Sheffield United have been challenged to become more clinical in the opposition’s final third as Nigel Clough, the League One club’s manager, laments the poor finishing which has prevented his team from dragging itself clear of the relegation zone, writes James Shield.
Last weekend’s defeat by Notts County, their second in three games, means United enter Saturday’s Yorkshire derby with Bradford City just a point above the bottom four having previously accumulated 13 from eight outings.
Although Clough had no complaints about his players’ application at Meadow Lane - “We competed well” - he blamed poor execution and decision making for their failure to build upon Conor Coady’s early goal.
“We created chances, got ourselves in good situations and positions,” Clough said. “But what we didn’t do was put it on a plate for someone.
“We didn’t do enough of that, show enough quality, in an around that 18 yard area which is vitally important at all times.
“Especially when, as was the case against Notts County, there is very little in the game. Clearly, that’s something we’ll have to work on so that’s what we’ll do.”
Having inherited a side 21st in the table and with only two wins in 16 matches when he was appointed, Clough has made a significant impact since taking charge three months ago. Nevertheless, having also surrendered a winning position at Walsall 10 days earlier, question marks have been raised about whether United possess the ruthless streak required to put opponents to the sword.
Billy Paynter’s arrival on loan from Doncaster Rovers should go a long way towards addressing that problem - the former Swindon Town and Leeds centre-forward has scored 83 times in third tier competition throughout his career - but Clough, whose side ended Aston Villa’s FA Cup hopes earlier this month, refutes suggestions that United have become content to try and protect leads rather than go for the jugular.
“When the opposition are rocking, which they have been in all our recent games, we’ve got to try and build on that,” he said. “That’s the time to seize control, take advantage and look to build a good lead.
“We could have been three, certainly two, goals up inside the first 10 minutes at County but didn’t manage to ensure that was the case.”