The belief is back, says boss, as Blades extend their winning run

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Nigel Clough has admitted his Sheffield United players have a renewed sense of belief after climbing into the top half of the League One table.

Two impressive away victories in less than a week - at Gillingham last Wednesday, and at Colchester on Tuesday - saw United, who also beat relegation rivals Bristol City 3-0 on Saturday - move up to 12th, six points clear of the drop zone.

Tuesday’s 1-0 win at the Weston Homes Community Stadium, sealed by Chris Porter’s late penalty, was United’s sixth straight victory in all competitions.

And speaking ahead of this weekend’s meeting with ninth-placed MK Dons, Clough said: “We are enjoying a winning habit at the minute, and it’s a lovely feeling to have.

“You can see the confidence and belief: it is breeding out there in our performances.

“It is sometimes difficult to control games away from home, especially at places like Gillingham and Colchester, but we have done that - and doubled our number of away victories all season, within a week!

“But it was thoroughly deserved.”

Despite acknowledging that United’s top-half position is an important psychological boost for his players, Clough insisted: “A week ago, we were still stuck in the bottom four, which just shows how things can change quickly.

“It’s incredibly tight around the bottom of this league, so we’ve got to keep going... we can’t afford to switch off for a moment.

“We have chipped away at our league position and got in a good position, and the last few games have seen us shoot up.

“We were due a good run at some point - most teams enjoy one - but ours has been exceptional.

“We now have a sense of belief, whether we are home or away, that we can go out there and win the game.

“You can sense it in the dressing room.”

Tuesday evening’s win was also United’s third consecutive clean sheet - with Mark Howard picking the ball out of his net just once in over 550 minutes of football since being recalled to the side.

“That is the foundation that good results are built upon,” Clough continued.

“We look solid at the minute, and teams are having to work really hard to create any chances against us.

“We look back to the Crewe game [a 3-0 loss on February 1, United’s last defeat] and they scored three goals without doing very much.

“You could say that game was a turning point... it’s the only game since I came here that we were really under par for the entire game.

“But they’ve reacted well since, so you must give credit to the lads out there.”

United’s defenders have also caused problems for opposition teams on the front foot, too. Centre back Harry Maguire, still United’s joint leading scorer in League One competition, received a knock on Tuesday after another trademark marauding run forward and Clough added: “Not many teams, or centre-halves, will be doing that away from home!

“Again, it shows the confidence we have here, and it’s lovely to see players looking for the ball. Also, it creates a dilemma for opposing teams: do they play one up front and swamp the midfield, or play two up top to try and nullify the threat from our defenders bringing the ball out?

“We’re causing problems for teams from all over the pitch recently.”

Ryan Flynn, left on the bench against Colchester, could return to the United side for the trip to MK Dons after Clough admitted the young Scot needed a rest.

“We needed to give Flynny a break,” the United boss said.

“We ask him and Jamie Murphy to do so much, and they work so hard that they need a rest every now and then.”