Sheffield United: Clough issues derby pledge

Nigel Clough flanked by Andy Garner (left) and Chris Morgan (right)  � BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
Nigel Clough flanked by Andy Garner (left) and Chris Morgan (right) � BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
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Nigel Clough has vowed Sheffield United will fight tooth and nail to beat their namesakes from Rotherham at Bramall Lane tonight, writes James Shield.

Clough, the United manager, issued his pledge despite acknowledging the visit of Steve Evans’ side has complicated preparations for Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final against Hull City at Wembley.

“We will battle, scrap and do everything that we can to get a result,” Clough said. “We will put the best team out that we possibly can and one which is competitive and capable of getting a result.

“But we won’t be taking risks with anyone either. This weekend’s match is, I’m sure people will understand, our priority because it has to be.

“If they think that means we’re not bothered about this one, though, then they’re wrong.”

United are 11th in the table after winning 11 of their last 16 outings. The visitors from New York Stadium, meanwhile, are third and beat their neighbours, then managed by David Weir, on home soil seven months ago.

“The Wembley line-up is pretty much sorted,” Clough, whose squad trail sixth placed Peterborough by eight points, said. “It has been for a while but people can still put a marker down in this one without a shadow of a doubt.

“You can do as much planning as you want but, until the day itself, you just never know because of injury, illness or whatever.”

While Evans’ men are already guaranteed a top six finish, United have only a mathematical chance of qualifying for the end of season play-offs.

“If we want to get in there then we can’t afford to lose,” Clough continued. “If we did then we’d have to win all of our remaining five games to stand any sort of chance I think.

“But it’s lovely to be able to go into this week without having to look over our shoulders. That’s testament to how well the boys have done but their challenge now is to keep on doing that and to ensure they continue improving.”

“I think the top two positions are probably sorted because Wolves and Brentford are the best two teams in the division,” he added. “Peterborough look as if they’ll get sixth but we won’t give up until someone tells us otherwise.”

United, who will assess Jose Baxter (ankle), Stefan Scougall (hamstring) and Billy Paynter (neck) before unveiling their starting eleven, were languishing inside the relegation zone when Clough was appointed six months ago.

Evans must wait to discover whether influential midfielder Lee Frecklington is available for selection after injuring his back during last weekend’s 4-3 win at Gillingham.

“Rotherham are hard-working and they all know their jobs,” Clough said. “Steve and I are different people and we’ve had our battles in the past but there is a respect there.

“They (Rotherham) have spent some money on good players and they’ve carried the momentum on after getting promoted last season.”

*Twitter: @JamesShield1