Of all the letters Nigel Clough received in his postbag this week, one stood-out the most, writes James Shield.
“It was a very nice message, from a woman whose name admittedly escapes me, wishing us all good luck in the play-offs,” he said. “But she also reminded me to make sure everyone in the squad, including the staff, voted in the general election on their way to the ground.”
The Sheffield United manager, who confirmed he would be visiting a polling booth before tonight’s semi-final first-leg against Swindon Town, has spent much of the past month walking a political tightrope as he seeks to defend his team against allegations that finishing fifth in the League One table represents a poor return given the talent within their ranks.
Clough concedes United’s inability to mount a serious challenge for automatic promotion after reaching the last four of the Capital One Cup is a disappointment but said: “I think it would be fair to say that if we’d had the players we got in January from the start of the season then we would have been a bit closer to the top two.
“It still a team that is developing and growing. We are not finished article, both in terms of numbers and in terms of who we need for the squad even for this league never mind the one above.
“The best is yet to come. All we can do as a staff is try and build. Look at us over the last 16 years and we have tried to build.
“We are only 18 months into this process. I hope it is enough to get us up but we’ll have to wait and see.”
Fourth-placed Swindon stage the return leg on Monday evening with the winners of the tie set to face either Preston North End or Chesterfield at Wembley on May 24.
“I am glad to have the Thursday-Monday games, not Sunday,” Clough said. “It is slightly easier to handle than the Sunday option.”