Nigel Clough had a confession to make when he gathered with the media to discuss this afternoon’s visit to Crewe Alexandra, writes James Shield.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had a win at Gresty Road,” the Sheffield United manager said. “Either here or when we were at Derby County.
“And, as far as I can remember, the same goes for under-21 fixtures too.”
Clough and his staff will hope to wipe that black mark from their coaching CV’s later today when United return to Cheshire for the first time since being beaten 3-0 by Steve Davis’ side last term.
That result left United languishing 21st in the League One table. They travelled to the North-West ranked sixth after following their Yorkshire derby victory at Bradford City with a midweek triumph over Yeovil Town.
Crewe, despite recording three straight wins, are 16 places lower in 22nd. But, as Clough made abundantly clear before leaving Bramall Lane, are a club which command his utmost respect.
“There’s so much to admire about them,” he said. “Even when they made a really bad start to the season there was never any talk of parting company with Steve.
“They just let him and (assistant) Neil Baker get on with their jobs. (Technical director) Dario Gradi is still involved there too and they just trusted them to get it right because the people there knew that nobody was better equipped to do that than them.
“There are very few clubs now where that would happen but, if you look at their recent results, that faith and trust has certainly paid-off. Sometimes, you just have to grit your teeth, dig-in and work hard because, so long as you trust in your methods, it will come good in the end.”
“Another thing I admire so much about Crewe is their youth policy,” Clough continued. “Everyone knows that they are committed to bringing players through and that’s something we are known for here as well.
“Yes, we have to approach things slightly differently because we also need to be in the market for the best experienced players as well. But they way they go about their work there, the footballing principles that club has got, is exceptional.”
Principles, albeit of a selection kind, were also on the agenda yesterday when Clough revealed United have been fined “the maximum” £5000 for breaching competition rules in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy at Hartlepool earlier this month. Jose Baxter, Chris Basham, Jamie Murphy and Jamal Campbell-Ryce, who are all expected to take part today, helped Clough’s team prevail 2-1 at the Victoria Ground.
However, with legislation stipulating that participants must name at least six players who featured in the previous league fixture or are among their respective employers’ leading appearance makers, his picks failed to comply.
“We’ve clearly disappointed everyone so much that, not only did we win, but we’ve been selected for live television coverage in the next round,” Clough, referring to the forthcoming Northern Area quarter-final at Walsall, said.
Clough, who confirmed defenders Paddy McCarthy and Jay McEveley are both injury doubts - “Ryan Flynn has also been carrying a slight Achilles problem too” - acknowledged he is unlikely to make a loan signing until next week. Blackpool centre-forward Steve Davies is known to feature on United’s wanted list.
“We’ll deliberate more over Paddy and Jay in the morning,” he said. “We’ll know more then.”