Sheffield United: Talks on ice until survival is guaranteed

Mark Howard has impressed since regaining his place in Sheffield United's starting eleven � BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
Mark Howard has impressed since regaining his place in Sheffield United's starting eleven � BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY

Nigel Clough has confirmed talks with players whose contracts are set to expire this summer will not be opened until his team’s League One safety is assured, writes James Shield.

The Sheffield United manager made the admission ahead of today’s fixture at MK Dons which could see the visitors edge closer towards the 50 point mark he believes will guarantee survival.

“As soon as we get into that position then we’ll have those decisions to make,” Clough said. “When we get there, we will start planning for next season but not before.

“It’s not so much the mathematics which will decide when that happens. Fifty points is usually a good indicator that you are nearly there.

“If we continue our good results, then that could happen quite soon because the table is so tight. We’ve been aware of that factor all along.

“We’ve moved upwards very rapidly in the space of a week. But we also understand that things can also go the other way too, so there’s still plenty of work to be done.”

Mark Howard, who is set to become a free agent at the end of the present campaign, has been instrumental in helping United climb to 12th place - three positions behind Karl Robinson’s side - after returning to the starting eleven. The former Blackpool and St Mirren goalkeeper enters this afternoon’s contest hoping to record a fourth successive clean sheet.

Having seen victories over Gillingham, Bristol City and Colchester stretch United’s unblemished run in all competitions to six games, Clough said: “Mark has been a strong influence but we’ve also defended much better as a group. One of the reasons we brought him in was that we needed to take a look at him and he’s done well.

“We still think George (Long) has got a big future in the game. He’s young and we just thought it was time for him to take a rest and reflect.”

“They’re both very different ‘keepers,” Clough continued. “George is all-action and a bit like Peter Schmeichel in that he makes some incredible blocks whereas Mark is steady and lets things come to him more.”

The 47-year-old, who took charge two months after that defeat, said: “On their day, MK Dons are probably one of the best passing teams in the division and could cut people to pieces but let them worry about us too.”

*Twitter: @JamesShield1