Chris Porter’s career at Sheffield United has, it is fair to say, experienced more false starts than a sprinter with an aversion to loud bangs.
But, after emerging as the driving force behind their march into the FA Cup quarter-finals, the centre-forward is finally beginning to fulfil the potential which persuaded Nigel Clough’s predecessor Danny Wilson to sign him following an injury hit spell at Derby County three years ago.
And Porter, who scored his third and fourth goals of this season’s competition during last weekend’s victory over Nottingham Forest, credits the former England international’s appointment in October as the catalyst for his improved form.
“The gaffer knows me and he’s given me a chance,” Porter said. “He brought me to Derby in the first place so he must see something in me to do that.
“Basically, he’s given me a chance. I wasn’t getting that before and it’s nice to repay his faith.
“He told me to go out there and score the winner. Which, thankfully, I did.”
Porter revealed after Sunday’s 3-1 triumph that United’s squad knew it would be an “extra special” moment for Clough if they could beat Billy Davies’ side given his close associations with the City Ground.
The 47-year-old, whose late father Brian twice led Forest to European glory, made over 400 appearances for the visitors as a player before taking charge of County following a long apprenticeship at Burton Albion.
Porter’s admission says much about the bond between boot room and dressing room since Clough’s arrival earlier this term. A state of affairs explained by the latter’s willingness to confront any criticism of his team head-on.
“Chris hasn’t always had the easiest of rides from people,” Clough said after watching Porter’s late brace propel United into the last eight. “Exactly the same goes for our skipper Michael Doyle but we are very aware of what they bring to the table.
“We told the lads after the game with Forest that their honesty absolutely shines through. You see some folk in the modern game not exactly busting a gut out there. But all of ours definitely do.”
United, who saw Conor Coady cancel-out Jamie Paterson’s opener for Forest before Porter’s memorable cameo, will host Sheffield Wednesday in the next round if Stuart Gray’s side win Monday’s rearranged tie against Charlton Athletic.
Tonight, however, they return to the altogether more serious business of a League One survival battle with a match at Gillingham.
United, who remain in deep trouble towards the foot of the table, have been ordered to draw a line under their recent exploits in knockout competition with Clough describing the victory over fellow strugglers Shrewsbury Town earlier this month as “more important” than the result against Forest.
Billy Paynter, on loan from Doncaster Rovers, and midfielder Elliott Whitehouse are eligible for selection while Doyle could continue in midfield after enjoying an immediate recall following suspension.
“Our performances in the league haven’t been as bad as our position would suggest,” Porter said. “But now it’s up to us to make sure that changes.
“We’ll get there and we can use what we’ve done in the cup to build confidence. The key has been keeping things really tight across the pitch and using that as a stepping stone forward.
“That’s given us a really solid foundation to build upon.”