Nigel Clough has always suspected this season’s race for the Championship would be a war of attrition, writes James Shield.
And, even before the half way stage, his hunch looks like proving correct.
Bristol City, despite making an impressive start to the new campaign, have yet to truly seize control of the division.
Preston North End seemed destined to overhaul them at the top of the table before suffering a series of debilitating set-backs in recent weeks.
Tonight, when they play host to MK Dons at Bramall Lane, Sheffield United will attempt to issue their own statement of intent.
Both teams harbour genuine aspirations of securing automatic promotion. Which, as Chris Basham acknowledges, makes this a vitally important game.
“Nobody has really grabbed a hold of things yet,” he told The Star. “It’s all pretty close knit towards the top and you know that you’ve only got to win two games on the bounce and, suddenly, everything has changed.
“It also means it’s vital to pick up points when you play those teams in and around you which MK Dons are.”
Clough, whose team beat Karl Robinson’s side in the Capital One Cup five weeks ago, once again insisted United are equipped to stamp their authority on the competition when he addressed members of the media at the Redtooth Academy yesterday.
Nevertheless, as they prepared for a fixture which is expected to see Chris O’Grady make his first appearance since arriving on emergency loan from Brighton and Hove Albion, the former England international admitted the South Yorkshire club have yet to find top gear.
So how does a United squad blessed with talents such as Jamie Murphy, Stefan Scougall and Jose Baxter, translate potential into performances? Basham, a summer signing from Blackpool, argues persistence holds the key.
“We’re a good group and all of the lads are confident in themselves and each other,” he said. “We’ve been disappointed on a few occasions recently because we’ve drawn when we feel as if we could have taken more away with us.
“But, at the same time, we’ve scored a lot of late goals which tells you that there’s nothing wrong with the character of the boys here. That we all dig in for each other and aren’t prepared to accept defeat.
“Equally, it’s also important that, at the very least, you take something away with you from a game.”
Shaun Derry made “no apology” for the streetwise tactics Notts County employed when they held United to a 1-1 draw on Friday evening. Mike Edwards profited from a rare Mark Howard error to edge the visitors into a first-half lead before Jamie Murphy’s clinical finish finally broke their stoic resistance.
But although County relied upon character and grit to eke out a result, Karl Robinson’s side are expected to adopt an altogether different approach. Which might just play into United’s hands.
“It’s important that we get the first goal and build on the good work that we’ve been doing at the start of games, “ Basham said. “We’ve seen lots of teams come here and, if they get their noses in front, they switch formation straight away.
“The gaffer has been doing lots of work with us in training about how to break them down when they do that but, and he’s right to do this, he’s also made it clear that we don’t want to be in that position to begin with.”
United, three points and one place Dons having played a game more, trail Swindon in second by a further four.
“We put MK Dons out of the cup and so, psychologically, we know we can beat them,” Basham said. “But we’ll have to be switched on because they’ll want revenge.”