Last month’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tie against Hartlepool tested Martyn Woolford’s powers of patience and perseverance.
But the midfielder will not have to look far for encouragement if, as Sheffield United prepare to reacquaint themselves with the competition, he is presented with a similar challenge by Notts County tonight.
“I’ve got quite a few tattoos on there,” Woolford, glancing at his left arm, says. “A picture of my little girl, other things that are personal to me and some inspirational quotes. Yes, there are times during games when I look at them. Especially when things get a little bit tough.”
United’s visit to the Victoria Ground five weeks ago proved, from Woolford’s perspective at least, every bit as painful as those intricate designs. Although Nigel Adkins’ team progressed on penalties after the match itself had finished 1-1, Woolford’s celebrations were muted by the welter of shots he had seen balloon wide, blocked or bounce off a defender’s backside en route. Including one during the shoot-out itself.
“I see myself as a goalscoring winger and so I was getting pretty frustrated out there,” Woolford, who finally broke his duck against Colchester last month, recollects. “Hopefully, like the gaffer kept telling me, goals are like buses; you can wait ages and then lots come along at once.
“I didn’t really scuff or miss, in the true sense of the word, any of them. It just seemed like, no matter what I did, the ball just wasn’t going to go in. If I’d have been shanking them all over the place then, yes, I’d have been worried. But the fact I wasn’t helped me to retain my confidence. I can’t quite put my finger on why I had to wait so long.”
Maybe but Woolford, who joined United after electing to leave Millwall earlier this summer, has a hunch.
“Until you actually miss a pre-season, I think you probably underestimate their importance. This is the first one I’ve ever missed and, although we all have a little moan about the amount of running you have to do, I won’t be taking it for granted again. It’s been a real lesson learned. You find yourself trying to catch-up fitness-wise but I’m getting there now and I’ll keep on working hard. My performances should keep getting better and better from now on. At the minute, I’m not quite where I want to be in terms of standards but there’s plenty more to come.”
Resurrecting his partnership with Adkins, who twice steered Scunthorpe to promotion before repeating the trick at Southampton, should smooth the process given the faith he places in the 29-year-old’s talents. Woolford, a member of the Scunthorpe squad which reached the final of this competition in 2009, scored the winning goal when United’s manager delivered the League One play-off final trophy to Glanford Park seven seasons ago.
“It’s been a slow start for me personally,” Woolford acknowledges. “But I know I can score goals. That’s why it was so great to get one against Colchester, although I’d much rather we’d have won the game, because it put all of what happened at Hartlepool behind me.”
Notts County, 16th in the League Two table following last weekend’s defeat by Leyton Orient, were paired with United in the second round draw after beating Mansfield Town at Meadow Lane. United, who are expected to name Woolford in their starting eleven, lost at Port Vale on Saturday.
“There’s no such thing as an easy game,” he says. “One thing the manager is very big on, always has been in fact, is affording every opponent your respect and showing respect for yourselves. We’ve shown that I think. Even when we’ve been down in games or been in a difficult phase of a match, we’ve never rolled over. We’ve always fought back and showing that character can only stand us in good stead.
“That belief, that fighting spirit, is the building block for everything else. If you don’t have that, then you are going to struggle. But we definitely have it in abundance here. We want to win every single game we’re involved in.”