.

“I’d been a bit unfortunate with my fitness and then a new manager came in and I moved on.

“My memories of United, though, are nothing but good even if the manner in which we went down wasn’t the best. I made lots of great friends up there - people like Steve Kabba, Monty (Nick Montgomery), Tongey (Michael Tonge) and Webbs (Danny Webber).

“And I’m still in touch with Morgs (Chris Morgan) now. I ring him every so often to wish him good luck and I’m pleased to see he’s on the coaching staff doing well.”

“Morgs is probably one of the best captains I’ve ever played under,” Leigertwood continued. “He was absolutely brilliant at the job.

“Not only was he an inspirational figure on the pitch, but he was great in the dressing room too. If any one of the lads wanted anything or needed anything organising then he’d be there to do it.

“He’d also be a ‘bridge’ to the manager too. Nothing was too much trouble and he led by example during games.”

United, fifth in the table following the postponement of Tuesday’s game at Bury, travel south later today admitting their date with McDermott’s charges offers a welcome break from the claustrophobia of a promotion challenge.

With Reading also prioritising the league over progress in knockout competition, this fourth round clash is unlikely to be viewed as a defining moment in the season of either club.

Nevertheless, as Leigertwood acknowledged last night, there is no shortage of incentives to reach the next stage.

“There’s never a bad match to win,” he said. “And who wouldn’t want to try and win the cup?

“Yes, I don’t think there is any secret about the fact that staying up is our main aim and I’d imagine that going-up is United’s.

“But the financial situation in the Football League, I know, isn’t the easiest and I’m sure they’d love to get on a good run to bring some more money in.

“Plus, it’s a chance for both of us to build some momentum.”

“Reading have never won the cup either so it would be great to bring it back,” Leigertwood added. “So let’s be greedy by staying up and winning the cup!”

Leigertwood, of course, has already written his name into Reading folklore by scoring the goal which sealed their promotion from the Championship nine months ago.

United, who last lifted the trophy in 1925, could include Reading old boys Dave Kitson and Marcus Williams in their starting eleven.

“You always look forward to going back somewhere,” Leigertwood said. “It’s only human that you want to show them what they’re missing.”