Robson looks for cup clash to spark upturn in league

BRYAN Robson knows all about the recuperative powers of the League Cup.

So the Sheffield United manager will be keeping one eye glued to the television screen which dominates one wall of his office when he contemplates last- minute changes to his tactical masterplan for the visit of Southampton.

Robson guided Middlesbrough to the final of the competition in 1998 and the form they showed on their way to the showpiece at Wembley proved the catalyst for promotion later that term.

Extra-time goals from Frank Sinclair and Roberto Di Matteo may have seen Chelsea lift the trophy at the Teesiders' expense but returning 19 wins and seven draws from the 32 league outings sandwiched between that match and their opening tie against Barnet catapulted them back into the Premier League.

The parallels between Middlesbrough then and United now are intriguing.

Both had been relegated in controversial circumstances - Middlesborough having been deducted points for failing to fulfil a fixture and United after West Ham were allowed to keep theirs despite the Carlos Tevez Affair - and both endured challenging starts as they struggled to acclimatise to life away from the rarefied atmosphere of the top-flight.

Little wonder then than Robson hopes tomorrow's draw will prove a vehicle for a prolonged period of success in the Championship.

Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool are attractive propositions, but Robson would prefer a fourth-round meeting with Blackpool, Luton or Leicester - and definitely at Bramall Lane.

"Show me a bad game to win," he said, "I want to win every one that I play and if you are in form then you are in form; it's a simple as that."

Robson will doubtless be hoping that United, who thrashed Morecambe 5-0 in the third round on Tuesday, will continue in the same vein against Southampton.

Responding to Saturday's 3-2 defeat at Crystal Palace in emphatic fashion, United ruthlessly punished every single mistake made by their lower-league opponents.

Sceptics will argue that the scoreline was nothing more than expected against a team plying its trade in the Conference 12 months ago, but Robson preferred to believe that the fluency and movement his charges displayed marked the moment they finally got to grips with his vision for the future.

Saints boss George Burley, reportedly on the verge of leaving St Mary's after a run of three games without a win, knows United will look to pass and move.

His problem is identifying the personnel who will shoulder the responsibility of translating Robson's footballing philosophy on the pitch.

James Beattie, who started his career at Southampton, is a shoe-in after plundering seven goals in as many matches, while Jon Stead's appearance at yesterday's press conference suggests that Billy Sharp and Luton Shelton will be forced to settle for the bench at best despite both scoring twice in midweek.

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If Robson needs reminding about the importance of selecting the right combination up front then recently-released figures detailing Southampton's woes since their own relegation in 2005 should be required reading in the Bramall Lane boot room.

Southampton have taken the lead 73 times in the league since then but finished as winners on only 31 of those occasions.

Put more simply, if George Burley's players edge in front there is a 57 per cent chance they will still be there when the final whistle blows.

This compares to a 26.8 per cent chance of snatching a point should United score first.

Burley has done the maths and signed Lucien Mettomo to try and stem the tide.

The 30-year-old Cameroon defender has agreed a short-term deal until the end of the season following a successful trial.

Mettomo represented St Etienne before joining Manchester City in September 2001 before spells with Kaiserslautern and Lucerne.

Sheffield United's Academy travel to Newcastle tomorrow looking to build on last weekend's victory over Bolton.

Goals from Adam Yates and Scott Boden saw Scott Sellars' side return to winning ways following their defeat by Everton. That result marked the end of a four-match unbeaten run at the start of the season.