Nigel Clough is prepared to employ psychological warfare in a bid to drag Sheffield United clear of the relegation zone, writes James Shield.
The former England international made the admission after acknowledging his players had been ordered to exploit Aston Villa’s brittle relationship with their supporters ahead of last weekend’s FA Cup third round victory over Paul Lambert’s side.
“The result is absolutely everything,” Clough said. “We told the players beforehand to make sure they kept a solid shape to begin with so as not to give them (Villa) any encouragement because we knew they haven’t had the best of times at home.
“If you can do that, which we did, then it can build pressure on your opponents. The crowd can start to get anxious and on your back.
“We’ve been in the reverse position no so long ago. Against Gillingham we were booed off at half-time, and quite deservedly so, because of the performance we had produced before the break.
“But, if we can use things like that to our advantage, then we will.”
United, who have been beaten only once since November’s meeting with the visitors from Priestfield, return to League One action at Notts County on Saturday. Over 2,000 supporters are expected to make the journey to Meadow Lane for a match against the division’s 23rd and 18th ranked teams.
“It was important there is a connection between a club, its players and its fans,” Clough continued. “One of the good things about winning at Villa was that we were able to celebrate with the 6,000 or so who came to watch us.
“It’s important that we recognise the effort and sacrifices at times that they make to come and watch us play. And they have a big role to play in what we are trying to do, as the comments from the lads in the dressing room after that match demonstrated.”
United, who are understood to have emerged from their fixture with Villa unscathed, could name an unchanged starting eleven against County although Clough, yesterday nominated for the Sky Bet League One Manager of the Month award, will take the hectic festive schedule into account before deciding his selections.
County, meanwhile, hope to reach agreement with Celtic over the renewal of Callum McGregor’s loan. The 20-year-old is continuing to train with Shaun Derry’s squad despite seeing his temporary arrangement expire earlier this month.
“What we’ve got to get right is that although Callum is here, which is great, we’ve not struck a deal just yet with Celtic,” Derry said last night. “But it is encouraging he came in for training.
“It speaks volumes about him because he could quite easily have finished on New Year’s Day, having scored in his final game, but he’s come back.
“Ideally we’d like something sorted by Saturday, but the ball is in Celtic’s court. They can leave it right until the very last day if they want to and rightly so because he’s their player.”
United are scouring the transfer market themselves as Clough looks to bolster the options at his disposal for the second half of the campaign.
The 47-year-old will also allow those on the periphery of his plans to depart on loan although Sean McGinty’s move to Mansfield Town, which had been expected to be completed this week, is now believed to have collapsed. Another defender, Marcus Williams, is expected to remain with Scunthorpe while negotiations aimed at settling the remainder of his contract at Bramall Lane continue.
With Marlon King recently severing his ties with the South Yorkshire club, a centre-forward is known to be Clough’s immediate priority.
“The most important criteria,” Clough said, “Is that whoever comes in is either better or brings something different to the table than what we’ve already got here in the squad.”