Bob Harris and Matt Hill must prove their fitness before next month’s FA Cup semi-final with Hull City in order to appear at Wembley, Sheffield United manager Nigel Clough has revealed.
Clough made the admission after confirming the duo, who were both injured against Preston North End earlier this week, will miss Saturday’s League One visit of Wolverhampton Wanderers.
The match, which marks the start of United’s 125th anniversary celebrations, could see the South Yorkshire club claim its 11th victory in 12 outings after the goalless draw at Deepdale signalled the end of a remarkable 10 game winning streak.
And although Clough last night insisted it would be a mistake to rule his team out of the battle for promotion - they trail sixth-placed Peterborough by 10 points - he acknowledged the importance of April 13th’s showpiece must not be underestimated.
“Both Matt and Bob will be absent for this one,” Clough said. “You never know with muscle problems but we’re hoping they’ll both be ready for the semi-final.
“We might need them at some point beforehand but we won’t take risks because, with the nature of the injuries they’ve got, if something does go wrong then you might be looking at five or six weeks which would effectively be it.
“What we certainly wouldn’t like, though, is them going down there having not kicked a ball at all. We are still trying to do all we can in the league, make no mistake about that, but we’ve also got to realise just how significant the semi-final is.”
Harris damaged a thigh muscle during the first-half of United’s goalless draw with North End while Hill, his replacement, failed to appear for the second after reporting tightness in a hamstring. Kieron Freeman and fellow new signing Ben Davies, also on loan from Derby County, are poised to start against Wolves while John Brayford (calf) is closing in on a return to action.
“We’ve been a bit unlucky with our full-backs,” Clough, whose team have kept eight consecutive clean sheets, said. “Kieron is a young lad who is still learning his trade.
“But’s he’s a Wales under-21 international and there aren’t many who could switch from left to right as easily as he does. We know he’s got potential.
“Ben isn’t a natural full-back but he’s still as good as anyone when he slots in there.
“We’re still a little traditional when it comes to our full-backs. Whenever you hear someone talking about one these days, the first thing they often ask is ‘What are they like going forward?’
“We encourage ours to do that, as I think people have seen, but we still think a full-back’s main job is to stop crosses going into the box.”
The visit of Kenny Jackett’s side, who remain top of the table despite being beaten by Crawley Town in midweek, should prove a memorable occasion, irrespective of the final result, after United unveiled a series of events designed to celebrate their foundation on the same date in 1889.
“It should be a special weekend and it’s lovely to be a part of it,” Clough said. “Hopefully it’s been made a little bit more special by the form the lads are in.
“Hopefully all of the celebrations will be a positive for the players but, strip that away, and we’re still facing the league leaders. That’s what we have got to focus on and, after Preston, we’d like to get back to winning ways.”