When he joined, United were goal difference away from the relegation zone. One year on and Nigel Clough’s side are similarly close to a promotion play-off spot.The squad transformed, under-achievers moved on and hungry replacements recruited. United have recovered from their slow start and are now looking something like the force their fans demand they should be.
Clough’s 12-month spell at Bramall Lane began with a 3-1 victory over Crewe in his first game as boss last October. A 1-0 win at Gresty Road on Saturday nicely book-ends Clough’s first year in charge. He’s a likeable, thoughtful and successful manager and one United need to hang on to if they are to continue their improvement.Even after their unsteady start they have 26 points from 14 games compared with 9 from 13 when he arrived.
He’s also a principled man.
You can hear an echo of his Dad Brian in his underlying strength of character when Nigel speaks on matters that require a little more thought than who he’ll play up front on Saturday - taxing though those team selection conundrums can be for any manager.
The Clough name means a lot to him and as a father himself the strong sense of moral responsibility he grew up with suggests that the Ched Evans question will have been raised and answered in his mind a long time ago. We don’t know what his thoughts are publicly because the manager has sensibly avoided getting involved in the debate on whether the club should take back a striker who has just been freed early from a five-year jail sentence for rape. The United boardroom could be playing with fire here.
Surely it’s not worth even the faintest risk of losing such a man as Clough by appearing to be toying with the idea of taking Evans back? The club’s silence doesn’t help anyone, it just allows the social media bonfire of spite and bitterly jaundiced exchanges to roar ever higher. Clough is a Championship level manager and there will be those at Bolton and Birmingham City to name just two who will have put his name on a list of possibles over the last few weeks.
For all we know the Evans question may have been resolved within Bramall Lane and management and ownership united as one on the issue. It’s to be hoped so. Because other football club chairman with an eye for an opportunity will have picked up weeks ago that there is potential for Clough to be unhappy over what appears to be an impasse. Whatever your views are on the Evans situation there can be little doubt surely that right now Sheffield United need Nigel Clough a lot more than they need Ched Evans.
Is it worth even the smallest risk of losing him by allowing the Evans question to rumble on unanswered?