Sheffield United: Blades look to prove a point at Craven Cottage

Chris Porter (right) celebrates with Harry Maguire after scoring against Fulham
Chris Porter (right) celebrates with Harry Maguire after scoring against Fulham
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It was an off-the-cuff remark but one which betrayed Nigel Clough’s sense of anger and frustration at Sheffield United’s display against Crewe Alexandra last weekendk, writes James Shield.

The former England international is unlikely to make good on his threat to “take the youth team” when the South Yorkshire club returns to action at Fulham tonight.

But, make no mistake, those players who do get the nod for this FA Cup fourth round replay know every aspect of their performances will be subject to almost forensic levels of scrutiny ahead of Saturday’s pivotal League One fixture with fellow strugglers Shrewsbury Town.

“We will have a meeting about what happened at Crewe,” Clough said, “A frank and open discussion.

“To be fair, it’s not happened that often over the past three or four months but immediately after a game isn’t always the best time because emotions are running high.

“We’ve had a vibrancy and an urgency about us in the past so we want to find out why so many of the lads were below bar and put that right.”

Clough’s temper, inflamed by the perceived lack of determination and edge he believed contributed to United’s defeat at Gresty Road, had subsided by the time he held his pre-match briefing with the region’s media yesterday. But that result in Cheshire, which left United 23rd in the table, could have some bearing on his plans for the visit to Craven Cottage.

“Of course we will make changes,” Clough, who confirmed youngsters Diego de Girolamo and Conor Dimaio will make the journey to London, said. “Whether it was mental or physical, things seemed to catch up with some of them in our last outing.

“They’ve been incredible for us at times lately but perhaps it was one game too far for some.”

United’s exploits in knockout competition - where Colchester, Cambridge and most notably Aston Villa were dispatched en route to last month’s battling 1-1 draw with Fulham - have provided a tantalising glimpse of the talent which exists within their ranks. Stefan Scougall, absolved of any responsibility for the loss at Crewe, appears a shrewd acquisition while fellow new signings Bob Harris and John Brayford are also expected to feature against Rene Meulensteen’s side.

Captain Michael Doyle serves the second game of a three match ban imposed following his sending-off during the previous meeting between these two teams which saw Chris Porter, who should replace the ineligible Billy Paynter in attack, fire United into a first-half lead before Hugo Rodallega restored parity with 15 minutes remaining.

“I can’t be too hard on the likes of Jamie (Murphy), Ryan (Flynn) and Jose (Baxter),” Clough said. “They struggled like a fair few at Crewe but they’ve done anything but in recent weeks. They’ve been superb.

“Going to Fulham will be similar to Villa for us and that’s the great thing about football; there’s always another game coming-up when you can get something out of your system. Fulham have their own problems in the league and, like us, staying in that is going to be their main aim.

“But, come kick-off, we’ll both be completely focused on the cup game. Make no mistake about that.”

Fulham slumped to the bottom of the Premier League after being beaten by Southampton last weekend.

“I think they’ll name a different team to our first meeting,” Clough said. “Obviously they’ve allowed some players to leave since then and the ones signed can’t feature here.

“Rene could go one of two ways. He could change things around from Southampton or he could tell those who played to go out there and prove something to him.”