Battling Blades on the up

Jose Baxter hits Sheffield United's winner against Swindon
Jose Baxter hits Sheffield United's winner against Swindon
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Blessed with a delicate touch and intuitive movement as a player, Nigel Clough has revealed a darker side to his character since entering the world of management.

o, with calls to battle, scrap and fight quickly becoming synonymous with Bramall Lane’s new regime, the former England international was not only delighted with the outcome of Saturday’s contest but how it was achieved.

Jose Baxter’s second goal in as many games ensured Swindon Town’s long wait for a victory at the ground continued and, more importantly from Clough’s perspective, stretched his side’s unbeaten run to five games.

“Our performance could have been better I suppose but, the most important thing for us now, is points,” Michael Doyle, the United captain, said. “We are all sticking together, pulling in the right direction and if you don’t have those qualities then you aren’t going to get anywhere.

“We’ve tried different ways of doing things. We’ve done the 300 and 400 passes per game thing and didn’t get the results.

“Now we’re making sure we’re strong solid and, because of that, capable of overpowering opponents.

“It’s not just been a tough start to the season for us. People forget, if you trace everything all the way back to January, that’s it’s also been a really tough year.”

Clough, who took charge in October when David Weir paid the ultimate price for the wretched start to the campaign, has employed a ‘back to basics’ approach during his first two months at the helm.

Baxter’s goal, which following his effort against Cambridge United six days earlier, means the Blades have now won back to back fixtures for the first time since February, applied the finishing touches to another combative display.

Swindon arrived seventh in the League One table and having scored more goals this season than 21 of the competition’s 24 teams.

But their hopes those figures would translate into a rare away success over United - manager Mark Cooper had just celebrated his first birthday when that feat was last achieved - evaporated when Baxter combined with Ryan Flynn and Aidy White to head home just past the hour.

“People like Jose, Flynny and Jamie Murphy are match winners,” Doyle continued. “And once their confidence builds then they can be outstanding.

“Hopefully that’s coming back now because we’re on a decent little run and becoming much tougher to beat. There’s a really good feeling around the whole camp.

“Basically, it’s up to the rest of us to give them a platform and then those lads can drive us forward. They’ve got the ability, without a shadow of a doubt, to do that.

“We all know each other’s characteristics. We all know that we can rely on one another.

“We also know that we’ve got some top quality players here who are only going to get better and better as that self-belief continues to come back.”

United had seen Tony McMahon and Baxter both go close during the early skirmishes before Swindon, missing troubled centre-forward Nile Ranger due to a disciplinary issue, discovered their rhythm as the half progressed.

Nicky Ajose, who instigated most of the visitors’ dangerous moves, forced George Long to parry from long range before turning provider for Ryan Mason.

Cooper, aged 44, felt Doyle should have been punished for a trip on Mason during the closing stages of the period but, despite expressing misgivings about referee Scott Duncan’s decision-making, had few complains about the final result.

“We had to fight and battle out there,” Clough, whose side climb to 19th, said. “That’s what you need to do when you are in the position we are in.

“We put a lot of effort into that and so I was pleased to see the lads get their reward. They worked very, very hard.”

“It was also pleasing to get the clean sheet,” Clough continued. “Because Swindon are a good team, especially going forward.

“I think we restricted their numbers of chances and George only had to make a few saves. Most of the opportunities we did give away were probably of our own making.

“That was a vital result but we know there are still plenty of areas where we can improve.”

Swindon, who slip to ninth, were also fortunate to escape when Chris Porter prodded the ball onto the base of Wes Foderingham’s post during a melee which also saw Baxter and Flynn test Swindon’s resolve.

Jamie Murphy impressed on his return to the starting eleven but it was Baxter, who had earlier drawn a smart save from Foderingham secured the breakthrough after Flynn had turned White’s deep centre back towards the six yard box.

“We are taking absolutely nothing for granted,” Doyle said. “Well just keep doing what we are doing and being prepared to grind things out.

“Hopefully, by doing that, we’ll get ourselves higher up the table and much closer to where we want to be.

“What we aren’t going to do, though, is relax. We can’t afford to do that because we want the results to keep on coming and, if they do, then I think you’ll see us continue to improve.”