Sheffield United: Clough reveals why Higdon is the perfect fit

Michael Higdon trains with Sheffield United yesterday � copyright :  BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
Michael Higdon trains with Sheffield United yesterday � copyright : BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
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Polished technique, physical presence and a proven track record of scoring goals, writes James Shield.

Little wonder Sheffield United manager Nigel Clough insisted Michael Higdon ticked “all the right boxes” when the former NEC Nijmegen centre-forward was presented to the media at Bramall Lane yesterday.

Having netted 14 times in 32 outings for the Dutch club last season - where he moved after hitting the target once every 1.9 games for Scottish Premier League outfit Motherwell - Higdon’s ability to unpick opposition defences is beyond reproach.

But Clough was keen to emphasise another quality, one which is impossible quantify, as he explained why United chose to invest an undisclosed sum in Higdon’s talents.

“Michael brings nous, knowledge and experience,” he told The Star. “Those are things that you can’t teach or buy because they’ve got to be accumulated and earned.

“When you start to approach your thirties, you start to see the game differently. Facets of it that probably weren’t apparent before but which are actually vitally important.

“Michael is at that stage of his career now and he’s got an aggression on the pitch about him which should benefit us also. We could do with a little bit of that.”

Higdon, who has agreed a two year contract with the option for a third, started his career with Crewe Alexandra before blossoming north of the border during spells at Falkirk, St Mirren and Fir Park. Voted the PFA Scotland Players’ Player of the Year last summer after his partnership with Jamie Murphy helped propel Stuart McCall’s side to a second placed finish behind champions Celtic, Higdon departed for the Stadion de Goffert where, despite NEC’s relegation from the Eredivisie, he thrived in a competition Clough described as one of the “most technically challenging” on the continent.

“Because Mark came through the ranks at Crewe, you know that side of his game is going to be very good,” Clough continued. “And that was demonstrated during his time in Holland because, if it’s lacking, then it’s very quickly going to get shown up over there.

“The offer good thing about Mark is that he scores all types of goals and that’s also a sign of sound technique. He’s the type of striker who can hold the ball up and bring others into play, get on the end of crosses and score headers too.

“He’s a little bit different to the other forwards in the squad as well. So that gives us another valuable option.”

Higdon, who confirmed he hopes to “strike up another good double act” with Murphy after returning to England, also knows former St Mirren duo Stephen McGinn and Mark Howard following his time in Paisley. Nevertheless, Clough has refused to offer United’s tenth summer signing a guaranteed starting role.

“Form will dictate who gets that,” Clough said. “That’s not a given for anybody.

“We’ve got some good players here in that position but they all know they’ve got to perform.”

“We might have to be a little bit patient with Michael for the first few weeks because he’s not been doing much intensive training lately. But, in the grand scheme of things, that’s a small price to pay.

“Ideally, we’d have liked to have been able to bring him in a little sooner and use him in pre-season. But, as we’ve maintained all along, it’s more important to get the right player than someone simply to show that you’ve done some business.”

United begin the new League One season when Bristol City visit Bramall Lane on Saturday. (Kick-off 12.15pm). Clough could be minded to introduce Higdon during the closing stages of that contest with Jose Baxter, Marc McNulty and Chris Porter all vying to spearhead the home team’s attack.

“There aren’t many around who have got the physique and technique,” Clough said. “But that’s one of the good things about Michael because he has.

“There aren’t many traditional British centre-forwards left, if you like, anymore but I think Michael is definitely in that mould.”

*Twitter: @JamesShield1