Jamie Murphy scored Sheffield United’s 7000th league goal this afternoon, to earn a 1-1 draw against Leyton Orient.
“If you’d have asked any of their fans at the start of the season whether they’d take being third in the table at this stage of the season,” the Sheffield United manager reflected, “then I think it’s fair to say that most would have answered ‘yes’.”
Clough would certainly be happy to swap places having seen his own team’s promotion hopes dented by Swindon Town last week.
Nevertheless, the fact that United had entered today’s contest even with a mathematical chance of qualifying for the play-offs - something their opponents have already achieved - underlines the rapid progress made at Bramall Lane in a relatively short space of time.
After all, when these two clubs last met five months ago, preserving League One status was the only thing on United minds.
Freeman, who correctly escaped a red card during Tuesday evening’s draw with Brentford, was forced to hack clear from Odubajo in the first minute as Orient started firmly on the front foot while McGinn cleared the resulting corner at the near post.
Odubajo was the target of a series of raking passes down the flank during the early exchanges and the full-back, on loan from Derby County, quickly realised he was going to have his hands full.
In the seventh minute, Flynn drove wide of the post after Doyle’s superb through ball had sent Porter scampering through. Then, McGinn was close to seizing control eight yards out following another skirmish in the area.
Ten minutes after his first sight of goal, Flynn saw a header comfortably saved. Clough, though, will have been pleased to see the opportunity created by Murphy and Freeman who, as their overlap demonstrated, are forging a good understanding along United’s left flank.
Odubajo, Orient’s most threatening player, dragged wide of Howard’s far post following a rare slip by Collins.
However, despite plenty of huff and puff, this match had a decidedly low-key air with few explosive moments.
Coady saw a 32nd minute appeal for a penalty waved away by referee Jones after being clipped by Cuthbert as he raced to collect a loose ball. The midfielder had taken up increasing advanced positions as the half progressed.
Four minutes later, Jones parried Brayford’s angled shot away to safety after Omozusi had been caught napping on United’s right wing.
In the 41st minute, though, Orient took the lead and again Omuzusi was involved after recycling Lundtrum’s shot.
Lisbie’s run appeared to distract United’s rearguard and created the space for COX to peel off his marker and slide home from close range in front of The Kop.
Cox, who scored Orient’s equaliser when these two teams met in London earlier this term, provided the one telling moment of a first-half which had failed to spark.
Slade has fashioned an extremely organised team while United minds seemed to be drifting towards next sunday’s FA Cup semi-final against Hull City at Wembley.
Brayford saw a powerful first-time strike blocked by an Orient defender before Scougall was introduced at McGinn’s expense two minutes before the hour as Clough looked to inject some thrust into United’s work.
Flynn swept a free-kick, which his industry had won, across Jones’ area but none of his colleagues could produce a vital touch.
Scougall accepted his brief with relish and, despite being eventually crowded-out, unsettled Orient with a driving dash forward from deep in the 62nd minute.
Less than 60 seconds later, Porter made way for Davies and prompting Murphy’s switch into a more central role.
It paid an instant dividend when, in the 64th minute, MURPHY levelled.
Davies flicked a long ball over the top and the Scottish ‘winger’ beat Baudry before rounding Jones and whipping the ball into an empty net. It was United’s 7000th league goal.
Mooney stepped-off the bench for Orient with Cox making way with 20 minutes remaining.
Brayford should have edged United in front after meeting Davies’ superb free-kick but glanced his header wide.
Odubajo and Scougall were both booked for trips during the closing stages before Davies fired over from distance.