Alan Biggs at Large: Listen to Tony Kenworthy, Blades and toughen up

Nigel Clough
Nigel Clough
  • Bramall Lane legend says only the players can ensure promotion push doesn;t slip
  • “You should be winning at home” insists Kenworthy
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Fact one: The focus of fans whenever their team falls short is always on the manager first and the players second.

Fact two: Home matches inevitably present a greater mental hurdle for players of those bigger clubs playing below their traditional status.

Tony Kenworthy.

Tony Kenworthy.

So which is it, the players or the manager?

A former Sheffield United favourite has no doubts.

But before you read what Tony Kenworthy has to say, better check the record of Nigel Howard Clough.

In 17 months as Blades boss it is;- Played 90 Won 45 Drawn 23 Lost 22.

A win ratio of exactly 50.00%. Yes, he has won half his matches.

Which is not to say Clough can be entirely exonerated for two home defeats in a week or the falling away of an automatic promotion challenge from a much strengthened squad that realistically, on expenditure, should be making a top two challenge.

But those who perform the usual kneejerk of disgruntled fans, a vociferous one albeit a minority, seem to be ignoring what got the club into the mess from which it is now rebuilding.

And considering a phenomenal record in cup competitions over the past two seasons, they are cutting Clough remarkably little slack.

Kenworthy, scathing in his recently published book of the sacking of Danny Wilson two seasons ago, insists the finger has to be pointed elsewhere.

As a centre back, he was as tenacious and gritty as they come, which is worth bearing in mind for the context of these comments.

While some people fixate on formations, Kenworthy, who keeps a close watch on the club he served for 465 games in 11 years up to 1987, pins the blame on the players and urges them to toughen up mentally before even a top six place is lost.

“You can’t shirk, you’ve got to stand up and be counted,” he tells me. “The expectations are high and it’s not an easy place to play.

“But it’s the players you’ve got to look at, tactics go out of the window.

“It’s not formations that win games, it’s players. It’s a simple game.”

Unfortunately, playing at Bramall Lane has proved anything but. Kenworthy is unforgiving: “You should be winning at home. You should be big and strong.

“Certainly, you don’t expect to see points thrown away from winning positions, like against Peterborough.

“Instead of looking at the manager it’s about personalities on the pitch.

“You’ve got have big personalities in the dressing room. At the moment they’re struggling in that regard.”

Yes, you can already hear the response from some quarters.

These are nearly all Clough’s players and the buck stops with the manager. So it does – in the end.

But this, with the club shaping up in so many respects, should be more of a beginning than an end.

And those players, many of whom have past associations with Clough or have been hand-picked for the task, owe their manager something right now.

Not to mention owing themselves – not least because I’m pretty sure that, in the main, they wouldn’t want to find themselves playing for someone else.