Sheffield United: Blades boss Nigel Clough eyes up a return to Wembley in the JPT

Nigel Clough
Nigel Clough
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As a player, he appeared in four Wembley finals and guided Sheffield United to the last four of the FA Cup at the famous old ground last season.

So Nigel Clough is well placed to observe the impact that a showpiece final at English football’s national stadium can create.

United, months after their stunning run to the FA Cup semi-final was halted by Hull City in a 5-3 thriller at Wembley, stand just four games away from a return to that famous arch, after their 2-1 victory at Hartlepool on Tuesday evening put them in the area quarter-finals of this season’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.

Some detractors will inevitably claim that the competition has no value, and this weekend’s draw - which could pit United against the likes of Walsall, Bury or Tranmere Rovers - will hardly set pulses racing after last term’s high-profile clashes with Aston Villa, Fulham et al.

But will Clough treat the much-maligned competition with the same contempt?

Not likely.

“You can never lose sight of the fact that there’s a Wembley final at stake,” Clough, a veteran of two Full Members Cup titles, two League Cup showpiece and the infamous 1991 FA Cup final, said.

“We had a taste of that last season, and we want to keep winning games - no matter what the competition. Our aim is as simple as that, really.

“True, we made a few changes for the team at Hartlepool but it was still strong - we came with a team to win the game. If we didn’t want to do that, we’d have cancelled the U21s game [against Birmingham City on Monday, which ended in a 3-1 Blades win] and played the kids. But there was no point coming down here and making it like a pre-season game. We went through, which was the main thing, but there was plenty more we got out of the game, too.”

The main positive for Clough will be Jose Baxter’s return to the side, after a five-match absence with a hamstring injury - which he marked by grabbing the game’s opening goal just after the half-hour mark.

Michael Duckworth levelled for the hosts before Jamal Campbell-Ryce, another making a welcome return from injury, netted a late winner to send United through.

“Bob Harris was on the front foot all game, and he did well,” Clough added.

“We thought Harrison McGahey and Chris Basham, who played at centre-half together for Blackpool in the Championship, deserved a clean sheet but Hartlepool had a go at us, so credit to them.

“But we’ve managed to nick another late goal - we didn’t get many last season, and it’s a good habit to get into.”