Nigel Clough makes no apologies for abandoning Sheffield United’s plan to become the most attractive team in League One competition.
Points, he explained during yesterday’s media briefing at the Redtooth Academy, are now the club’s sole objective. Accumulating plaudits from footballing purists can wait.
“Getting out of the bottom four,” Clough said. “That’s our only aim at the moment.
“It would have happened at the weekend had it not been for some pretty bizarre results elsewhere in the division. But the fact we are still where we are, despite showing some decent form at times, demonstrates it’s not going to be easy to dig ourselves out.
“So that means hard work and good attitudes are essential. Showing resilience and becoming hard to beat.”
Clough’s regime, which began with last month’s victory over Crewe Alexandra, is still at the embryonic stage. But, despite preparing to take charge of only his sixth match since being unveiled as David Weir’s permanent successor, the former England international has been quick to develop some familiar themes.
Professionalism, both on and off the pitch, are prerequisites in order to be considered for selection. An eye for detail, he explained ahead of tonight’s meeting with Walsall, is also non-negotiable.
“When you are in our position, you’ve got to do the simple things well,” Clough, whose side climbed to 21st in the table following Saturday’s victory over Bristol City, said. “It’s all about the basics, no matter what level you are at.
“Look at Tottenham Hotspur for example. They’ve just been beaten 6-0 at Manchester City despite having more possession and nearly as many shots on goal.
“Why? Because they didn’t do the basics well.
“The same goes for the Merseyside derby. You’ve had six goals scored because neither of them could, in that match at least, defend properly from a set-piece.”
“The key for us at the moment,” Clough continued. “Is making sure were are difficult to beat. Being resolute and getting some momentum.
“Arguably, if we’d done the basics well against Shrewsbury and Gillingham recently, we wouldn’t have lost either of those two games. But, like I say, the most important thing for us is getting out of the position we are in.
“I keep hearing people saying that they’re surprised to see names like City and ourselves in this division. But, you don’t get anything for your name or reputation. Those don’t equal points.
“The fact is that we are where we are and we are in this division. So we have to work hard, show the right attitude and get out of the situation we are ourselves.”
The story of eighth-placed Walsall’s season dispels the notion that stature equals success.
Alarm bells were ringing when the likes of Will Grigg, Jamie Paterson and Febian Brandy, who like Harry Maguire will miss tonight’s match due to suspension, left the Banks’s Stadium earlier this year. However, despite seeing 40 goals stripped out the club, manager Dean Smith has simply assembled another collection of exciting talent.
Romaine Sawyers, a summer signing from West Bromwich Albion, travelled north earlier today having scored three in six outings. But it is Milan Lalkovic, on loan from Chelsea, who has really captured the imagination of the visitors’ support.
“Walsall are young and confident,” Clough, who started his managerial career at Burton Albion, said. “They won’t be fazed by coming here. In fact, if you get the right characters around you, they’ll probably thrive on it so we have to be ready for that.
“They’ll be saying exactly the same things we did going down to Bristol. Keep the crowd quiet, make it difficult and then from there.
“The one thing I will never do is under-estimate anyone. You learn that very quickly when you come up through non-league. I know what a spur it can be because I’ve been in situations where the boot is on the other foot.”
“We have to be pragmatic,” Clough added. “We seen patches of what we’d like us to become over time but, to a degree, some of the finer aspects are going to have to wait because it’s all about digging ourselves out of the position we are in now.”