Attitude is perhaps the most popular word in Nigel Clough’s footballing vocabulary.
Unfortunately for the Sheffield United manager, however, one of his players showed a little too much.
The visitors, despite trailing to Joe Jacobson’s memorable finish, seemed destined to secure at least a point until Febian Brandy, introduced to try to exploit Shrewsbury Town’s creaking defence, lost his head and quite possibly the match.
Referee Stuart Attwell was guilty of confusing both camps with his decision-making through this fractious contest.
However, even Clough, who later claimed United had been denied a first-half penalty, admitted the Warwickshire official made the correct call when, having entered the fray only 12 minutes earlier, Brandy raised his hands to fellow substitute Connor Goldson and was duly sent off.
Clough, whose side slip back into the League One relegation zone as a result, described the incident as “a definite turning point” and indicated the midfielder’s second red card of the campaign could irrevocably damage his first-team chances.
Matt Hill struck a more concilliatory tone but even the United defender acknowledged Brandy could have little complaint.
“Febian knows that he’s done wrong,” he said. “He’s disappointed with himself.
“Febs is a great lad and his heart is in the right place, but he realises he should have kept his temper better in that situation.
“He didn’t and now he’s facing a ban. That will hurt him because I know he just loves to play.
“But I’m sure Febs will learn from that and come back better and stronger.”
Brandy, as the darting run which sparked his confrontation with Goldson demonstrated, is a talented footballer whose gifts inevitably bring out the worst in some opponents.
But he must learn to exact revenge in more positive fashion or risk undermining his Bramall Lane career.
Clough, who has extolled the importance of character on numerous occasions since taking charge of United nearly a fortnight ago, warned: “It was ill discipline.
“Once you raise your hands, you can have no complaints, and that changed the game.
“I’ve not had a word with Febian. Not yet anyway.
“But he will miss some games now because he must serve a suspension. Then, Febian must wait and see if he gets back in because there are lots of creative players within this squad.”
Clough and his counterpart, Graham Turner boast 2,578 matches of Football League experience between them, but the elements ensured this fixture became a battle of wills rather than wit.
And, when Jacobson pounced towards the end of the opening period, it was Town who struck the first blow.
The long-range shot which edged the hosts in front was as piercing as the wind which swept across Greenhous Meadow on Saturday afternoon.
United, who saw Aidy White impress on his debut after signing on loan from Leeds, enjoyed enough territory and possession to have dragged themselves back on level terms but failed to make their advantage pay.
Indeed, the reshuffle prompted by Brandy’s departure had little effect on the pattern of the game until Liam McAlinden sealed only Town’s second victory in 13 outings. “It was a difficult game and the conditions weren’t great,” Hill said. “With just a little bit more quality going forward we probably would have taken something from that because, even with 10 men, we were the ones doing the pressing.
“Then we got caught out on the counter-attack but, even though we are disappointed with the result, I think there are a lot of positives we can take home with us.
“In the past, our heads would drop whenever we fell behind but that wasn’t the case here. Mentally, we are much stronger now and that can only serve us well in the future.
“The gaffer has come in and made things very simple. He wants us to work within a very basic framework, which makes perfect sense.
“Basically, defenders concentrate on defending, midfielders on making tackles and passing the ball while forwards generally have to focus on scoring goals.”
“We’re not in the position we want to be in,” Hill added. “That goes without saying, but I’m confident that we can start climbing the table soon and getting much closer to where we want to be.
“There’s a positive mood among the lads and psychologically we all seem much tougher.
“Morgs (Chris Morgan) set that process in motion during his spell as caretaker manager and Nigel has carried that on.
“Earlier this season, the atmosphere wouldn’t be good after a defeat.
“Don’t get me wrong, nobody is happy to lose this one. But the difference is, now there’s more a sense that we want to get straight back out there and put things right.”
United, who were furious when Attwell ignored Simon Lappin’s appeal for a penalty following Ryan Woods’ clumsy challenge, saw Marlon King blaze wide in unconvincing fashion after Jacobson’s 35-yard shot had left George Long rooted to the spot.
Neill Collins failed to reappear for the second half after sustaining a nasty head injury.
“He’s got a golf-ball-sized lump above his eye,” Clough later revealed. “It would have been unsafe for him to continue.”
United charges continued to press even after Brandy’s exit, but both defences remained dominant until Tom Bradshaw benefited from the Blades’ growing urgency during the closing stages before squaring for McAlinden to stroke home.
“Fair play to their lad (Jacob-
son) because it was a great goal,” Hill said.
“But I thought we could have taken something home with us from that.
“Okay, their keeper didn’t have a huge amount to do and so that’s an area where we could have done better but, if we’re being honest, George hasn’t exactly had his busiest afternoon either.
“So we’ll work hard on those areas where we can improve and look to bounce back by setting the record straight.”