Nigel Clough is hoping Sheffield United fans will welcome Steel City derby hero Chris O’Grady to Bramall Lane with open arms tonight.
The Blades finally ended their four-month pursuit of the former Sheffield Wednesday striker yesterday as he signed on loan from Championship side Brighton & Hove Albion.
The 28-year-old’s arrival will revive painful memories for Blades for it was the striker’s goal back in the Steel City derby on February 26, 2012 which proved such a pivotal moment in shifting the balance of power in Sheffield football.
His winner kickstarted a 14-match unbeaten Owls run which saw them reel in promotion favourites United and pip them for automatic promotion.
The Blades went on to suffer play-off heartache against Huddersfield Town.
But O’Grady will now pull on the red and white stripes – he is in contention to face Notts County tonight at Bramall Lane – and Clough believes United fans will give the striker a warm welcome.
He scored 13 goals in 42 Owls starts, plus 15 goals for Barnsley last season in a struggling side which was relegated from the Championship.
Clough believes it is a quality which Blades fans will appreciate.
“People have seen what he can do,” he said. “At Barnsley last season, in a team that got relegated, to get the goals that he did and perform consistently, I think that says a lot about his character.
“There aren’t too many strikers of Chris’s calibre around at the moment.”
Clough chased O’Grady in the summer, but the Barnsley striker opted to stay in the Championship after Brighton offered him a deal.
“You can understand his decision,” he said. “If it had been a club in this area or League One, Chris would have come to us.
“But when Brighton put the offer on the table, at 28 years old, it’s very difficult to turn that down. We have kept an eye on him from afar, and have been asking about him for the last few weeks.
“We wanted him in the summer; it’s three months late, but we have ended up with him. We are delighted to get him.”
He has signed on loan until January 31, which is expected to be extended until the end of the season, and Clough is hoping a permanent deal can be thrashed out come the summer.
“We will see what league we are in, what position Brighton are in, and the situation will become a lot clearer come next May,” he said.
“He’s there to supplement the strikers we have got, in Michael Higdon and Marc McNulty.
“I think he is hungry, he hasn’t played too much at Brighton. Any player at this stage of the season, having sat around for two or three months is ready to play football.”
After struggling for a striker for several weeks, Clough has the luxury of four forwards to choose from tonight with the return from injury of Higdon and McNulty, plus Jose Baxter.
While O’Grady has never been prolific in front of goal, he runs tirelessly for the team, and it is this work ethic which Clough so admires.
“That’s why we chased him in the summer,” he said. “He’s the sort of player we want, but he’s going to have to fight for his place as well.
“Higdon and McNulty are back now and they have reasonable scoring records. Michael has five in 12 appearances, Marc is five in his last 10, so they have not been too bad when available, If you get a striker who can score every two games, then you are happy.
“Chris won’t be available for the cup games, so they are going to have to share the load.
“We are not great fans of getting an out-and-out goalscorer. The problem you get is if he doesn’t score or gets injured – and you rely on one person just to do it – you are stuffed.
“Even within a game, if that person has an off-day he is not contributing to the team. We will take a few less goals at times, but to make a bigger contribution to the team. I think Chris falls into that category.”
Victory tonight for fifth-placed Blades would take them to within three points of leaders Bristol City. With MK Dons visiting the Lane next Tuesday, Clough is looking for maximum points to put pressure on the top two.
“We know we haven’t hit top form yet, but are six points off the top of the league with a game in hand,” said Clough.
“We are nicely in the mix, and a couple of home wins in the next five days would really alter our position.
“Notts County have had a brilliant start and I know Shaun Derry quite well. There’s only two teams unbeaten away from home in the 92 league clubs; one is Chelsea and the other is Notts County, which shows what a great start they’ve had.”
Last time: Sheffield United 2 Notts County 1; August 2, 2013; League One.
Last six: Sheffield United LDLWWD, Notts County WLDWLL.
Referee: R Madley (West Yorkshire).