Nigel Clough is ready to wield the axe in a bid to keep Sheffield United’s hopes of playing Championship football next season alive.
Clough warned no member of his squad is guaranteed a starting place head of tomorrow’s night’s pivotal League One encounter against Colchester at Bramall Lane.
“All that matters now is 20 games,” he told The Star. “Nothing else.
“It all comes down to this. We are out of the cups and so there are no distractions, everything is 100 per cent on the league and achieving what we set out to at the beginning of the season which is promotion.
“We’ve made it clear to the players. Everyone knows where they stand, what is expected and what is at stake.”
Clough added: “It’s reached the stage now where, if you are out of form, you won’t get a couple of games to rediscover it. You’ll have to come out, no matter who you are, it’s as simple as that.
“The players who are in form will play. If you want to be in the team then you’d better be in form.
“There’s no time anymore. We’ve got to be ruthless on the pitch and ruthless in the dug-out.”
United dropped to seventh in the table following last weekend’s defeat at Gillingham.
With Stefan Scougall (knee), Ryan Flynn (tendon) and Michael Higdon (hamstring) all missing the game due to injury, Clough has ditched plans not to enter the emergency loan market this week after making five new signings during the recent transfer window.
United’s coaching staff could also allow a handful of players, including Craig Alcock and Harrison McGahey, to depart on a short-term basis before being recalled towards the end of the campaign.
“The idea is not to smash it from back to front but, if we do, then we’ve got to have a presence there,” Clough said. “There’s nothing at an advanced stage but, yes, we’ve got a few people in mind and we’ll be making some calls.
“That was probably Michael’s type of game out there but, as we know, he wasn’t quite ready to be involved.”
“There’s a couple who probably need to get out,” Clough added. “Harrison could do with getting out, Flo (Cuvelier) could do with a bit of football after coming back from injury and perhaps Craig if John (Brayford) blocks his path.
“Harrison was brought in, really, for next season. He’s done well but with Terry (Kennedy) coming through and John also being able to play there, we can activate the plan and get him out to build his experience.”