Win, lose or draw, Sheffield United manager Nigel Clough has reminded his team their bid to qualify for the League One play-offs will not be decided at Barnsley this afternoon, writes James Shield.
The visitors arrive at Oakwell ranked fifth in the table with seven games of the season remaining. But while many observers have claimed that a victory would almost certainly guarantee a top six finish, Clough, whose side host Doncaster Rovers on Tuesday evening, does not concur.
“If you look at Barnsley, that is probably our most difficult on paper,” he said. “But we have to go to Yeovil, who even though the seem just about relegated, will be just as hard.
“We have learned that much this season. Take last weekend.
“We didn’t take that easy, Crewe just played well. It showed how strong the division is because anyone can, on any given day, beat anyone else.
“Yeovil are struggling and Bristol City the best team. But in between, there are 22 very well matched teams with not a lot between them.”
Clough’s argument is illustrated by the fact that United, who beat City at Ashton Gate in February, suffered their only defeat in five outings when relegation threatened Crewe Alexandra visited South Yorkshire seven days ago. Barnsley were eighth ahead of yesterday’s round of fixtures, having won four and drawn three of their matches since Lee Johnson succeeded Danny Wilson at the helm.
“I think everything will go beyond Easter before being settled, into the last few games,” Clough continued. “We had an opportunity on Saturday to make things easier for ourselves but, unfortunately, we never seem to do that.
“But we are in a great position and we need to understand that. It is in our hands with a five point gap, that is the key.”
“Barnsley won’t make or break anything, no matter which way it goes,” he added. “It is a good cushion because people need to win a couple of games to get past us, thanks to our goal difference.
“But we still have to win a few of our games to get into the top six. We have to remember, also, that there isn’t just one team chasing us.”
Clough will await the outcome of fitness tests on Terry Kennedy, Jay McEveley, Ryan Flynn, Steve Davies and Jose Baxter before naming his starting eleven while Stefan Scougall, who has missed United’s last 14 games could return following a rib injury.
The former Livingston attacker was on target during Monday’s Professional Development League victory over Bristol City.
“You always get a few bumps and bruises,” Clough said. “With some of the lads, it’s more an accumulation of things rather than any specific problem.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to get a few back out there and we’ve got one or two others who are making good progress in their push for fitness.
“It was nice to see Stefan get some football under his belt and he scored down there too.”
“We just keep doing what we are doing,” Clough added. “Scunthorpe set a benchmark, when we won 4-0, as to how we want to play. Unfortunately, four days later we couldn’t repeat that.
“But now we try to repeat it in the last seven games. It is lovely to be able to hold up a performance as an example.
“If anyone asks, ‘How do you want to play?’ Scunthorpe is my answer.”