Blades column: Forget the flair...stats the only way to get out of trouble

United manager Nigel Clough.
United manager Nigel Clough.
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As a sports journalist, I love a good stat.

Unfortunately for Sheffield United’s long-suffering followers, their numbers don’t look too clever.

Eighteen matches into the 2013/14 League One season, United lie fourth from bottom, having accrued just 16 points. United have registered just 16 goals all season. United have recorded just four victories. United have kept just two clean sheets; at Peterborough United and Bristol City. United have just ... you get the idea.

Boos reverberated around Bramall Lane after Tuesday night’s draw at home to Walsall. It was anything but a sparkling performance from the hosts but did the team deserve the flak they received from the terraces? Not in my opinion, and I know many hacks who would agree with me. It was a well-earned point against a well-drilled, well-coached and disciplined Walsall outfit.

The reality is United haven’t got the flair, firepower or match-winners they possessed a year or so ago to win tight contests. It is not as if manager Nigel Clough can just wave a magic wand and bring back players of the calibre of Stephen Quinn, Lee Williamson, Ched Evans or Nick Blackman.

Given the precarious position the club find themselves in, foundations have got to be laid. Results are urgently required to drag themselves away from the relegation quicksand. Shoring things up at the back will give United an opportunity to climb to safety.

As much as Clough may want Stephen McGinn and company to play intricate, free-flowing, passing football, he is determined, in the short term, to make United a more organised unit. It is a scrap at the bottom of the division and Clough intends to get United, by any means necessary, out of trouble.

Under David Weir, United were arguably at times too open and susceptible to the counter-attack. Although they monopolised possession for long spells, individual lapses in concentration cost them at regular intervals.

These are tough times but Clough will get things right if given time. He is still assessing who to bring with him on the journey. But the fact is that United, under Clough’s tutelage, have picked up seven points out of a possible 15 on offer in the league. Baby steps have been taken on the path to redemption. Clough’s pragmatic approach will eventually turn the jeers into cheers.