Exactly 156 days and 32 games seperated Sheffield United’s memorable first and last outings in the FA Cup last season.
Their adventure, of course, came to an end on April 13, with a 5-3 semi-final defeat to Hull City in front of 71,820 fans at Wembley Stadium - five months and five days after it had begun, at Colchester’s Weston Homes Community Stadium with a more modest 2,509 present.
United, after dispatching Colchester 3-2 thanks to an early Harry Maguire header, Sam Walker’s unfortunate own goal and a late Chris Porter penalty, went on to defeat Cambridge United, Aston Villa, Fulham, Nottingham Forest and Charlton on their confidence-boosting foray to the final four of the FA Cup.
And, speaking on the eve of tonight’s League One clash in Essex, Clough said: “That was actually our first away win of the season, at the ninth time of asking.
“So it was a vital win - not just in terms of the FA Cup, but it set the tone for the whole season.
“Understandably, there was a sparse crowd there - it wasn’t a nothing game, but it was a low-key first-round cup game and I think over half of the attendance were our fans!
“We showed a lot of character to come away from there with the win - they are always difficult places to go and sometimes you have to remind players about the importance of going to places like Colchester and Cambridge.
“Without those games, you don’t get big games against the likes of Villa, Fulham or Hull so they’re just as important, really.”
Clough, whose side won 1-0 with another late Porter penalty on their return to Colchester back in April, admitted yesterday that winger Jamie Murphy remains his biggest doubt, while Jose Baxter and Chris Basham also face late tests.
Murphy was withdrawn just over an hour into Saturday’s 1-0 win over Rochdale, while Basham is struggling to shake off a troublesome ankle injury in time to retain his place in the starting line-up.
The hosts, who parted company with manager Joe Dunne earlier this month and replaced him with former head of youth Tony Humes, picked up their first win of the season last weekend, beating Leyton Orient 2-0.
And Clough said: “Home or away we’ll be viewed as a great scalp, and Colchester will be full of confidence after a good first win after a bad start.
“They’re a good, young team and they’ll cause us problems, but we’re five unbeaten ourselves and we want to keep improving, improve our consistency and become more ruthless so we can take the game to teams, both home and away.”