Nigel Clough has disputed Swindon Town’s claim that Sheffield United are favourites to win their League One play-off semi-final, writes James Shield.
Mark Cooper, the visitors’ manager, insisted United’s pedigree in knockout competition means they are odds on to reach Wembley ahead of tomorrow’s first leg at Bramall Lane.
But Clough, whose has led his side into the last four of both the FA and Capital One Cups since taking charge 19 months ago, countered: “Swindon have had a better league campaign than us so, no, we are not favourites. They are just favourites based on that.
“Plus, Mark has known he has been in the play-offs for a lot longer. He has literally changed his team from week to week, making nine changes last couple.
“That can lead to a false representation as a team. They are better than what has been shown.”
Swindon finished fourth in the division, eight points ahead of fifth-placed United, despite failing to win any of their previous five games. Preston North End and Chesterfield are also vying for promotion.
“Swindon were going for the top two but I think the disappointment of missing out applies more to Preston, because of how they missed out on the last day,” Clough added. “I don’t know what the mood is like in the Preston camp but I’d imagine missing out on the final day will affect them a little bit more, especially with the quick turnaround.
“But, you never know, they might use it as inspiration. It won’t affect Swindon.”
Clough, who could recall Jamal Campbell-Ryce after the winger completed a loan spell with Notts County, described the mood inside United’s camp as “buoyant” as they prepare for another assault on the Championship. Campbell-Ryce has resumed light training after recovering from a knee complaint.
Clough said: “I sense the mood is buoyant. The Barnsley and Doncaster wins over Easter put us in a position where it would take a set of circumstances not to get in there.
“When the players have looked ahead, the two legs have been what matters. We are in pretty good shape, physically and mentally.
“We have had a lot of games this season but we have forget that now. We prepare just the same as all season. Everything stays the same and low key.
“We don’t want anyone too nervous. Everyone understands the importance so we just get on with things.”
Clough, reflecting on his 2008 Conference play-off campaign with Burton Albion, also warned “nothing will be decided early on.”
“I have only been involved once in the play-offs,” he said. “At Burton.
“We did very well and were 2-0 up at home to Cambridge in the first leg. But we conceded a dodgy penalty and a deflected free-kick. “Then, we went down there and lost 2-1. One of their goals was a cross that went in at the far post so we felt a little bit unlucky over the two games. But that is what happens in play-offs. Luck can play a part.
“That experience shows that nothing will be decided early on, no matter how things are going,” Clough added. “”Cambridge got two goals in five minutes and it went from us being strong favourites to them being favourites.
That shows how things can change. What we did afterwards was sit the team down and the next year we went on to win the league. So, whatever happens, you have to use it in the right way.”