Without wishing to sound insulting, there is something quaintly old fashioned about how Sheffield United are going about their business, writes James Shield.
No spin or smooth talk from the manager when it comes to assessing performances. Knockout football is afforded the same importance as fixtures in League One.
Nigel Clough, who following Tuesday’s Capital One Cup success over Southampton has now reached the last four of both major domestic competitions since being appointed 14 months ago, also seems to be on a personal crusade to rescue wingers from extinction after placing them at the heart of his tactical blueprint.
Barring injury or illness, two are likely to be selected when Walsall arrive at Bramall Lane tomorrow. So why does this endangered species command such a prominent place in Clough’s plans?
“The manager has also been pretty big on working the flanks,” Jamie Murphy, among a trio of players tasked with implementing Clough’s wishes, told The Star last night. “I couldn’t tell you why some teams don’t because there’s no right or wrong.
“But that’s always the way I’ve been brought up and so it makes perfect sense to me.
“One of the things I like about what we’re doing at the moment is that everything is kept simple. I think having wide-men is just a part and parcel of that.
“Obviously we do work on shape and such like. Basically, though, he just tells us to run at our marker and try to put some good crosses into the box. Nothing complicated. Just do what you do best and try to do it well.”
Clough subscribes to the theory that skilled individuals rather than complex instructions win matches. You are unlikely to hear the word ‘philosophy’ uttered during one of his media briefings unless conversation turns to Hegel or Kant. Nevertheless, as Murphy’s colleague Jamal Campbell-Ryce explained recently, patrolling the wings can tax the mind.
“You’ve got to be psychologically strong,” he said. “Different positions have different challenges but the one we face is having the confidence to keep on trying things.
“There are times when nothing seems to be going right. And, when that’s happening, you’ve got to be able to ignore the criticism, ignore what’s happening and keep on plugging away.
“That’s because, the one time you do get past him and either deliver a cross or produce a shot, well, that could be the moment that decides the outcome. Basically, you’ve got to get over that fear of doing something wrong.”
Clough’s back to basics approach also helps with that process. The former England international, who when asked why he was deploying a full-back at centre-half last season replied he “couldn’t understand the fuss about asking someone to stand five yards further inside the pitch,” recently insisted the only time he would rebuke a player was “when they didn’t try to do the right things.” Not following an honest mistake.
That insight helps to explain the thought process behind Ryan Flynn’s recent shift to defence. With Craig Alcock still nursing a back complaint ahead of the meeting between fifth placed United and Walsall in 12th, the former Falkirk winger is expected to continue at full-back after delivering another competent display against Southampton.
“It’s a been a learning curve but I think it’s going to actually improve me as a player,” Flynn said. “Going there has given me a different viewpoint and perspective of what goes on.
“I’m sure when Craig is ready I’ll go back to being an attacker but hopefully one with a better understanding of the type of situations that defenders face and the type of balls they want to receive at given moments.”