Michael Jackson explained beforehand how tutorials from some of the brightest minds in the business persuaded him to try and build a managerial career.
So, once his disappointment subsides, the Shrewsbury Town chief will privately admire Sheffield United’s ability to summon a performance which, despite this fixture’s significance, was so brutally efficient it could have been torn straight from the pages of Jose Mourinho’s private coaching manual.
Functional rather than flamboyant, emphasising substance over style, Nigel Clough’s players were thoroughly deserving of the win responsible for lifting them above the visitors and to within a place of safety in the League One table.
Shrewsbury, still 23 short of the 50-point threshold Jackson believes will guarantee survival, engineered several promising positions towards the end of the second half but, for the most part, were unable to penetrate a defence which, after being breached three times at Crewe Alexandra last weekend, has now kept a clean sheet in each of its previous two outings.
Surprisingly, Ryan Flynn revealed United owed their success to a new-found sense of perspective, not hours of tortuous work behind the scenes, after scoring the goal which laid the foundations for Saturday’s victory.
“There’s nothing better than playing a game of football, going to the ground and being involved in big, important matches - which every single one, albeit for reasons we don’t really want, is at the moment,” he said.
“The manager is always telling us we can’t complain. We are where we are and we’ve just got to get on with it.
“Training is really enjoyable and I think that shows in what we are doing out on the pitch. Everything is made simple. Nothing isover-complicated.
“I’m a wide man so I’ve been told to focus on creating and scoring goals. People in other positions are also given clearly defined jobs. We look forward to coming in every single day and long may that continue.”
Despite the importance of the game, Clough made several brave calls in terms of team selection.
Mark Howard, again preferred to George Long in goal, looked assured after being recalled for the FA Cup tie against Fulham in midweek while Jose Baxter, asked to plough a lone furrow up front despite the availability of Shaun Miller, Chris Porter and Billy Paynter, was an effective fulcrum for Flynn, Jamie Murphy and Stefan Scougall.
Nevertheless, with leaders Brentford scheduled to arrive at Bramall Lane on Wednesday evening, it will be interesting to see whether Clough, whose side climb to 21st, persists with the system or reverts to something a little more familiar.
Make no mistake, despite averaging enough points under his tutelage to surpass Jackson’s predicted target, United remain in trouble.
“Points are the most important thing, especially with the position we’re in,” Flynn continued. “Points are absolutely vital and if we’ve got to sacrifice something else to get them then that’s the way it’s got to be.
“We got the balance right out there. We had a game-plan and the game-plan worked well.”
“In the past we’ve really taken the game to our opponents and, although we’ve been unlucky, not come away with the right result.
“Ideally that’s how you want to go about things all the time, but you’ve got to adapt to different challenges and situations.”
Whatever formation United deploy, it seems inconceivable that, barring injury, illness or fatigue, Scougall, Murphy and Flynn will not be handed important roles after causing Shrewsbury, without a victory at this stadium since 1988, all manner of problems.
Scougall was particularly impressive and embellished his burgeoning reputation by scoring the goal which sealed United’s firstleague triumph of 2014.
It was also the young Scot’s first after completing a transfer, potentially worth up to £400,000, from Livingston last month.
“It was great play from Scougs to set up my goal,” Flynn said after taking his total for the season to four. “He created the spaceand he does that really well.
“We put a lot of hard work and effort into that. We defended well, frustrated them and then hit them twice on the break.
“It was a really good all-round team display.”
Jackson, who attended lectures by Fabio Capello and Rafael Benitez while completing his UEFA Pro Licence, possesses the knowledge and intellect to devise effective tactics. Whether or not he has the players, though, remains open to debate.
Shrewsbury, now with statistically the bluntest attack in the division, arrived in South Yorkshire determined to stifle the threat Murphy and Flynn pose along the flanks. But less than a quarter of an hour had passed when the latter prised apart a rearguard which has now conceded 14 goals in its last six outings following a well-constructed move involving Stephen McGinn and Scougall.
The Scotland under-21 international doubled United’s advantage from long range.
The trajectory of Scougall’s shot appeared
to deceive Chris Weale, who later clawed a second-half effort from Murphy away to safety.
But Jackson, still searching for his first win since replacing Graham Turner at the helm three matches ago, remained less than impressed with his goalkeeper’s contribution.
“They were poor goals,” he said. “We
got caught out by a runner for the first and the second was just a scruffy shot which should have been saved.
Joseph Mills, on loan from Burnley, could have reduced the deficit soon after Scougall’s intervention but prodded Paul Parry’scentre into the side-netting while Jon Taylor later miscued from an acute but not impossible angle .
But United, who saw Baxter and Murphy shoot wide before substitute Porter saw a late effort disallowed for offside, were worthyvictors.
“That’s a massive three points for us,” Flynn said. “Especially at home. I thought we were very professional.”