Sheffield United: Hill is ready to risk the cold shoulder

Matt Hill started his career with Bristol City
Matt Hill started his career with Bristol City

It is the club responsible for launching his professional career but tomorrow, when they arrive at Bramall Lane, Matt Hill will show Bristol City no mercy.

Instead the Sheffield United defender, who made 246 appearances during nearly seven seasons at Ashton Gate, last night revealed he is ready to risk being cold shouldered by family and friends if it means Nigel Clough’s side score another significant victory in their battle for League One survival.

“It’s always a big game for me personally,” Hill told The Star. “Regardless of whether you start or are on the bench, playing against your hometown team is going to be a special occasion for anyone.

“But the only thing I’m bothered about is us, Sheffield United, getting all three points and keeping our momentum going.”

United’s revival continued at Gillingham in midweek where, having seen Conor Coady score the only goal of the game, Clough’s squad returned home celebrating its first away win in the competition since November and a fourth straight success. With two of those wins coming en route to next month’s FA Cup quarter-finals, where either Sheffield Wednesday or Charlton Athletic await, United remain perilously close to the relegation zone but emboldened by the knowledge that another triumph would lift them above their fellow strugglers from the south-west.

“I’m a team player and I’ll do whatever I can to help,” Hill, who returned to Clough’s first-choice eleven at Priestfield Stadium, said. “But I also want to play every single game and the gaffer knows that.

“If I don’t then I’ll try and contribute in other ways, not to mention working doubly hard in training.

“There’s plenty you can do before and during matches to try and achieve a positive outcome for the lads.

“You can encourage them beforehand, make sure they’ve got everything they want in the dressing room and are in the right frame of mind when the game itself starts.

“Then, if you’re warming-up on the touchline, that’s another good time to give advice if you’ve spotted something.

“No matter what, I think people here know that I’ll always try and play a part.”

“When you’re not in the eleven, you don’t want to make it easy to be left out again,” Hill continued. “You don’t want to let the gaffer off the hook.

“George (Long) is doing that right now. You want to be noticed and you want to give him (Clough) a decision to make in the nicest possible way.”

Steve Cotterill, the City manager, watched from the stands at Gillingham on Wednesday as United, with new signing Ben Davies making his debut from the bench, climbed to 18th. The former Cheltenham Town and Burnley chief, whose charges are a place higher by virtue of their superior goal difference, expects to have Stephen Pearson available following injury while fellow midfielder Marlon Pack said: “Hopefully we can get a win rather than a draw up there. Our legs will be fresher so there’s no excuses.

“We’ve had a nice break to recharge our batteries and we’re raring to go. Sheffield United have got games in hand on us but they’ve got to win those games. Now we’ve got the chance to take points off them.”

Easier said than done given that United, despite being just one above the bottom four, would be 12th in the table if only results since Clough’s appointment in October counted towards the rankings.

Hill, who progressed through the ranks at City before joining Preston North End in 2005, has become an integral part of the 47-year-old’s plans given his ability to perform a variety of roles.

“I was fortunate enough to have some really good role models when I came through at City,” he said. “People like Brian Tinnion, Shaun Taylor and even Sean Dyche, who was there for a short while when I was a youngster, were excellent influences.

“A lot has happened since I left, it was a long time ago now.

“Louis Carey is the only player still around from my time there. Scott Murray has retired now but he’s the kitman so there’s a few familiar faces I suppose.”

“Being a Bristol lad, it was an honour to play for the team which represents where you are from,” Hill added. “I didn’t actually grow up a City fan - I was too busy following Liverpool’s fortunes to get involved in the warring between them and Rovers - but when I signed and they took me on then instantly I became a red.

“I played a lot of games for them and it’s good to see a lot of the same fans going. Everytime we come up against City I always spot quite a few people I know from the old days and they’re never anything but respectful and nice.

“I appreciate that but, like I say, I’m be doing my utmost to make sure they leave with nothing to celebrate come Saturday night.

“There’s absolutely no room for sentiment whatsoever. Absolutely none at all.”

United, who travel to Colchester on Tuesday, could recall Stefan Scougall and Jamie Murphy for fixture with City while John Brayford will be assessed after complaining of discomfort in a muscle following last weekend’s game against Nottingham Forest.

“It’s good that we’ve got options,” Hill said. “There’s a good feeling in the camp.”