Sheffield United: Nigel refuses to keep a secret

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There was no spin or subterfuge when Nigel Clough addressed the media at the Redtooth Academy yesterday, writes James Shield.

The Sheffield United manager, whose side begins its latest Johnstone’s Paint Trophy campaign at Hartlepool this evening, took the unusual step of naming his entire starting eleven and substitute selections for the trip to Victoria Park without, as those present can testify, even being asked.

“We’ll have Iain Turner in goal,” Clough said. “Ben Davies, Bob Harris, Harrison McGahey, Chris Basham and Jamal Campbell-Ryce will also take part.

“Stephen McGinn, Louis Reed and Diego (De Girolamo) are all in there together with Chris Porter and Jose Baxter. Michael Doyle, Neill Collins, Marc McNulty, Jamie Murphy and George Willis are the ones on the bench.”

Dismissing suggestions his openness should be interpreted as a sign United have no interest in progressing beyond the second round stage - “We want to win every single game we play” - Clough went on to dissect last weekend’s League One defeat by Chesterfield in equally forthright fashion.

And, despite acknowledging his players failed to realise their potential at the Proact Stadium, his assessment of the match officials’ performance was equally damning.

“Yes, there were things we should have done better,” Clough continued. “We are making no attempt to hide that whatsoever.

“Equally, though, there were some decisions out there which, in our opinion, were completely unfathomable. We went in to see the referee afterwards, as we are entitled to do, but it doesn’t make any difference to what happened.

“We just wanted to make our points and highlight a few issues.”

Michael Higdon will miss this evening’s visit to the North-East after being sent-off during the first half of a controversial derby with Paul Cook’s side but Jose Baxter is expected to feature after recovering from injury.

Although Clough confirmed Higdon will be fined for his indiscretion - “I didn’t necessarily agree with the red card but I can appreciate why it was given” - he did express a degree of sympathy for the centre-forward who is now facing a three match suspension.

“Michael can now use his time out to have a mini pre-season,” Clough said. “Which he missed out on over the summer.

“The frustrating thing, from our perspective and Michael’s too, is that he was scoring goals and showing why we brought him here. I thought, up until the tackle, he was playing well there as well. Holding the ball up and linking with others.”

Asked about the reaction of Chesterfield’s Daniel Jones to the tackle which saw Higdon dismissed, Clough added: “It was theatrical. But that’s his embarrassment. Not ours.”

Hartlepool, who parted company with manager Colin Cooper following their League Two defeat by Carlisle, are set to be without winger Jack Compton and defender Stuart Parnaby against United.

David Atkinson, on loan from Middlesbrough, is also absent after returning to his parent club to undergo treatment for a hamstring complaint.

Clough could be asked to explain United’s team selection to competition chiefs after failing to name six previous starters or leading appearance makers in his first choice eleven.

“As always, we have named the strongest possible side available to us,” he said. “And one that we believe is capable of winning the game.

“Admittedly, the JP (Trophy) is probably fourth on our list of priorities this season but that doesn’t mean to say we don’t want to go through and go as far as we possibly can. Because we do.

“It doesn’t matter what the tournament is. We approach every single fixture the same.”

*Twitter: @JamesShield1