Nigel Clough knows exactly what Cambridge United are plotting, writes James Shield. After all, he has been in their position before.
So, when Sheffield United visit to Abbey Stadium tomorrow, the former Burton Albion manager will ensure his players are fully briefed.
“I’ve worked in non-league,” Clough, speaking ahead of the FA Cup second round tie, said. “And hopefully we’ll be able to put that knowledge to good use.
“Listen, the days of clubs who aren’t in the top four divisions being part-time and under-prepared are long gone. Now, there is very little difference between a huge number of them those in League Two.
“If Cambridge were in there right now then I’d fully expect them to finish in the top 10 so we know this is going to be a difficult test. All we can do is instil in the lads what they are going to face.”
Clough, appointed as David Weir’s successor earlier this term, spent eleven seasons in charge of Albion and was responsible for masterminding their third round draw with Manchester United seven years ago.
“When you are the underdogs, it effectively becomes a free game,” Clough continued. “You can relax and have a ‘real go’ knowing you are under no pressure whatsoever.
“Well, that’s not entirely true which is important to remember but certainly not as much as the opposition because everyone expects you to be beaten.
“What we did at Burton was tell the lads not to obsess about who they were playing. Just to enjoy the occasion, express themselves and show what they could do.
“To remember, that they were there by rights and that’s the position Cambridge are in now. But we will be prepared for that.”
“The FA Cup is still magical,” Clough added. “Possibly even more so in the earlier rounds because people wouldn’t believe how much it means to some clubs just to reach the first.”
Cambridge, four points clear at the top of the Conference and boasting an unblemished record at home since August, sense at upset after dispatching Bury in midweek.
But, despite acknowledging the threat they pose, Clough used his pre-match media briefing to remind that United are 29 places higher in the footballing pyramid and enter the televised encounter unbeaten in three.
Tony McMahon misses-out due to suspension while the on-loan Aidy White is poised to be declared ineligible by his parent club Leeds.
Clough, pledging to field “the strongest possible team” against Richard Money’s side, indicated Jamie Murphy could feature in the starting eleven after catching the eye during last weekend’s draw with League One leaders Leyton Orient.
“Jamie has impressed us lately,” Clough said. “When we came in we were thinking ‘show us what you’ve got’ and, to be honest, there wasn’t a lot to begin with. He was quiet in training but since then he’s been positive and played with real intent which is what we want.”