Nigel Clough last night insisted his squad possess the character and mental strength required to silence their critics and qualify for the League One play-offs, writes James Shield.
The Sheffield United manager, whose side could secure a top six finish against Bradford City this afternoon, delivered his verdict after claiming only a “special type of footballer” can build a long-term career at Bramall Lane.
“One of the challenges when you play for one of the bigger teams, is you don’t get a game off,” Clough told The Star. “Both in this division, the one above and the top four or five clubs in the country.
“When Manchester United go to play in any match, whatever the cup, they are expected to perform because they are Manchester United. Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City are exactly the same.
“It’s hard when teams raise their game against you. But, like it or not, that’s exactly what they do.”
United remained fifth in the table - eight points clear of seventh-placed Rochdale - despite losing at Yeovil Town in midweek. City are 11th but reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup earlier this term.
“That’s the character aspect you are looking to recruit, that you are searching for,” Clough added. “Which is why one or two didn’t work out in the summer.
“We knew that Harry Maguire had it, we lost him, we knew that John Brayford had it, he showed that in abundance the other night.
“The majority of the lads have it now. The others will grow into it.
“Chris Basham has it. He didn’t get off to the best start this season but look at what he’s done since then. He’s been as good as anybody.
“Some people will thrive on it, some go the other way. But until you get them in playing in front of big crowds you don’t know.”
The visit of City marks Clough’s 100th game in charge of United following his appointment 18 months ago. The 49-year-old will finish the afternoon with a 50 per cent win ratio if the hosts prevail.
“There’s something at stake still. It’s not ideal from our point of view, but I think Bradford will see it as a last chance.
“They will put all thoughts of (losing 6-0 to Bristol City on) Tuesday night out of their heads, and say ‘right we focus on this game’.
“We know from their cup exploits what a good team they are.
“A game like this is probably what both teams need. We are both low after Tuesday night, that all goes out the window.
“We have a derby game, in front of 20,000-plus people, and still something to play for in the league.”